CONTROVERSY AND PROTESTS
Written in 2008:
Ireland is a country with a rich archaeological heritage. The island has been settled by humanity for over 5000 years. Early settlers built stone structures such as forts,burial places and "dolmens". Forts are known as "ring forts" due to their circular shape, while burial places are known as "passage graves" due to the fact that they consisted of a tunnel leading to a central chamber containing the remains. Smaller graves were known as "portal dolmens" and were built in the shape of a doorway which was meant to represent the entrance to the next life.
The island of Ireland used to be very heavily forested, mainly with oak and other deciduous varieties of tree. During the colonial period, when the territory was under British control, most of this forest cover was harvested and exported. As a result, any attempt to damage old growth forest cover any further provokes a negative reaction.
With this in mind, the building of a large road network was always going to be a risky venture. Ancient sites could be damaged, or old growth forest could be threatened. There have been several large scale protests mounted against major schemes in the last decade.
Along the N11 south of Dublin, the road was expanded to dual carriageway between the 1970s and 80s. However, one section languished as a winding single carriageway well after this. The Glen of the Downs is a valley
with thick old growth woodland on either side. The plans to widen the road through here surfaced in the 1990s, and immediately protesters spoke out against the proposal. They set up treehouses in the canopy and were widely publicised. However, work began eventually even with the protesters still in situ. In the event, only 300 trees were felled. In fact, the protesters had to move eventually as it emerged that their presence in the treetops was causing damage to the trees. They regrouped and build a new camp further away from the road. Construction progress continued slowly, and finally the project was completed in 2003.  
The M50 was built in four parts. The first two were finished in the 1990s while the third came in in 2001. Immediately afterwards, construction started on the final segment from Ballinteer to Bray, junctions 13 to 17. Junction 15 would be located in an area known as Carrickmines. It had been known for some time that a castle used to be located in this townland, and indeed it appeared on old maps of the area. As soon as work began there, the foundations of the castle were uncovered by the bulldozers.
Groups concerned with heritage preservation quickly moved to block any desecration. The site was occupied by protesters who came to be known as "Carrickminders" and one of them known as Domo even composed a song
. In a surefire deliberate move, it featured the sound of passing traffic in the background. Their action succeeded in delaying work on this section of the route at least long enough for archaeological teams to record and preserve. In the end, the castle site was left in the centre of a huge roundabout connected with the interchange and can still be seen in aerial shots.
In the event, work on the final section of the M50 finally came to a conclusion at the end of June 2005. A few months later in October, the Carrickmines interchange was opened to traffic and the protest formally came to a close.
In the south of the country at Waterford, work on the city's M25 Waterford Toll Bypass came to a stop when the remains of a Viking village were uncovered during excavations for the road. This wasn't the first time a village of this sort had been unearthed. In Dublin city centre in the 1980s, a section of the quays were cleared to make way for a huge government office complex known as the Civic Offices. As the foundations were being excavated, wooden structures were unearthed. These turned out to be the base of a major ancient city district dating from the Viking period around a thousand years ago. The government decided to record and photograph the remains, but perform no preservation and went ahead with the construction of the office complex. This decision was widely reviled and marked a watershed for the cause of historical preservation in the city. After countless sins against heritage over the decades, such as the destruction of the Georgian Terrace on Fitzwilliam St, Dublin, in the 1960s and the demolition of numerous old buildings in the 70s to make way for the ill-fated Inner Tangent (a project to create a four-laned series of avenues forming a ring road around the centremost part of the city), the desecration of the Viking Village marked the last time that a historical site within city limits would be wantonly destroyed.
Finally, there was the largest, most extensive, and most widely reported atrocity against the country's ancient history. It began when plans were unveiled to build a motorway through the Meath countryside from Dublin to Navan and beyond. It would be known as the M3 and was to provoke an international outcry due to the routing of the highway between the Hill of Tara and the Hill of Skreen.
In ancient Ireland, the Hill of Tara, a prominent point in the farmlands of County Meath from which the surrounding land could be surveyed for many kilometres, was the location of the High King of Ireland, who ruled the whole island. An ancient roadway known as a "bog road" was built thousand of years ago which consisted of logs sunk into the ground and covered with gravel and straw. This road started in Dublin city centre at the quays and ran northwest. The Dublin neighbourhood was known as "Stoney Bothar" where "bothar" means road, due to the route's appearance, but the name was anglicised to Stoney Batter which is the title still used up to modern times. Beyond here, the route followed a path quite similar to the modern day N3 and terminated at the Hill of Tara. The road was therefore used by the ancient Irish as a way of getting to and from Dublin from Tara.
