Friday, 7 November 2014

The M3 - a Fomorian influence - my speech at the launch of the book 'Tara Calling' by Carmel Diviney

Here is the text of my speech at the launch of Carmel Diviney's book 'Tara Calling' which took place on November 6th 2014 at the Irish Writers Centre in Dublin.

Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests. It gives me great pleasure to be here tonight to speak at the launch of this very important book. When Carmel asked me if I would say something, I was both honoured and daunted. What would I say? She said “don’t worry Anthony. I have heard you speak many a time so I trust you will say what comes from your heart anyway”. So here goes . . . a little something from my heart.

Carmel Diviney signing her book at the launch.
As many of you will know, I have written a fair bit about Ireland’s ancient monuments and mythology, and I hold these things as great treasures, treasures not only of a nation or a culture, or a specific race, but treasures of the heart, and of the soul. Am I the only one with this view? Thankfully not. Does everyone hold this view? Sadly not.

I have a great interest in the invasion myths, and in the Tuatha Dé Danann. Our whole history, both mythically and in reality, has been one filled with invasions. And those myths continue to resonate today. They are not mere fireside stories of old. These myths are relevant to a great deal of what’s been taking place in Ireland in recent years, in the political, social, religious and economic affairs of the nation. In the Second Battle of Moytura, the Tuatha Dé Danann battled against the Fomorians. The Tuatha Dé were a divine race. The Fomorians were a destructive one. In my opinion, the Battle of Moytura never ended. It is an eternal battle, one which continues to play out today.

The late John Moriarty (the genius that he was) captured it in an extraordinary insightful way when he said the following:

The Fomorians have chosen to shape nature to suit them. Surrendering to it, the Tuatha Dé Danann have chosen to let nature shape them to suit it. Our way now is wholly Fomorian. It isn’t working, or, rather, it has proved to be utterly disastrous;

Over the past 15 years in Ireland, it seems that there was a distinct Fomorian influence manifesting itself in the events and happenings of the country, something that entered into many of the decisions being made on behalf of its citizens. One of these decisions was to route the M3 motorway up the Tara-Skryne valley. But there were many more.

During the so-called Celtic Tiger years, we had deluded ourselves as a nation. We thought the Fomorians were dead and gone. Who believes in fairy tales anyway? We somehow came to think that we could own our own home, no matter the cost. We could borrow three, four, even five hundred thousand euros, and more, and not worry too much about repaying it. The fact was that we had jobs and the banks were willing to lend us the money, so who should worry? And we could even throw in a second property in foreign climes as an “investment” or a holiday home. After all, it was only fitting that the Irish, so long deprived of land and property, should now be able to make their nests in such obviously culturally similar places as Cape Verde, Dubai and the Black Sea Coast of Bulgaria.

While people obviously had a lot of cash in their pockets, and we had never known a time of such plenty, it should have been blindingly obvious that something was not right. There was a huge amount of development taking place. Huge tracts of land were being given over to housing estates, industrial estates, retail parks, apartment complexes, and indeed roads. The plan seemed to go something like this. Let’s build thousands of homes in the commuter belt and people can buy ridiculously expensive homes that they will never get to spend much time in, because they will be racing up and down the new road network to jobs in Dublin from as far away as Cavan, Longford and Laois, and when they get home they will go to their evening job to help pay off the two grand a month repayments on that 40-year mortgage, and they might never get the chance to start a family, or live a life, or engage in their local community. Ah sure we’ll build a few schools and playgrounds and that’ll keep them all happy.

During my time as Editor of the Drogheda Leader newspaper from 2003 to 2007, I wrote about several controversial plans, on which I had considerable personal reservations. One was called the Northern Environs Plan, which in the cold light of day and on “mature recollection” could probably be fairly construed as a plan whereby the local authorities would facilitate developers to make millions creating a vast agglomeration of houses against a pretext of building a much-vaunted and long-called-for access road to Drogheda Port. There was another similar plan for the south side of the town, which, if memory serves me right, envisaged the construction of up to 10,000 homes, and a football stadium. Now that was crazy, especially given that there weren’t even 10,000 homes in the borough of Drogheda at that time. We would have a town of 70,000 inhabitants, the local authority told us. Back then, we had less than half that population. There were vague plans for schools and other community facilities, but the first things to be built, of course, would be the houses and the roads.

