“I think it literally desecrates an area..”

It might not constitute the “change in material circumstances” that the Republic of Ireland’s Environment Minister, the Green Party’s John Gormley, eventually said he required, but the criticism of the road building through the Tara valley by Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney will likely reverberate throughout government. He’s not the first poet to point out the implications of that development, but he is the most influential. The Irish Times front page highlighted his comments today, and the BBC report has more quotes from the radio documentary.

“I mean the traces on Tara are in the grass, are in the earth – they aren’t spectacular like temple ruins would be in the Parthenon in Greece but they are about origin, they’re about beginning, they’re about the mythological, spiritual source – a source and a guarantee of something old in the country and something that gives the country its distinctive spirit.”

And from the BBC report

“I think it literally desecrates an area – I mean the word means to de-sacralise and for centuries the Tara landscape and the Tara sites have been regarded as part of the sacred ground,” he said.

“I was just thinking actually the Proclamation of the Irish Republic in 1916 summoned people in the name of the dead generations and called the nation, called the people in the name of the dead generations.

“If ever there was a place that deserved to be preserved in the name of the dead generations from pre-historic times up to historic times up to completely recently, it was Tara.”


But whatever the views now, those who want to see the motorway come to Tara have won the day.

Future generations studying Tara will see the 21st century’s major contribution to an area charting thousands of years of civilisation in Ireland was the new M3 motorway and its associated development.

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  • Mark McGregor


    You not going to add the usual backlinks on supernaturalists when his argument and language continually refers to sacredness or does he get a poet’s licence?

    I personally see it as one of the least convincing arguments thus far as it relies purely on the emotive, the academic appeals are by far the more able, this is just hippy nonsense.

  • Pete Baker

    Well, his argument crosses over from supernaturalist beliefs to the impact on society and culture.

    In any event the final quoted paragraph points to how the decision has already been made.

  • Mark McGregor

    Not necessarily. The EU have already been critical of Irish implementation of directives and the secondary Environmental Impact Assessments examination could still lead to a shut down. That’s the angle I’d push as a protestor before the sacred poetry crap.

  • susan

    Mark, I appreciate your hard-bitten tone, but did you or did you not too long ago herald a protest against the Commandant of the Royal Loyal Order of Corgie Walkers to Croke Park as though it was standing up to a column of tanks in Tianamen Square?

    Seamus Heaney knows his influence and his audience, and successfully got the issue back on the front pages. Making way for the archaelogists, academics, etc. to do what they in turn do best.

  • susan

    I’m sorry Mark, that was unkind. I enjoy many of your posts. But I do think Seamus knows what he is up to.

  • Mark McGregor


    Don’t worry about it.

    I absolutely understand protest as a mechanism for keeping an issue alive.

    My minor problem is with a wasted opportunity. Instead of taking the opportunity to get the strong issues back on the front page – the Greens absolute failure to deal with the issue preferring selfish electoralism and the possibilities to challenge the legality of failing to fully reassess and carry out secondary EIAs – playing to a limited audience with emotive and irrelevant speechifying on sacredness.

    Its been my general view of the broader campaign on this throughout, too much academia and intelligence and not enough dealing with facts, the law and realism.

  • susan

    Cheers, Mark. I agree with you on broader campaign and I defer to your greater understanding of EIAs.

    On the Greens — It seemed to me at the time — mainly from carefully following Pete’s blogs and links at the time, but also based on past experiences with FF behind the scenes — that Gormley and the Greens conceded the fight on Tara in the negotiations as part of the deal. Could they have won more concessions than they did, both on Tara and on further proposed privitisations of the South’s two-tiered health system, and still gone into gov’t?

    Yes. But only if they had more experience in gov’t and in negotiating with FF than they did. (And it is not for me to say whether the Greens would have had a real possibility for affecting policy and bringing about change had they successfully formed some sort of shaky coalition with FG and Labour. FG is…FG, after all.)

