Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney has joined international experts to vehemently condemn plans by the Irish government to build a motorway through one of Ireland's most historically important areas. In his first broadcast interview on the controversy surrounding the M3 motorway that is already well under construction through the Tara Skreen valley, the Co Londonderry born poet condemned a "ruthless desecration" .
He told a BBC Radio Ulster documentary, Tar on Tara: "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. "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."
He went on to point out that under British rule in Ireland, Tara, seat of the ancient High Kings of Ireland, and a place of sacred worship in both pagan and Christian times, appeared to have more protection than in today's Irish Republic. "I was reading around recently and I discovered that WB Yeats and George Moore, two writers at the turn of the century and Arthur Griffith, wrote a letter to the Irish Times sometime at the beginning of the last century because a society called the British Israelites had thought that the Ark of the Covenant was buried in Tara, and they had started to dig on Tara Hill. And they wrote this letter and they talked about the desecration of a consecrated landscape. So I thought to myself if a few holes in the ground made by amateur archaeologists was a desecration, what is happening to that whole countryside being ripped up is certainly a much more ruthless piece of work."
And he added that Tara was unique to him as an Irishman: "Tara means something equivalent to me to what Delphi means to the Greeks or maybe Stonehenge to an English person or Nara in Japan, which is one of the most famous sites in the world. It's a word that conjures an aura - it conjures up what they call in Irish dúchas, a sense of belonging."
Ireland's biggest ever road project stretches 61km and is expected to cost around 800m euros. It is aimed at easing congestion north of Dublin where new housing developments have sprung up for the thousands of people working in the city. The government decided a motorway was needed, with a new route away from the existing N3 road, instead bringing it through an area which is described by archaeologists internationally as the most important in Ireland and of world significance.
The European Commission is considering legal action against the Irish government which granted itself the powers in 2004 to destroy features or areas of archaeological importance classified as national monuments if in the national interest. However, any action will not stop the road, well under construction, and expected to be completed within two years.