Newsflash on Rath Lugh from the Tara Foundation: 15th March 2008
Construction of part of the M3 motorway at Rath Lugh, near Tara, Co. Meath, has been halted by a protester who is refusing to emerge from a 10m (33ft) deep tunnel dug into the motorway site.
Lisa Feeney from Dublin, who says she is a psychology graduate aged in her early 20s, told The Irish Times via two-way radio yesterday that she was « comfortable », well-equipped and was passing her time by reading a book by Pádraig Pearse by candlelight.
« It’s grand », Ms. Feeney said. « They haven’t cut off my air supply, so it’s comfortable enough. I’m prepared to stay here for months ».
The protesters are objecting to the motorway coming so close to the ancient Rath Lugh promontory fort, which is a national monument, as well as cutting through an area that contains scores of significant heritage sites dating back 2,000 years and more. Three protesters were arrested last night. The monument is located about 2.3 miles north-east of the Hill of Tara.
Ms. Feeney said that she was in a chamber built at the bottom of a 33ft. tunnel, which was dry, warm and well ventilated by a wind-powered pump. She has tinned food, as well as dried peas and beans which she intends to sprout in water in order to sustain herself.
Ms. Feeney and her boyfriend Paddy O’Kearney, also from Dublin, had been staying at the entrance to the tunnel, which was stocked with enough food for a month, according to the Rath Lugh Direct Action Camp.
Protester Debbie Reilly said Ms. Feeney was carrying out the action to illustrate the instability of the area around the monument and the threat of damage to it by the movement of construction equipment.
Mr. O’Kearney said a walkie-talkie system had been set up to communicate with his girlfriend and a wind generator was supplying air into the tunnel while she had some 40 gallons of water to sustain her in the 4ft. wide space.
Ms. Feeney and other M3 protesters had dug a shaft directly down into the steep embankment of the Rath Lugh « esker » – a glacial formation of rock and sand – since August, supporting the sides with pieces of plywood and timber.
At the bottom of the shaft they had widened it into a chamber that was supported by more timber and a car jack. Protesters said that Ms. Feeney had chained herself to the car jack, which also served as the main structural support for the chamber where she is holding out.
Meath County Council fire officers yesterday refused to enter the tunnel to try to bring her to the surface. By yesterday afternoon, her actions appeared to leave few options for a contingent of approximately 20 – 30 gardaí and about 30 construction workers.
After assessing the tunnel, fire officers decided that attempting a forcible entry would pose a threat to Ms. Feeney’s life, said Bill Sweeney, a spokesman for the council.
The workers and gardaí arrived at Rath Lugh at about 7am yesterday and began evicting protesters from the path of the motorway as workers tore down a temporary fort built into the side of the esker. The Rath Lugh Frontline Camp was completely dismantled. The demolition work was delayed by 10 protesters who had chained themselves to rocks, metal cylinders and a 44-gallon drum that was dug and concreted into the hillside.
For the moment, Ms. Feeney remains in the Rath Lugh tunnel.
The scene at Rath Lugh was described by one protester as « like a war zone » and « chilling ».
Local Meath councillor Phillip Cantwell described the actions of the NRA as « unbelievable ». He has called for the contractor to produce his Method Statement. No method statement has been produced.
One protester was arrested and taken to Navan Garda station. There was a 40-ton dump truck in the vicinity and 2 diggers near the tunnel.
A National University of Ireland archaeologist states that the construction work is putting the site at risk.
The NRA says that the Rath Lugh fortification will not be damaged by work to remove part of the hillside on which the fort sits.
« The construction work will not be impacting whatsoever on the declared national monument », said Seán O’Neill, a spokesman for the NRA. « The area of the national monument is being avoided at all costs – the contractors have put up fencing, which the protesters have removed. There wouldn’t even be partial impacting on the site », said Mr. O’Neill.
However, Conor Newman, an archaeology lecturer at NUI Galway, says that the motorway will cut open the hillside on which Rath Lugh sits, and a steep cliff will eventually be formed just 20m from the outer wall of the fort.
The entire hill is unstable, he said, as it is built on an esker – a ridge made of small rocks left behind by the glacier that formed the local hills and valleys.
« It’s the bed of a river that ran under a glacier », said Mr. Newman, « small round stones held together by sand and silt ».
Mr. Newman, and the small group of protesters camped on the side of the esker in the path of the M3, argue that cutting into the esker will inevitably damage Rath Lugh. « The monument is at the top of the esker – you can’t divorce one from another », he said.
The esker is one of the last obstacles to construction in the Lismullin area. Bulldozers have cleared the land on both approaches to the site.
Mr. Newman says the fort was one of the original defensive positions protecting the Hill of Tara, and would be one of the first purely military settlements built in Ireland.
« It probably dates from shortly after the birth of Christ », he said.
Peadar Ó Ceallaigh, a building surveyor and a member of the Rath Lugh Direct Action Camp, sought a High Court injunction on the basis on that a preservation order on Rath Lugh, signed last month by Environment Minister John Gormley, that there were breaches of the preservation order due to the building work.
He told the court he had carried his own survey and said damage has already been caused.
It is, he said, one of the most important archeological sites in Europe and needs to be properly investigated before any more work takes place.
Mr. Ó Ceallaigh, also claimed that Ms. Feeney who is in the tunnel underneath the road route was in danger from the impact of heavy diggers passing over it.
However, Ms Justice Mary Lafoy ruled that there was no evidence before her that there had been any breach of the National Monuments Act.
The judge also ruled that Mr. Ó Ceallaigh had no legal standing to take action on behalf of anyone who may or may not be in a tunnel.
The NRA, the Minister for the Environment and the Attorney General opposed Mr. Ó Ceallaigh’s injunction.
Update: Around 100 protestors have set up a new camp at the Rath Lugh National Monument: The people at the Rath Lugh Camp Direct Action Camp need help at once. New supporters and supplies are urgently required at the camp.
To travel to the Rath Lugh National Monument:
By Car: Take the N3 from Dublin. Tara is halfway between Dunshaughlin and Navan. At Ross Cross, there is a pub on the left called « Tara na Ri », a yellow building with flat roof. Turn right here towards Skryne and Duleek. Go straight, and take the first right towards Skryne. This is a very windy road, and woodlands will be on the right hand side. Go straight through the crossroads.
By BUS: Buses from Dublin go from Busaras in Dublin 1. Take the N3 towards Navan. Ask to get off at the Tara Na Ri Pub, follow directions above.
For further information:+353 86 1537146
To travel to the Hill of Tara:
By Car: Take the N3 and then turn left at the Tara signpost
By Bus: Take either the Navan, Kells or Cavan bus which leave from Busarus. Ask to get off after
Tara Cross at the Lismullen bus stop and it is a short walk from there.
The vigil fire camp is located near the car-park at the Hill of Tara, about 200 metres on the right and a little in from the road. There are sign posts from the car-park.
For further information: +353 86 175 8557
Tara Foundation 2008: