The Hill of Tara, Wholly Endangered

Human history, long before it was flattened, digitalized, and tucked away in an external hard drive, was collected and recorded in the ground. Whether it happened to be stored under stratified layers of earth or piled up in an ancient burial mound, there it remains pulsing with archaic energies as a reminder that spirit does not adhere to the manmade construct of linear time. The Pyramids of Giza are among the most famous of these geographical wells of ancient energy. By coming from a context of reality that bears almost no resemblance to our modern day existence, they act as a transcendent bridge between past and present worlds. It is places like this that can directly engage our eternal soul in conversation, and for that reason, we fight to protect the sacred familiarity we feel in their presence. To many ancient peoples, and especially the Irish, existence was grounded in the landscape on a basis of spiritual faith. One such sacred site of Ireland is the Hill of Tara, located in County Meath, where the landscape is so fertile with ancient human existence that its living history predates the pyramids of Giza by 1.5 thousand years. Many feel that residual spirit cultivated by the ancient peoples still exists within the energetic matrix of the valley, and will stop at nothing to retain the holy history concentrated there.

Ireland’s lush Hill of Tara has over 6,000 years worth of human experience pulsing in its soggy, earthen expanse. Historically, its soil is rich with both pre-Christian and Christian holiness, being not only the burial site an estimated 140 Irish Kings, but also the site of St. Patrick’s conversion of the Irish to Christianity in the fifth Century A.D. To become the King of Tara was to be blessed with the most supreme of provincial and local kingships (Henninger). The title transcended a simple territorial seat, and entered the realm of the sacred.  The king, once crowned, embodied what the hill itself embodied, which was a threshold to the spirit world. The oldest monument on the hill, dating from 2500 B.C., is Lia Fáil, or the Stone of Destiny, which is said to have roared out when touched by the rightful King (Henninger), marking quite boldly the unique, and fiercely intimate relationship between the Irish people and their land. To the Irish, It was this stone on this hill that represented axis mundi, the central heart of the universe.

The layout of the Tara site is complicated. The physical Hill of Tara is actually a part of a complex network of many individual Neolithic and Iron Age sites strewn about the Tara-Skryne Valley. Much of the fact-based history of the ancient valley is unknown due to the fact that the records, known as Dindeshenchas, or “histories of places,” are drenched in medieval mythology. That being said, Irish history has long been rooted in storytelling, giving credibility to both fact and myth as a true, complete tale of the land. What is plainly understood and implied by these mythical manuscripts is a sacred geography in which all sites are deeply connected to gods (Hicks), and to this day, every Irish schoolchild grows up learning the divine stories of Tara (Benson), thus reinforcing its existence as contemporary sacred land as opposed to a strictly “historical” one. To the ancient Irish, Tara was not only the “Hill of the King,” but also the site of Druid festivals, priestess training, and Shaman rituals. Its sacredness also transcended the Pagan world, being the supposed site of St. Patrick’s first Church of Ireland. Religion aside, The Hill of Tara was also the chosen site of military campaigns throughout the medieval and early modern period, as well as a center of nationalism in the 18th and 19th Centuries (Henninger).  In 1843, Daniel “The Liberator” O’Connell rallied some 750,000 people to the Hill in the name of relinquishing ties with Britain (Benson). Today, thousands of people still celebrate the living culture that is eternally enmeshed in the sodden earth by congregating on the hilltop on midsummer’s eve for both the panoramic 13 county view and what one visitor calls “the sense you get there of being close to something holy,” (qtd. in Bensen) reaffirming the sacredness that continues to attract the Irish people to thousands of years later.

In 2003, controversy struck the Tara-Skryne Valley as The Irish Government approved planning of a four-lane highway through Tara to ease congestion on the archaic roads linking commuters from County Meath to Dublin. In 2000, when the idea to build a new highway was conceived, the Irish public entrusted that the government would not choose such a damaging route, but ever since construction began in 2005, protesting has been rampant. In 2008 some individuals even challenged production by chaining themselves to construction equipment (Henninger). The highway treads right through not only the sacred valley, but also through the hearts of all writers, environmentalists, ordinary Irish people, sympathetic politicians, UNESCO, and more than 20,000 others who signed a SAVE TARA petition against the destruction of the sacred land. The road lies less than a mile from the Hill itself, but construction directly destroyed of several sites in the valley, such as the ancient Lismullin Henge (Lobell). Many feel that the presence of the highway, and its subsequent developments, pollute both the vast, beauty of Tara as well as the ancient holiness of the valley. In 2008, “Tara Watch” successfully nominated the valley to the World Monuments Fund list of 100 most endangered sites and in March 2009 Smithsonian featured Tara as one of the 15 must-see endangered cultural sites.

