Battlefields, Tara and the M3
Written by Muireann Ní Bhrolcháin on The Village website.
Minister Roche recently launched a study of important battle sites and vowed to amend the National Monuments Act to protect them, saying: "Battlefields ... can increase our knowledge and understanding of momentous events in Irish history." (Irish Times, 18 January 18.) Tara and the Gabhra Valley have been the background of many battles and "momentous events", not least the legendary Battle of Gabhra and Achall (Skreen) between the king of Tara, Cairpre Lifechair son of Cormac mac Airt, and the Fianna, commemorated in saga and verse. The king himself and many heroes are said to have perished in the conflict and were buried in the area. One poem mentions a "sad mound" holding "the long grave".
Just over a thousand years ago, in 980, the Battle of Tara was fought between the Irish king, Malachy the second, and the Norse king of Dublin, Olaf. Presumably the battle casualties were buried in situ somewhere in the valley. Are their bodies being dug up in advance of the construction of the M3?
In 1798 there was another battle of Tara between Irish rebels and crown forces. It was perhaps because of the extraordinary historical pedigree of Tara and its association with battle in the past that Daniel O'Connell saw fit to hold a monster meeting on the Hill of Tara in 1843, said to have been attended by one million people.
Is Minister Roche's interest in battlefields too late to ensure the preservation of the sites in the Gabhra Valley and Tara? Can it possibly be true that battlefields before the early Middle Ages will be excluded from this audit and will therefore not be eligible for any equivalent protection?
Despite the vision of these recent initiatives it is somewhat ironic that this minster, along with former ministers for the environment Dempsey and Cullen, choose this moment in history to do battle with those Irish citizens who wish to see our heritage, and above all Tara, granted a modest degree of legal protection. The Battle of Tara is not yet over.
Dr Muireann Ní Bhrolcháin, School of Celtic Studies, NUI Maynooth