Irish Examiner

10/10/2004 - 5:09:50 PM

Actor joins motorway protest

Actor Stuart Townsend joined environmental campaigners today in a bid to stop the construction of a major motorway close to the historic seat of the High Kings of Ireland.

The accomplished movie star had invited dozens of Irish celebrities and politicians to attend todays celebration at the Hill of Tara in Co Meath.

Townsend, 31, has joined a local action organisation, Save Tara Skryne Valley Group, to oppose the building of the M3 motorway, which the National Roads Authority plans to route close to the site.

The actor, who flew in from filming in Germany, said: “Someone really seems to have it in for our heritage. This is a matter of national importance and I would urge as many people to attend as possible.”

He added: “Barely anyone has tried to stop what surely will be one of the greatest archeological travesties of our time. We here in Ireland seem to just be happy to let road builders dig up and tear through the most ancient and sacred place that exists in our land.”

The campaigners are looking for the NRA to move the route further away from the acclaimed area.

People first inhabited the Tara-Skryne valley during the Stone Age and there are passage tombs on the site dating back to around 2000BC.

The site was considered the capital of Ireland, when it became the seat of the High King, who would rule the dozens of kingdoms that had emerged across the country. The seat stayed at Tara until the sixth century.

Historians, including Dr Muireann Ni Bhrolchain of the National University of Ireland in Maynooth, and archeologists attended the event, called Feis Tara Skryne, to lead people on a guided tour of the historical sites and point out their significance.

Environmental campaigner, Vincent Salafia, said: “We are delighted that this issue is finally getting the attention it deserves. This event will give the new Minister for the Environment, Dick Roche, a chance to understand what is at stake here at Tara.”

The Wicklow TD is due to make a decision later this month on whether the route, as currently planned, should go ahead.

The campaign group have threatened to take the case to the High Court if the route goes ahead as planned and an excavation of the site is ordered.

The NRA have already faced court battles over the finishing of the construction of the M50 motorway.

The route has already faced two-year delays after the foundations of a castle were unearthed at Carrickmines in Dublin, and environmentalists objected to the continued construction of the road.

Mr Salafia warned: “Carrickmines Castle is still in the courts after two years, due to the mismanagement of the former Minister, Martin Cullen. We want to avoid a repeat of that here, and make this a win-win situation.”

In a statement on his website, Townsend, who starred in Queen of the Damned, said: “The development in Tara represents in microcosm what is happening in the country as a whole.”

Dr Ni Bhrolchain began the guided tour at 1pm at the abbey on the Hill of Skryne, which lies around one and a half miles to the east of the famed ’seat’.

Campaigners, poets and religious leaders told the crowd of the hill’s importance this afternoon.

Artist Jim Fitzpatrick, members of the Irish traditional band Kila, including Ronan O’Snodaigh, joined Townsend on the tours.

The speaker’s corner held next to the Lia Fail stone, or the Stone of Destiny, attracted dozens of onlookers.

The first Feis which began around 1300 BC by Ollam Fodla enacted new laws and discussed the disputes of Ireland’s tribal chieftains.

The campaign group said the discussions followed the original purpose of the seat of the High Kings of Ireland, with debate on an issue of national importance.

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