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Smithsonian Magazine: Endangered Site: The Hill of Tara, Ireland

category international | history and heritage | other press author Friday February 27, 2009 11:16author by TaraWatchauthor email info at tarawatch dot org Report this post to the editors

Smithsonian Magazine's March issue has a feature on 15 Must-See Endangered Cultural Treasures

Smithsonian Institution, based in the US, is the world's largest museum complex and research organization composed of 19 museums, 9 research centers, and the National Zoo. The March 2009 issue features "Some of the world's most precious historic and artistic sites can be visited today—but might be gone tomorrow"

Endangered Site: The Hill of Tara, Ireland

A new tollway threatens the archaeologically rich complex that is the spiritual heart of the country

* By Amanda Bensen
* Smithsonian magazine, March 2009

"The harp that once through Tara's halls
The soul of music shed
Now hangs as mute on Tara's walls
As if that soul were fled."

The words of 19th-century Irish poet Thomas Moore still ring true, and the only music you're likely to hear around Tara nowadays is the clang of construction equipment. Several hundred acres of gentle green fields, marked by some lumps and bumps, cover this patch of County Meath in northeast Ireland. A nice place to lie down and watch the clouds scud by, perhaps, but is it any more remarkable than the rest of Ireland's lovely landscape?

Cinnte, to use an Irish expression of certitude. The archaeologically rich complex on and around the Hill of Tara is seen by many as the spiritual and historic heart of Ireland. It was the venue for rituals, battles and burials dating back to 4000 B.C. More than 100 kings were crowned at Tara, and St. Patrick is said to have stopped there to seek royal permission before spreading his message of Christianity.

In more recent history, the hill was the site of Daniel "the Liberator" O'Connell's 1843 "monster meeting," a massive political demonstration that rallied some 750,000 people to the cause of repudiating the country's union with Britain. Thousands of people still gather on its crest on midsummer's eve, both for the panoramic view and what one visitor calls "the sense you get there of being close to something holy."

"Tara is a part of the Irish psyche," says George Eogan, a retired Dublin archaeologist who led excavations near the hill in the 1960s. "Irish people, they know of Tara from their very early days. It's in schoolbooks and stories, even in primary school."

But Irish history now risks being consumed by the Celtic Tiger—the nickname given to Ireland's phenomenal economic expansion for more than a decade. Inevitably, a thriving economy brought demands for an expanded infrastructure. And so, in 2003, the Irish government approved construction of a new four-lane tollway, the M3, to cut through the Tara complex. Construction began in 2005, and despite a storm of public protest, the project appears unstoppable.... *

* continues at

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author by Eanna Dowlingpublication date Fri Feb 27, 2009 14:53author address author phone Report this post to the editors

here's a piece I wrote in response to an article in the Smithsonian Institute magazine about the motorway at the Hill of Tara.

Thanks for your brief introduction to the story of the desecration of Tara.

The M3 motorway through the Tara domain represents the shameful nadir of Ireland's recent speculation folly, an unnecessary road development designed to provide vehicular access to unfinished commuter housing estates and business parks that will never be built.

High Kings of Ireland held court at Tara, it was the gathering point for intertribal agreements and dispute resolution after the locus of power shifted from Uisneach. But Tara was ancient before the Milesian Kings ever established their domain there. It is a site of immense beauty containing significant elements of the culture and heritage of the nation: St Patrick paid his dues to the Kings there while on his journey to bring the religion of the Roman Empire to the tribal peoples of that time; nearby on Soldier's Hill a skirmish in 1798 challenged the oppressive regime of the English occupation; Daniel O'Connell gathered a remarkable number of people on the hill as part of his non violent direct action campaign for national self determination in 1843.

The M3 motorway runs through the domain of the royal seat at the hill and archaeological evidence unearthed, recorded and then reburied reveals many important sites and artefacts. It is a site of national and international importance that would be automatically preserved and protected in any society that cherished its history and identity.

Ireland's Celtic Bubble leaves a concrete legacy of major construction projects accommodated by the destruction of natural and archaeological heritage. Ireland is plagued by empty houses and business units, built by speculators encouraged by tax breaks introduced by their political cronies. Such practices have skewed the national accounts leading to draconian Government cutbacks that are so severe even the well paid pensioned police are protesting outside the parliament.

Local perseverance and direct action at Tara kept the story in the national media. Several leading archaeologists, historians, ordinary people and heritage guardians stood up to oppose either the premise or the details of the M3 scheme. Unfortunately the powers that be decided that economic concerns prevailed over community, archaeological, environmental and spiritual concerns. This happened during that brief era when many Irish people indulged in the illusions of the Celtic TIger economy; when the political, financial and PR elites fooled themselves into believing that economic growth could go on indefinitely without consequence and that "progress" was more important than history, or identity.