Then there was Drogheda Port itself. Having heard local politicians banging council chamber tables for years and years calling for this port access route, without success, we then learned that Drogheda Port Company might not need the road after all because they were planning a new deep sea port somewhere along the east coast. At one time, 11 different sites along the east coast were being considered for this new deep sea port. And what was the one that was ultimately chosen? Bremore. Yes, the one with the megalithic passage-tomb cluster on it. Of course. Sure where better? Anyway, who would care about few auld mounds? Sure everyone knows the Tuatha Dé Danann had gone away to Tír na nÓg and only the hippies and the tree huggers gave a damn about fairy tales and fairy mounds. Everyone else was busy working for Celtic Tiger Ireland. Inc. (Trademark!) Right?

Wood Quay protests? Bunch of hippies.
Carrickmines? Bunch of hippies.
Glen of the Downs? Definitely the tree-huggers.

Authors Anthony Murphy and Gearóid Ó Branagáin at
the launch of 'Tara Calling' in Dublin.
And what about the M3 motorway, this wonderful new road which would enable the citizens of such fine towns as Navan and Kells get home just in time to start their evening job to pay off that horrendously massive mortgage? Surely no one would protest against progress. And sure enough, Fianna Fáil and their government partners waved their magic wand around and raised a druidic incantation, enchanting all the inhabitants of the nation with their appeasing spell. “You shall all have big houses, and fancy cars, and shall dine in nice restaurants and shop in all the new shopping centres and stay for weekends in one of the seven billion hotels being built. And you won’t have to worry about paying for all this. Just put it on credit. It can be paid back at some unspecified time in the future, and sure don’t ya know you might be dead before you even have to pay it off.”

And then the M3 show rolled into town. And those of us who were immune to the spell of the Fomorians were flabbergasted, disgusted and astonished that anyone in their right mind could consider routing a motorway through the Tara-Skryne Valley. But the M3, and specifically the crazy plan for its route through that historic valley, became a grand symbol of the insanity and incongruousness of the Celtic Tiger era. Nothing was sacred. And anyone who dared to suggest that a centre of historical and cultural significance, such as this, which has not many equals in other parts of the world, should halt the wonderful and triumphant march of progress, was clearly nothing more than a hippie or a tree-hugger with too much time on their hands.

I can tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that the late Seamus Heaney was no hippie.

Heaney said the following of Tara:

"It's a word that conjures an aura - it conjures up what they call in Irish dúchas, a sense of belonging, a sense of patrimony, a sense of an ideal, an ideal of the spirit if you like, that belongs in the place and if anywhere in Ireland conjures that up - it's Tara - it's a mythical site of course.”

And he deplored what he called the “ruthless desecration” of that sacred landscape that the M3 would bring. The hundreds of academics, archaeologists and conservationists from around the world who wrote to the Irish Government condemning the plan and calling for a rethink were also ignored. Obviously the hippies had infiltrated the upper echelons of the fine educational institutions of the world.

While we all stood with mouths agape at the horrendous disregard for culture that seemed to have enveloped Fianna Fáil and their cohorts, and what’s more their utter arrogance and boldness, the plan gained momentum and it was clear we were going to have a fight on our hands. If they ignored all the academics, and the likes of Seamus Heaney, it might have to come down to a stand-off on the turf. And that’s exactly what happened.

Astonished by the relentless speed at which this mad project was advancing, and taken aback by the complete disregard for a sacred landscape shown by the government of the time, the protests and direct action began. With the ongoing legal and political battles seeming to prove fruitless, a band of defenders began their effort to attempt to halt the construction of the M3 through the Gabhra valley.

