A series of ancient underground buildings from the early Christian era have been dismantled in recent days to make way for the controversial M3 motorway.
The buildings, on one of the largest historical sites discovered along the proposed route, were logged and then removed by a team of archaeologists in advance of work on the road.
Dating back 1,300 years, they are the first stone archaeological features to be taken down as part of the motorway project. The move has led to a series of protests. Yesterday historians and archaeologists attached to the Save Tara campaign said the buildings, just north of Dunshaughlin, could be part of a royal site and therefore directly linked to the Hill of Tara.
However, archaeologists working for the National Roads Authority (NRA) said buildings of this type were relatively common in Ireland and that it had been meticulously logged before the dismantling began.
Described as a souterrain, the structure consisted of three beehive chambers linked by passages. They would have been used for storage and as refuges in case of attack.
The buildings, which were discovered in 2005, date back to the seventh century and were in use up to the 13th Century.
Located at Roestown, just north of Dunshaughlin, the souterrain was part of a much larger ancient complex.
The discovery of glass beads and carvings on bone indicate that some manufacturing activity could have been ongoing on the site at some stage.
Mary Deevy, project archaeologist with the NRA, said the removal of the stone buildings were part of a series of similar excavation work along the route.
"It's completely standard archaeological practice," she said, adding that three dimensional laser images of the chambers had been taken before they were removed.
She said souterrains were relatively common in Ireland and that 3,500 are officially listed, the majority of them in Co Louth.
She said Roestown was not listed as a national monument, and that the excavation and removal had been carried out in accordance with the directions handed down in 2005 by the Minister for the Environment Dick Roche.
However, Celtic scholar Dr Muireann Ní Bhrolcháin, of the Save Tara campaign said the discovery of artefacts, including gaming board, indicated a "very high class site, probably inhabited by a king". Under Celtic laws the use of such gaming boards was confined to royalty.
She said Roestown was one of four major ancient sites discovered along the route and backs up claims by various experts that the area of royal Tara was much larger than the hill itself and extended along the Tara Skryne Valley, through the proposed route of the motorway.
"What the archaeologists working for the NRA have uncovered are the living places and the burial places of the people associated with Tara," she said.
It comes as campaigners prepare to use St Patrick's weekend to highlight the issue of Tara and the impact of the planned road on the archaeology of the area. Although the saint is not recorded as having visited Tara, he is directly associated with the area through various legends, such as the lighting of a Pascal fire on the hill of Slane nearby.
Vincent Salafia of the TaraWatch group said Roestown should have been listed as a national monument, and accused the NRA of having "rushed in and demolished the site" before it had a chance of receiving protected status. "This is the St Patrick's Day gift that the Irish Government has given to Irish people around the world," he said. "While the Government Ministers are swanning around the globe preaching the gospel of climate change, at home they are advancing one of the most environmentally and culturally damaging projects ever conceived."
© 2007 The Irish Times