    Given my understanding of how policies are actually implemented in a FF administration, I am not sure the Greens can be convicted of choosing selfish electoralism over electoralism. So many environmental issues are balanced on a knife’s edge, would it have been principled to pass on a chance to affect policy now? They have abandoned the fight over Tara to others, no ducking that. But in office, Gormley has put The Burren and Clonmacnoise on the fast track towards preservation and protection, and were he not in the post he is I think that would not have happened.

    As to what else he has, or has not done, to promote an environmental agenda since going into gov’t — I would truly be interested in hearing the perspective of Green Party members and others.

  • alan

    Famous Seamus is at least 5 years too late on this one especially after the millions that have already been spent on the project. Why did he leave it so late…

  • RSR

    the road is needed, theres too much emphaisis being placed on the enviromental and historical information. If we did everything the enviromentalists wanted we would be living in the stone ages.

    People should actually look at the maps, the new road is futher away from Tara than the old one, will be of better quality and therefore traffic will move quicker through the area producing less pollution. http://www.m3motorway.ie/DetailedMap/

    It is people who know nothing about the subject of road building sticking their noses in and causing all the fuss. Just let those who know what they are doing get on with it. It will benefit everyone in the future.

  • McGrath

    RSR, your “trust me” attitude has done and will do little to convince the uninformed. It is exactly that attitude that has caused a considerable number of people who were otherwise not interested in the subject to start taking notice. It is worth bearing in mind that the uninformed have just as much influence on the project all other stakeholders.

    Regardless, the M3 is a done deal. There is however a faction of society who will resist progress regardless of the benefits no matter what, but will still drive down the motorway when it is finished.

    The proposed route is further east of Tara than the existing national road. Not withstanding natural future growth in the economy (something the greens also oppose!), the ongoing environmental impact to Tara will be lessened by this project.

  • antichrist


    Famous Seamus, fully-fledged Paddy-at-court thinks Stonehenge is sacred to the English.

    I wonder did Beowulf build it.

    What a joker.

  • The__Raven

    Isn’t he really just commenting on what we already know. Roads are bad for the natural environment. But this is pretty unimportant. As soon as the road is built, it will be full up. Then it’ll be time to build a new road somewhere else.

    And yet again the environment will get royally screwed. Folks, whether it be this, or a proposed change to PPS14, or whatever, we have to start thinking like this: when it’s gone, it’s gone. It starts with a road, but it never stops there. Next it’s service areas; then it’s light industrial estates; then it’s housing.

    When the natural environment is built on, it’s gone.

    Heaney is adding his name in the only way he knows how. But sure that’s ok. We’ll just call it “crap” (I think was the word someone referred to what Seamus Heaney said – whoever wrote THAT is undoubtedly published by Faber).

    I know nothing about planning, but I’ll be sure to include a consultation response to PPS14. I think it kinda falls under free speech. Seamus doesn’t need to be one of those “who know what they’re doing” to have an opinion.

  • Jo

    Can’t help but juxtapose Heaney’s eloquence with the word “crap” – thus is something lost which impoverishes us all, lost landscapes, lost languages, lost expression – but sure lets just consume away and ride the new highways to Hell.

  • Martin

    Heaney at Tara

    Mist-wraiths and reek of diesel.
    The traffic will not stop
    for the dead generations.

    This morning on the hill of Tara
    I paced the scar in the clay –
    neither old priest nor commuter,

    more like a farmhand
    taking a last look at fields
    his family have worked for generations

    though never owned. A horn
    blares beyond a hedge,
    martial and flatulent,

    and then another and another.
    I picture a summons
    to a royal court, to ringfort

    or horned cairn. I flinch
    in the slipstream
    of lorries heavy with hardcore.

    (Sorry … couldn’t resist.)

  • pfhl

    Thank God we dont have the Greens in goverment. John Gormley is spineless and sold out on his promises. How can the green party justify sitting in goverment with a goverment who is ready to destroy the area around tara. Maybe they could do with Sargent back, at least he stuck to his word. I know who i have more respect for.

  • the material change in circumstances is that the NRA archaeologist, didn’t double check the national monuments list and used an old incorrect map to detail the location of rath lugh, which was wrong by nearly a hundred metres and only bother there arses to check the position of this NM until 2007 this summer as opposed to 2003, now they still claim they are using best professional practices. yeah right.