Like many Irish people, I spent a lot of time at Tara, even though I never lived close to it. I was there on a school trip; as an adult I hitched from Galway to witness a lunar eclipse in 1996; later I came to the camp to express my disdain of the roadwords and solidarity with the activists.

Ireland is the most globalised of the developed countries, the most dependent on foreign capital, the most vulnerable to fluctuations in the global markets. Now that those global markets have failed us all, Irish people are reaping the consequences.

Intoxicated by the American dream, inflated by European Union money, Ireland's leaders have surrendered the core values of the nation to the false gods of greed and growth. They have foresaken Tara, they have betrayed the legacy of the High Kings, the warriors, the bards, the priests and the druids. They have insulted the descendants of the million people who gathered with O'Connell for the right to self determination, short years before the famine scattered the Irish to the corners of the globe.

Eanna Dowling

author by TaraWatchpublication date Fri Feb 27, 2009 19:01author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Thank you so much for your thoughtful and insightful contribution Eanna. Smithsonian did a feature on Ireland, featuring Tara, four years ago:

Ireland Unleashed
A booming economy has fueled prosperity, transforming a society long burdened by oppression and poverty
* By Joseph A. Harriss * Smithsonian magazine, March 2005

It makes for very interesting reading now....

Hill of Tara makes Smithsonian endangered list

One of the most respected educational and research institutes in the United States, Smithsonian, has listed the Hill of Tara among the 15 must-see endangered cultural treasures in the world. The Co Meath site, which was the ancient seat of the High Kings of Ireland, has been the subject of controversy with the nearby construction of the M3 road. Campaigners say the road will cut through one of Ireland’s most important historical sites, but the National Roads Authority says the new motorway will be further away from the hill than the existing route. The motorway is scheduled to be finished in the middle of next year, but may be completed before that.

In its March edition of its magazine, Smithsonian says “the only music you're likely to hear around Tara nowadays is the clang of construction equipment”. The magazine is dominated by “14 other precious historic and artistic sites” around the world which it says “can be visited today, but might be gone tomorrow”. “Each testifies to our urge to build and create; each reminds us of how much we stand to lose,” the magazine says. Other sites include the reputed birthplace of Jesus Christ, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Chan Chan in Peru which was the largest city in the Americas about 600 years ago, and the crumbling iconic Route 66 which starts in Chicago and passes through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona before ending in Los Angeles...(continued at link above)

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author by TaraWatchpublication date Sun Mar 01, 2009 11:15author address author phone Report this post to the editors


You can make a difference in the campaign to save the Hill of Tara from the M3 motorway, by doing one of the few things that can still have a major impact on current thinking; write your thoughts in a letter and send it to the papers and the authorities.

Here are stories from Irish papers, about the March 2009 Smithsonian magazine article on the Hill of Tara and the M3 motorway, recognising Tara as one of the worlds most important and most endangered cultural sites.

We are asking you to please write letters to the editors of Smithsonian magazine and the Irish newspapers.

We also hope you will write to the various authorities, involved in the current decision-making regarding the proposed Tara World Heritage Site, including the Minister for the Environment, John Gormley; Green Party, UNESCO; ICOMOS; and Lord Hankey, President of ICOMOS UK and Chair of Minister's Expert Advisory Panel, reviewing Ireland's List of Tentative Sites.

Smithsonian Magazine: Endangered Site - The Hill of Tara, Ireland
Make comments on the online article.

Write to


Irish Times: Tara endangered, says Smithsonian

Write to

Irish Independent: Smithsonian puts Hill of Tara on list of endangered must-sees

Write to

Irish News: Seat of kings included in must-see endangered list

Write to

Irish Examiner: Top US museum names Tara 'must-see' site

Write to

Herald: Smithsonian joins fight to save the Hill of Tara

Write to



Minister's Statement on Tara and UNESCO

Write to

Minister's Review of Ireland's List of UNESCO sites / Expert Advisory Panel

Write to


Trish Forde-Brennan, Chair



UNESCO - United Nations Educational and Scientific Organisation

Francesco Bandarin - Director of the World Heritage Centre

Mechtild Rossler - Chief of Section Europe Unit



ICOMOS - International Council on Monuments and Sites

Gustavo ARAOZ - President of ICOMOS

ICOMOS Ireland

Grellan D. Rourke - President


Lord Donald Hankey - President



Endangered Site: The Hill of Tara, Ireland

Ireland Unleashed



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