I was driving down the road in Ireland one day, listening to the radio, when someone wrote in and complained that because of the English having occupied Ireland for so long and forcing its language and way of life upon the Irish people, this has resulted in a loss of the old Celtic ways that can never be got back. The writer said he would never forgive the English for that. As an Englishman who has travelled around Ireland constantly over the last five years, I can honestly say that he has a point, and that I hope if I ever bump into him that I can put on a convincing Irish accent.
In 2004 I was commissioned to write a travel guide to Ireland’s ancient sites, her myths and her legends, called Mysterious World: Ireland. During my research I learned all about the spiritual heartland of ancient Ireland.
While at the Solstice festival at the Hill of Tara I learned that the government has plans to build a motorway through the Tara valley. The people at the Tara foundation
(http://www.tara-foundation.org/) have been fighting this since the announcement was first made. The Hill of Tara is one of Ireland’s most important historical monuments. For thousands of years the High Kings of Ireland ruled from this spot, making Tara Ireland’s ancient capital, both politically and spiritually. Tara is at the heart of the country’s history, legends and folklore. Many legendary battles were fought here, and many of Ireland’s most important legends all relate to this hill. Tara holds the secret to much of Ireland’s ancient past, which for thousands of years was passed down through the generations in story form. To destroy Tara would be to cut the heart out of Ireland, historically and culturally.
According to a video made recently by the Tara Foundation, Ireland’s minister for transport, Martin Cullen, disbanded Duchas, the heritage service that was set up to protect Ireland’s monuments and has re-written the legislation allowing him to have sole discretion in deciding whether an archaeological site is a national monument or not, and also giving him unprecedented power to destroy any monument he pleases. These powers were put in place after the row over Carrickmines Castle delayed the completion of the M50 motorway circling Dublin.
If this is true, and I’ve no reason to doubt it, then this could well set a dangerous precedent for the destruction of some of Ireland’s ancient historical monuments, of which there are literally hundreds across the country.
Ireland’s culture lies within her legends and the many ancient sites that bear testimony to these stories. It was in the Tara Skryne Valley that the famous showdown between a pagan king and Saint Patrick took place. When the Saint travelled Ireland spreading the word of God, a high king known as Laoghaire ruled from Tara. Every year at the start of spring, the Pagan ceremony of Beltaine was performed, which coincides with Easter. Fires were lit on all the hills. St. Patrick angered the king by lighting his paschal fire on the Hill of Slane prior to the time set by the Druids. The king confronted the Saint and Patrick famously produced a shamrock and proceeded to use it to explain the union between the Father, the Son and Holy Ghost. Soon after, the King converted to Christianity and the shamrock became one of Ireland’s national symbols.
This is just one of many important moments in Irish history that took place here and just proves that Tara is the ancient, spiritual and historical heart of Celtic Ireland. How can anyone destroy this legacy, just to make someone’s journey half an hour shorter?
Another hill that holds an important place in Irish history is the Hill of Uisneach. In 2004 I headed out in search of this hill. Leaving Mullingar I took the R390 to Athlone. Just before reaching the village of Killare, I spotted a lay-by on my left with a brown, tourist information sign that read: The Hill of Uisneach. I pulled over. The sign was aligned with the fence and faced the road. This seemed to indicate to me that the hill behind it was the Hill of Uisneach. It took over an hour of climbing those hills for me to eventually emerge upon an outcrop overlooking the road, only to spot the dolmen I was looking for on the other hill across this road.
How many know that it was here that the four ancient provinces of Ireland were mapped out by the Fir Bolg? On the Hill of Uisneach lies an ancient dolmen, said to be the intersection point for these ancient divisions. What is even more significant is that when the Milesians defeated the Tuatha dé Danann, the Dé Danann queen, Erin, was granted a request by Amergin, the leader of the Milesians. He promised to name this land after her, and so Ireland got its name. It is said that Erin is buried under this dolmen.
Firstly, either the lack of thought, or the lack of knowledge has resulted in a sign that is totally misleading to anyone wishing to see this place. Secondly, access can only be gained by hoping you don’t get caught by the farmer. (In the farmer’s defence they are being hampered by this stupid compensation culture forcing them to pay money if someone injures himself on THEIR land!) And thirdly, why isn’t this ancient and important monument being protected? And let’s not even start with the fact that the story above was not even mentioned on the sign.
The Hill of Uisneach lies between the two major towns of Mullingar and Athlone. Will it be next?
Like the caller said, the English did almost wipe out the Irish language and the Celtic culture, so all I can say is this; don’t allow the Irish government to finish the job!
Ian Middleton, Co-author
Mysterious World: Ireland