ANTI-M3 motorway protesters yesterday mounted a dawn vigil to defend a heritage site near the historic Hill of Tara.
Protect Tara supporters were triggered by speculation that the authorities were going ahead with plans to dismantle and “preserve as record” the so-called royal temple at Lismullin in Co Meath.
Feelings have run high, with heritage defenders claiming a priceless world treasure would be lost for ever if the motorway scheme goes ahead in its present form.
Conservationists have expressed bitter disappointment with the stance of new Environment Minister John Gormley of the Green Party to demands to reroute the motorway from Tara.
But Mr Gormley has maintained he has no power to change the M3 route, a legacy he inherited from predecessor Dick Roche.
Work on the roadway has been interrupted by people opposed to the motorway. And late last month the Love Tara march took over Dublin’s O’Connell Street, with all 32 counties represented. Four conservationists were arrested during picketing and held at Cloverhill Prison.
A joint letter signed internationally by 350 academics has emphasised the unique cultural treasure of the Tara landscape.
Former transport minister Martin Cullen cut the first sod for the double-tolled, four-lane motorway on April 30.
The following day, archaeologists announced a site of national monument status had been discovered at Lismullin — in the middle of the motorway’s intended path.
Fionnuala Devlin of Protect Tara said yesterday: “The site is an enormous find both literally — it is the size of three football fields — and in terms of its significance.
“Archaeologists believe the site, which is a wooden henge, was a pagan ceremonial temple used by the ancient kings and queens.”
The last time Tara was threatened — in 1902 — Nobel Prize-winning poet WB Yeats declared: “Tara is, because of its associations, probably the most consecrated spot in Irelandand its destruction will leave many bitter memories behind it.”