On June 4th 2010 The Irish government opened the M3 Motorway. This “act of cultural vandalism” (qtd. in Brian) was accomplished by treating the Tara-Skryne Valley as individual sites rather than one continuous sacred landscape. A protocol was developed in which all known sites were excavated, documented, and their artifacts relocated the National Museum, with a clause added in 2004 that allowed for the destruction of sites post excavation. Thirty-eight new archaeological sites have been unearthed, and subsequently destroyed, since the project began including “prehistoric settlements, Bronze Age burial mounds, a possible medieval charcoal manufacturing kiln and the remains of a 19th-century post office” (Benson). The Irish government claims that the goal of excavation is to obtain and preserve knowledge of the past that would be otherwise unknown if left in the ground. Additionally, the placement of the road was revised to avoid three sites, however the density of the surviving sites is such that it would be near impossible to build a road through Ireland without disrupting some historical record.

In April of 2008, the EU Commission initiated legal action against the Irish Government, charging Ireland with failing to protect its own heritage as well as a collective European heritage. The commission submitted an application to the high court, but did not have the authority to halt construction in the interim, as road opponents had hoped (Henninger). In defense of the highway, the Irish government says the road “is a key part of building national infrastructure for Ireland’s growing ‘Celtic Tiger’ economy” (Henninger). However, the majority of the Irish population sympathizes with the divine quality of the valley and reproaches the government for not properly considering alternate routes (Henninger).

Since the opening of the Highway, a conservation plan has been commissioned for the valley by the Irish Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. Geophysical surveys of the hilltop doubled during the summer of 2010 and Carmel Diviney of the Tara-Skryne Preservation Group claims “a much sought-after comprehensive plan of management will be put in place on these State-owned lands which will ensure the preservation of one of Ireland’s most important, sacred, historical, mythological, and cultural sites”(qtd. in Maass). As a result of the M3 Motorway controversy, much awareness has been raised about the conservation of sacred lands around the world and the modern day Irish still feel it is their overwhelming duty to protect this sacred land, noting that while most sites around the world suffer from neglect and climate change, Tara has been actively and irresponsibly assaulted by the very people who are given the duty of protecting it (Benson).

Laura Sullivan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WORKS CITED

Benson, Amanda. “Smithsonian.com.” Smithsonian Magazine. N.p., Mar. 2009. Web. 03       Nov. 2012. <http://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/Endangered-Cultural-Treasures-The-Hill-of-Tara-Ireland.html>.

 

Brian, Lavery. “Tara Journal; Next Exit: Food, Gas and the Burial Place of Irish Kings.” New York Times 31 Jan. 2005: 4. Academic Search Complete. Web. 1 Nov. 2012.

 

Henninger, Kirstin. “The Land and Its People.” Sacred Land Film Project » Hill of Tara. Earth Island Institute, 15 May 2008. Web. 01 Nov. 2012. <http://www.sacredland.org/hill-of-tara/>.

 

Hicks, Ronald. “The Sacred Landscape Of ANCIENT IRELAND.” Archaeology 64.3 (2011): 40-45. Academic Search Complete. Web. 1 Nov. 2012.

 

 

Lobell, Jarrett A. “Lismullin Henge.” Archaeology 61.1 (2008): 22. Academic Search Complete. Web. 1 Nov. 2012.

 

Maass, John. “Ireland: Plan to Protect Hill of Tara.” A Student of HIstory. The Meath Chronicle, 1 Feb. 2012. Web. 03 Nov. 2012. <http://fusilier.wordpress.com/2012/02/16/ireland-plan-to-prote

 

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“World Heritage Alert!” World Heritage Alert! N.p., 2008. Web. 01 Nov. 2012.  <http://www.worldheritagealert.org/Pages/article3.htm>.

 

 

 

 

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