Seat of Celtic kings is threatened by motorway
The Irish government's proposal to build a new commuter route for Dublin through the valley containing the Hill of Tara has infuriated archaeologists, historians and conservationists.
The battle, which has been depicted as a conflict between Ireland's mystical past and the materialistic modern nation of the Celtic Tiger, yesterday came to the High Court in Dublin.
The hearing, which is scheduled to last for five days, is the culmination of a two-year campaign to stop the 30-mile M3 motorway passing less than a mile from the coronation site of around 100 Irish High Kings in Co Meath.
Dublin's decision to press ahead with the road was challenged by Vincent Salafia, an environmentalist, who has argued that Dick Roche, the environment minister, should not have granted the motorway permission.
Gerry Hogan, senior counsel for Mr Salafia, claimed the legislation used to push through the project was unconstitutional.
He said the National Monuments (Amendment) Act 2004 weakened the role of the Oireachtas (Ireland's national parliament) by giving the minister discretionary powers to determine the fate of the country's heritage. Mr Hogan claimed the state's duty to protect monuments had been "seriously compromised".
Under the terms of the Act, Mr Roche is able to decide whether to preserve a site on the basis of the public interest as well as archaeological considerations.
According to Pat Wallace, the director of the National Museum of Ireland, the Hill of Tara is one Ireland's most important treasures.
Mr Hogan told the court that 38 archaeological sites had been identified along the M3's route.
Tara's importance as a religious centre dates from around 4,000 BC. The oldest visible man-made feature is the Mound of the Hostages, which dates from the third millennium BC.
It is associated with Cormac Mac Art, the legendary Irish High King. Tara became a pagan spiritual and political centre in the third century AD. It has remained a potent symbol of Ireland's nationhood.
During the rebellion of 1798 the United Irishmen camped on the hill, but were attacked and defeated by British troops.
In 1843, Daniel O'Connell, the Irish MP, hosted a peaceful Home Rule political demonstration at Tara that is reputed to have attracted one million supporters.
The application for judicial review is being heard before Mr Justice Thomas Smyth. The environment minister, Meath county council, the National Roads Authority and the attorney-general dispute Mr Hogan's assertion that a wider zone around the hill should be considered part of the existing national monument.
The hearing continues.
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