Sunday Tribune 28 June
This boys,” said Mr Halpin, “will stay with you forever. I hope it makes a big impact.”
Ordinarily, whenever a teacher spoke of making an ‘impact’ at St Joseph’s National School in Glasthule, you started sweating. It normally involved the crack of a bamboo cane. Not on this occasion though. We were about to see something historic. Besides, Halpin always preferred sarcasm to brutality.
He was a bit of a hero. He played Mungo Jerry records in class and showed us how to make free plectrums out of detergent bottles. He also liked cartoons and had a wit as dry as a pub on Good Friday. He seemed to actually like us.
The historic occasion took place on a trip to the National Library in 1979. Myself and two other 11-year-olds, Cianán and Mick, were to choose books for the school. The four of us clowned the day away with Mr Halpin leading the laughter. Afterwards, he took us to see a part of Dublin he hoped we’d remember forever. He hoped seeing it would make an impact on our young minds. It did.
I can still see, through a gap in the hoarding, the muddy timber steps of Wood Quay. “This is going,” he said. “The council is covering it with concrete.” All the way home we simmered with anger, fuelled by his. He told us how protestors had found swords in the builders’ rubble and how the city walls had been razed. He explained how the quay had been named a national monument but the government destroyed it anyway. He told us the only people who wanted the ugly new buildings were politicians.
I still get angry when I pass Wood Quay. Halpin had given us a mental snapshot of our disappearing history. I’ll always have it in my head. Last week, I saw Wood Quay again when John Gormley announced a new archaeological code of practice to protect our monuments. There was the clang of a rusty gate being bolted and the distant neighing of a horse. This is the man who sold Tara to get into bed with Fianna Fáil – the party which was responsible for Wood Quay.
Despite being ‘Green’, he has done nothing to halt the M3 ploughing through the Tara/Skryne valley. Instead he has concentrated on defending his predecessor’s demolition of the Lismullin national monument which lay in its way.
Dick Roche contravened European law by failing to commission an environmental impact study on the site. The government has now spent huge sums fighting the European Commission over the issue.
Gormley also spent a bundle drafting last week’s Eirgrid Code of Practice. If the European Court finds against Ireland, the National Monuments Act will have to be amended and the code will have to be redrafted. More money flushed away.
The M3 tolls will go out of Meath to a multinational. More waste.
The mishandling of Tara proves, conclusively, that we are being governed by profligate idiots. The M3 should never have been routed through Tara/Skryne. It was always going to throw up monuments like Lismullin and lead to costly court battles. The obvious thing to do was route it west of Tara, avoiding the valley.
The Greens campaigned against the M3. The World Monuments Fund and Smithsonian Institution have placed it on their ‘endangered’ lists. Gormley is still pushing ahead with it, though.
In December, he hired 15 experts to help draft a list of sites, including Tara, to nominate to Unesco for world heritage status at its annual meeting last Tuesday. No list was delivered.
Tarawatch is continuing its campaign to re-route the road with a protest at the Dáil this Wednesday (1pm). They will ask Gormley why the Unesco list wasn’t submitted as it would have tested the M3’s impact on Tara’s heritage status. They will also tell him that his new archaeological code of practice is meaningless while Tara/Skryne is being vandalised.
Gormley’s betrayal of Tara/Skryne is endorsing Fianna Fáil’s traditional approach to the environment – “cover it over with concrete”. That party’s love of unbridled development is the reason why places like Meath became an overspill for Dublin and why its roads desperately need to be improved. They mustn’t be improved at the expense of Tara. It’s bound up with our history. For 800 years it tied our ancestors to a legendary past which was ultimately used to stir up revolution and create our Republic.
The world sees Tara as our spiritual centre. It even features in one of the most popular novels/films of all time. Scarlett O’Hara’s plantation is named after it in Gone With The Wind. Her fictional Tara represents the Irish emigrant’s longing for home. Our real one now stands for longing to get home from work quicker. We need Unesco to protect Tara from ourselves.
Our generation stood by as the government over-developed our country. What will our legacy be? Some Nama-esque hulks of buildings? Some half-built estates? A concrete dagger through the heart of Tara? Is this what we want to leave behind for future schoolchildren and young teachers like the late Mr Halpin?
I can imagine him surveying the M3 and sardonically quoting Scarlett’s famous line: “Is Tara still standing or is it also gone with the wind?”
Scarlet? He’d be crimson with anger.