The battle to stop the M3 was the last desperate fight to prevent the tail of the tiger from breaking the strings of the harp, as Heaney put it. But in truth it was to be the last battle of sense against the insanity of that era. And thus Carmel’s book has a very important role to play in the telling of the history of this time to the generations of the future. Those who protested against the routing of the motorway through the Tara-Skryne Valley were made to feel like outcasts, like wasters and degenerates who were blocking progress towards a wonderful prosperous future. But we knew that we had right on our side. And we knew that the fairy tale of prosperity for all was just that - a fairy tale.

There was, unfortunately, a dark side to the way the direct action protesters were treated by murky, clandestine and nameless agitators of the Government and the agencies through which it did the dirty work of carving up the sacred landscape. I personally heard a number of firsthand accounts of assaults by agents unknown on protesters. And that’s how it went. People who cared deeply and genuinely about their heritage and the landscape were viciously assaulted by the thugs who were in some cases unidentifiable, and who of course were far removed from the authorities, so that the government could always distance itself from any such murkiness. 

I’m delighted to have the honour of launching Carmel’s book here tonight. I want to applaud her, and all of those who joined her either in the direct action activities or in related protests and lobbying and publicising this shameful act of cultural vandalism. These were people who were willing to stand up to belligerence and ignorance, and to say no on behalf of many more people in Ireland and in various parts of the world who wanted the project stopped and re-routed. I know there are those who would say some of you didn’t cover yourself in glory. But from what I could tell, the bulk of the aggression came from those incognito Fomorian agents who were trying to force this project through.

I’m sure there were times when you wondered if it was worth the battle Carmel. I read the passage where you and several others were arrested and detained at Navan Garda station. That must have been one of the low points for you. But then seeing all your supporters in the courtroom must have reassured you. The uncovering of the so-called Operation Bedrock was proof, if it were needed, that a security and policing policy existed in order to “criminalise peaceful and legitimate protesters, and to quell free speech” in the words of Laura Grealish. You had right on your side. The Battle for Soldier’s Hill and the Battle of Rath Lugh were events that defined the struggle of right against wrong. And that’s why your book is so important. It is a chronicle of the events of the time, from the perspective of the protesters. God knows we heard enough from the pro-motorway lobby in the form of politicians and businesspeople and the media during those mad times. It’s important, for the sake of posterity and for a full record of the story of the M3, that the other side of the story is told. And now it has been told, and it is my earnest hope that enough people become acquainted with it so that we as a nation prevent such madness from taking place again.

It’s now 2014. The M3 is long finished. They put some nice tolls on it just to make sure that it’s not busy enough to have been warranted in the first place. They did the same with the M1, and the poor residents of Julianstown who had been campaigning for years for a bypass found no alleviation when the motorway was eventually built. Traffic through that lovely village is now worse than it ever was before the M1 was built. It’s 2014 and still there’s no sign of any movement on a proper rail link to Navan. Of course the M3 somewhat conveniently reduces that need, but if we are to have proper sustainable communities in this country we are going to have to move away from motorways and motorcars towards mass transport. Even better, it would be nice if we could all live and work in our own towns and villages, and enjoy community life a bit more. It’s now 2014, and where are all the bones of the ancestors they dug up from their graves in the Tara Valley? Are they still in a warehouse somewhere? It’s now 2014, and Fianna Fáil haven’t recovered from the disastrous meltdown that started happening to them just as the M3 was completed. Of course, I know lots of you will say that is no coincidence. It’s now 2014, and we’ve all but given away the rights to our oil and natural resources, something that Justin Keating said would be a crime against the Irish people. It’s now 2014, and the government of the day is trying to make us pay for water. The ancestors would turn in their graves, if they were still in their graves.

Carmel, I’m delighted to officially launch your book tonight, and I wish you every success with it. Thank you, from all of us, for all of your hard work putting it together. And I leave you with this thought. The widespread folklore about the Tuatha Dé Danann is that they live on, in the sídhe, awaiting the call to return and bring Ireland to glory. The Fomorians will never win the eternal Battle of Moytura. The Tuatha Dé Danann won’t allow it. The Fomorians might have won the battle, but they lost the war.