By the 1990s, infrastructural investment in the county of Meath was becoming crucial. The county was lagging behind the rest of the Dublin region. Counties Louth, Kildare and Wicklow had seen their railways get expanded services and some motorway and dual carriageway building. The county of Dublin had seen the development of the DART electrified rail route and numerous radial roads, and the beginnings of the M59 orbital motorway. However, County Meath had seen its railway dismantled in 1957 and the N3, though a wide straight road, was nonetheless just a single carriageway. The county had no dualled road sections and no railways. The situation was untenable considering its rapid population growth.
Plans were devised to build a toll motorway that would speed motorists from the Clonee area of Dublin, where the dual carriageway petered out and drivers were confronted with fields were moments before Dublin's urban sprawl had blanketed both sides of the road, up to Navan, changing to dual carriageway for the stretch up to Kells, famous for its eponymous book, and the county border with Cavan. Worryingly, this road would have not one but two tolls, one at the motorway entrance at Clonee, and the other north of Navan. Motorists travelling from Navan to Dublin would have to pay one toll, while cars coming from further afield in the Kells area would have to pay two.
After completing route selection, the NRA claimed that the best route was one that closely followed the existing N3 road - through the valley between the two hills. Less homes would have to be demolished and the new road would actually be further away from the Hill of Tara than the existing one. In particular, the best alternative route, taking the road around to the west of both hills, would mean it would skip too many towns.
However, toes had been stepped on. The website Tarawatch
was launched and protesters set up a camp beside the visitor's centre at the hill. The press picked up on the protest and began reporting that the road would pass "through" the hill of Tara, which wasn't quite accurate, but better informed sources pointed out that the whole area was one large archaeological site and the road construction could disturb hidden monuments, which was certainly a possibility. Other critics, many of whom commented on the situation from as far away as America and England, were more forceful. Professor Dennis Harding of the Dept. of Archaeology in Edinburgh University famously said that building the road through an area with such rich archaeological treasures lying under the surface would be like "ripping a knife through a Rembrandt" (link
, p.3). Even the Lonely Planet has given this a mention
Many legal challenges were launched. The primary mover in this respect was Vincent Salafia (wiki
, personal site
), an Irishman trained as a lawyer in the US. His legal action against the Minister for the Environment was unsuccessful and he was ordered to pay
€600,000 in legal costs, though these were subsequently waived.
Building work went underway on 30th April 2007. One day later, on May Day, a large 4000 year old old "henge" was uncovered, proving critics right. Work had to stop and teams moved in to record and document. Once they had completed their work, building work on the road continued. In July, work began on the interchange at Blundelstown, which was very near the hill. Protesters blockaded the site, and were quickly arrested. There have been sporadic arrests made ever since, most recently in March 2008.
As of now, work is advanced. It is predicted that the 3km section as far as Pace, just outside Dublin, where a large railway park and ride is due to be located by 2010, will open in a month. The project's completion date is now slated for the end of 2009, a full year earlier than predicted at launch.
Conor Newman, from the Department of Archaeology at NUI Galway, has stated that the resolution of the Tara issue will be "the yardstick against which our reputation as guardians of cultural heritage will be judged". It does not look like we will be judged with lenience.
Written in 2013:
In recent years, controversy has flared up over bypassing the small but strategically located village of Slane, Co. Meath. East of this village is an area filled with ancient megalithic tombs, a landscape continuously inhabited for millenia. The Brú Na Bóinne, or Newgrange, monument is the most famous structure in the area, even older than the Great Pyramid in Egypt, and attracts hordes of tourists every year.
Separately, the Futures area of this site proposes new roads (the M2 and N51) to divert trunk routes around the area, but it is acknowledged that a short single or dual carriageway bypass of Slane would still be needed due to the unusually difficult geography that the town presents - a steep hill with a 90-degree bend at the bottom, a narrow 300-year-old bridge, another 90-degree bend, and a steep uphill section (Streeview). A bypass of some description has been in planning for Slane for decades.
However, the proposed 4 km dual carriageway that constitutes the current proposal was controversial, garnering a Facebook page shortly after it began its route through the planning process. The issue raised by the main protester, Vincent Salafia (again), was that the road would impinge on the protected area of the Newgrange UNESCO World Heritage Site - but in fact the road lay a full five hundred metres to the west of the boundary of the site.
In 2012, planning permission was refused for the Slane bypass. The planning board cited concerns over the impact on the world heritage site, though it is unclear how this would be the case unless the boundary around it was extended further west. Vincent Salafia's site trumpeted a victory. The need for the bypass has not abated however, as the road through the town continues to suffer from a high accident rate.