Wednesday 27 June 2007
Reflecting on Tara
Twenty years ago a new road was planned near the charming little village where I come from. But when work got under way they discovered that a lone hawthorn tree stood in the path of the new road. The trouble was that no one would uproot the hawthorn. In the end, the builders deferred to tradition and custom regarding the hawthorn, and the road was re-routed.
Now, the nation faces a greater dilemma: work has begun on a motorway which will pass through the Tara Skryne Valley. This time, no mere hawthorn is at stake, but a landscape and a momument whose significance is probably huge, but not yet fully understood.
That the road got this far says a lot about our political cutlure and our civic responsibility. Even on purely economic or functional grounds, it was a bad idea, because protest, controversy, and probably legal challenges will slow (or stop?) the progress and multiply the cost.
A fairly impressive weight of expert opinion has underlined the importance of Tara - at Irish and European level. The remarkable thing is that the Tara complex and its memory and mythology has survived at all. That alone is a treasure. Also intriguing is the mystery surrounding the exact purpose that Tara served down through the millenia as each civilisation came and went.
Down to our own day that is. For there is no mystery about what our "civilisation" wants to do with it. Apparently, we want to dig it up, cover it with tar, and use it as a short cut.
What does that say about us? Given that we have such an incomplete knowledge of the site, why can we not do as our forefathers have done, and leave it for posterity to marvel, to ponder, or at worst, to ignore? If we can preserve Tara, having become one of the richest nations on earth, it would be a symbol that we still retain a modicum of humility. We could show ourselves, as well as others, that in our increasingly material world, we still respect the things we do not understand. I cannot think of a more noble act than for us to show that things sacred to our ancestors can be sacred for us too. Now is the hour, to save Tara for those unborn, or to plough into yet another Great Irish Shame.