Tara and the M3

Published in General, Issue 6 (Nov/Dec 2007), Letters, Volume 15

Sir,

—There is no doubt that Mr Pat Cooke is keen to court controversywith his pseudo-philosophical deconstruction of Tara and its landscapein his ‘platform’ piece, ‘Plato’s landscape: the quarrel over Lismullenand the Tara/Skryne valley’ (HI 15.5, Sept./Oct. 2007). Fewcommentators would be foolhardy enough to seriously dismiss thenational significance of Tara’s landscape on the basis of currentarchaeological and historical evidence, and I hope, despite firstappearances, that this is not Mr Cooke’s intention. Mr Cooke is surelyaware of the scholarly research into the history and archaeology ofTara undertaken by the Discovery Programme since its foundation in1992, and is also well acquainted, no doubt, with the numerous,internationally acclaimed, peer-reviewed books and articles on thesubject published over the years—most recently Dr Edel Bhreathnach’sedited volume on The kingship and landscape of Tara. One must assumethat he is also familiar with the vast corpus of literature on thesubject of cultural and, indeed, archaeological landscapes.
The significance of Tara’s landscape is undisputed in scholarly andacademic circles; indeed, it was recognised as such long before thecurrent route for the M3 motorway was chosen as the ‘preferred route’option. It has been demonstrated conclusively, both archaeologicallyand historically, that the cluster of unusual earthworks on the hilltopof Tara is but the nucleus of a well-defined zone extending over a farbroader area than the narrow confines and arbitrary limits of thestate-owned lands. Indeed, such dedicated research has paid remarkabledividends as it has come a long way towards an understanding of Tara’slandscape as perceived by those very people, throughout history andprehistory, who defined it for themselves.
Those of us who have had the privilege of surveying and researchingTara over the years are all too aware of what is at stake. Theimpending fate of Tara, surely our foremost national monument, is notsimply a matter of political reality versus cultural heritage or amatter of infrastructural development versus environmentalconservation—such issues, in any case, are not mutually exclusive. Thefundamental issue at stake here concerns our sense of cultural value,our self-respect as a people and the preservation of our nationaldignity. One can only assume, therefore, that Mr Cooke is being just alittle mischievous when he states that we ‘neoplatonists’ (as he likesto label us) could be advised to pick ‘winnable’ or ‘better battles’which ‘might lead to a better and intended consequence—the salvation ofmore heritage across the entire Irish landscape and not just at thisone, poorly chosen Thermopylae’. With such a provocative, if absurd,concluding statement, the article must surely have been penned withtongue pressed firmly to cheek. One must hope, however, that hismotivation in writing such perplexing prose is as commendable as it iscomical—an attention-seeking platform from which to generate somegenuine and serious debate on the subject of the Tara landscape (andperhaps also issues of ethics and democracy as addressed in Plato’sRepublic).
In conclusion, Mr Cooke may be interested to learn that, despite avaliant defence, the Greeks were indeed defeated by the Persians at themountain valley of Thermopylae in 480 BC, but only as the result of abetrayal. It was the subsequent battle of Salamis, however, in whichthe Persian naval forces were destroyed, that proved to be the decisiveengagement and ensured final victory for the Greeks at the battle ofPlataea—the rest, as they say, is history.

—Yours etc.,
JOE FENWICK
Dept. of Archaeology
NUI, Galway

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