Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Where the Relics Meet the Road: Ireland's Highway Dispute ; Archaeologists Hope to Stop a Plan to Pave the Valley beneath the Hill of Tara

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Where the Relics Meet the Road: Ireland's Highway Dispute ; Archaeologists Hope to Stop a Plan to Pave the Valley beneath the Hill of Tara

Article excerpt

A sacred hill, where ancient kings were once crowned and buried, is now at the center of a dispute about the rush of modern life in this newly wealthy country.

In the valley below the famous Hill of Tara - ancient Ireland's ceremonial seat and the island's most important prehistoric site - the government is planning to build a major highway to Dublin.

The highway has bitterly split the country, pitting the preservation of Ireland's Celtic past against its rapidly changing present; the ancient capital against the modern one.

The hilltop commands spectacular views of the valley below, where the ancient elites lived. The highway's opponents say the serene valley will be ruined by a highway that will inevitably bring unwanted development.

As children race up and down the burial mounds and sheep graze nearby, visitors atop the Hill of Tara are disappointed when told of the planned four-lane highway. "It's a pity," says Franco Leone, of San Vito, Italy. "But that's progress, how can you stop it? Hopefully the people can block it."

As legal challenges to the project make their way through the court system, initial archaeological work in preparation for the construction has already begun, unearthing sites up to 9,000 years old. Archaeologists warn that the heavy machinery used in the excavations could destroy fragile artifacts.

"If, in the face of an international outcry, the authorities can get away with the destruction of a landscape that has been sacred for 4,000 years, they can get away with virtually anything," wrote the Irish Times' cultural critic Fintan O'Toole.

Despite provoking outrage around Ireland and drawing fierce opposition from the director of the National Museum, the planned highway is popular with locals. As Dublin sprawls and housing costs balloon, the commuter belt is expanding farther into bucolic County Meath. Commuters to Dublin often spend more than two hours driving along country roads from here to the capital, a distance of less than 30 miles. …

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