Wednesday 20 March 2019

Unleash the JCBs and finish off the Tara motorway pronto

Whenever show business takes sides on any public controversy, the other side is probably right.

Let that wisdom be your lodestone. So it was with some gratitude that I saw the actor Stuart Townsend leading the recent objections to the M3 motorway project in Meath. Some time ago, he said of Tara: "Barely anyone has tried to stop what surely will be one of the greatest archeological travesties of our time, second only to the ancient artifacts stolen in Iraq. But they had to start a war to get away with that one.

"We here in Ireland seem to just be happy to let road builders dig up and tear through the most ancient and sacred place that exists in our land."

Thank God for such silliness. It clarifies, it elucidates, it educates, it makes matters most gloriously plain: for of course, there is no plan to construct the M3 motorway through Tara, which is over a mile away, any more than the Iraq war was about the theft of antiquaries in Baghdad.

Far from destroying archeological ruins, motorway construction is exposing what might otherwise never have been seen: thus the remains of the settlement at Lismullin, which of course has now been labelled a National Heritage Site.

In part, this accidental discovery tells us that it's impossible to build new roads through any part of Meath without coming across archeological residues of some kind or other.

And short of discovering the tombs of a pre-Celtic Tutenkhamun, there's not much the National Roads Authority can do but swiftly excavate such sites, and then build over them, as it wishes to do with the post-holes of Lismullin.

Further Lismullins certainly lie in the path of the proposed M3 route, for this was one of the most densely populated areas of iron-age Ireland. So: do you allow the past, unreasonably and disproportionately, to adversely influence projects which will relieve the stress of real living people, or do you give priority to the latter? For though we can all deplore the loss of archeological sites, we are not ancestor worshippers, for whom a reverence for the past is greater than a regard for the living.

Notwithstanding that Meath is the home of an extinct civilisation, its archeological riches are unlikely to compare with those, say, of Monte Cassino in Italy, a place I know well.

It is a Christian monastery now, but before Benedict arrived there, it was a major shrine to Apollo, and before that, who knows?

Moreover, it lies on one of the most important routes in existence, between the ancient kingdom of Naples and the heart of the mightiest empire of them all: Rome. You round a bend, and there towering above you, stands the greatest monastery in world history, crystal-white and shining on its mountain top, amid the ebony dolomite and the heartless, black obsidian of the peaks rising behind it.

Italians, who properly revere their archaeology, made a choice at Monte Cassino, as they have had to make everywhere on that magnificent peninsula: for their country is a land of living societies, not just a museum, to be blighted into perpetual poverty by one of the most sinister words in the entire lexicon of civilisation: "heritage". So they chose to build an autostrada within a mile of Cassino, through one of the most precious archeological zones in all of Europe. Why? Because they had no choice: they had to put the living before the dead.

Do we have to build a motorway in that broader area of Meath which contains Tara? Yes, we do. Population pressures in Leinster are such that commuters need new roads.

The oft-repeated argument that the M3 will cut journey times by only twenty minutes either way is merely the supercilious observation of city-centre based "conservationists" who don't have to commute.

Twenty minutes' one-way journey-time translates into forty minutes a day, and given a forty-six week working year, this becomes over 150 hours a year: the equivalent of nearly four unnecessary working-weeks sitting in the car, every year, for scores of thousands of commuters.

Now, the smug bien-pensant can easily dismiss the mental health and the family-lives of such lesser types. For these latter are largely unimportant, plain individuals, who probably live in housing estates in Meath and Louth, not in palaces in Hollywood, such as that inhabited by Stuart Townsend and his Oscar-winning girlfriend, Charlize Theron, (who probably doesn't know where or what Tara is, but she backs it anyway).

For we can be utterly sure that show-business would never dream of backing the plain people of Louth and Meath, if in adversity, the latter were to mount a campaign to improve the quality of their own, humble suburban little lives.

Fine. But the welfare of these citizens today is far more important to me than the rotting post-holes of settlements that vanished 3,000 years ago. And to wave the curse-word "heritage" out of regard for a civilisation which is extinct and largely unknowable, at the expense of a real, existing civilisation which is neither, is academic preciousness at its most snobbishly depraved.

So unleash the JCBs, say I, and complete the M3 motorway, pronto.

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