A new Battle of the Boyne?

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Early Modern History (1500–1700), Issue 3 (May/Jun 2006), News, Volume 14

No Irish battle is more famous than the Battle of the Boyne. No year in Irish history is better known than 1690. Sadly, over 300 years on, a new Battle of the Boyne is under way. This time, however, it is not Protestant against Catholic. It is not a battle for sovereignty. Instead, it is a battle uniting North and South against the onward march of industrialisation. It is a joint effort to protect what is our culture, our heritage.
The common ‘enemy’ this time is industry, in the form of Irish Cement and the Belgian company Indaver. Irish Cement already has a plant in Platin, Co. Meath. It is now proposing to increase production by 40 per cent, which will mean, amongst other things, the construction of a massive 125-metre chimney stack. Indaver wants to build a waste-to-energy facility (incinerator) at nearby Carranstown. The company envisages incinerating up to 200,000 tonnes per annum. Given that the proposed sites of these developments are on the ‘footprint’ of the battle site, the companies’ plans are quite simply unbelievable. What we are faced with is the threat of cultural vandalism on a massive scale.
Historians throughout the world regard the Battle of the Boyne as uniquely significant. Not only was it one of the defining points in Irish history, but in European terms it was an integral part of a complicated, dynastic and strategic conflict. Its outcome influenced not only the course of our own history but also that of some of the major states in Europe. The Battle of the Boyne has a fundamental role in our past, our present and, undoubtedly, our future. Given its unique importance, it is only right that this famous battle site be protected and cherished.
That duty lies not only with Meath County Council but also with the Irish government. If these plans are given the go-ahead, the result will be the destruction forever of centuries of unique culture and heritage. It cannot be emphasised strongly enough. If this site is lost to industry, it is lost forever and cannot be restored. If we consign our history to the modern waste incinerator, nothing we view as sacred will ever be safe again.
Can you imagine the authorities of other countries even considering such proposals at Agincourt, Gettysburg or the Alamo? Not a chance. We must ensure that these development proposals are defeated and then move on to guarantee that nothing of this nature is ever again considered.
Within viewing distance of the battle site is the UNESCO World Heritage site, the archaeological ensemble of the Bend of the Boyne (Brú na Boinne), which is described as ‘Europe’s largest and most important concentration of prehistoric megalithic art’. Side by side, we have one of the major historic battle sites in Europe and the most important area of megalithic art in Europe. Given these facts, how can it even be considered to desecrate them with modern development?
The UNESCO site must be extended to include the Boyne battle site. It is a logical move, given the historical value of both sites and their close proximity. It is also important to realise that this issue goes beyond any religious or cultural divide. Our history, our heritage and our culture must be protected at all costs, and the ‘footprint’ of the Battle of the Boyne is the history, heritage and culture of everyone, north and south of the border, and in many parts of the world.
Jim Wells is MLA for South Down and spokesman on the environment for the Democratic Unionist Party.

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