Saturday 16 December 2017

WOOD QUAY 1978-79

Thousands marched to save our heritage

THE battle to save Wood Quay in the 1970s became known as one of the most intense battles ever waged by the public to save any archaeological site anywhere in the nation.

Tens of thousands of so-called ordinary men, women and children from across the country and overseas marched alongside well-known personalities and academics in some of the largest protests the capital had ever witnessed.

The campaign, which lasted several years, ultimately failed and the controversial Civic Offices for Dublin Corporation were built on one of the most significant Viking settlements ever unearthed. As well as the typical combs, pottery, swords and jewellery, whole streets and houses, bone and leather factories and slaughterhouses from the 10th and 11th Centuries were laid bare.

The move to begin construction of the offices prompted stormy Dublin City Council meetings, legal battles and a series of protests culminating in a massive march on the site in September 1978, which attracted up to 20,000 people, according to reports.

Labour senator and future president, Mary Robinson, told marchers that Wood Quay had taught them a valuable lesson about democracy. "There must be constant vigilance," she said.

One of the key objectors to the development, priest and professor F X Martin, later recalled: "We sent out word to the public and people came dressed appropriately; academics in their gowns and many young people dressed as Vikings with horns on. We marched outside the Dail to show our defiance of authority but it was all peaceful," he said.

The protesters seized the site, taking 20 voluntary hostages, including writer Mary Lavin, poet Eavan Boland, former president's wife Rita Childers, architect Michael Scott and the lord mayor of Dublin.

In 1979, thousands of protesters again took to the streets in a torch-lit procession, singing 'Molly Malone'.

But despite massive public opposition and court cases, archaeological excavation concluded and the main construction work got under way in the 1980s.

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