Driving To Tara; lessons in terror and calm
I go to Tara every month or so. It's a pleasant enough drive if you ignore the mad lorry drivers and the somewhat optional approach to road safety that is a feature of Irish driving. When I was a child, my parents brought me to Tara. It was one of those things we did. You see ours was a family that Went For Walks (once a 24 mile hike to the source of the Powerscourt Waterfall - by accident) and if we didn't go for walks we Went For Drives. This entailed being squashed into the back of a car with two sisters who either were not speaking to me or each other while my parents taste in music afflicted our senses hour after hour. Val Doonigan. Boxcar Willie. Trailer for sale or rent.
Child-line came along a few years too late or I would have been their best customer.
This was in the days before motorways and toll booths. It was a longish drive on pretty crap roads and we generally ended up behind a passing tractor or two en route. When we were little kids, once we arrived anywhere- Tara, Avondale, Powerscourt – we bolted from the car like rabbits emancipated from the stew pot. As preteens and teens we slouched from the car and mooched up the hill, with attitude. As young adults we simply refused to leave the house of a Sunday and thus an era of Drives in the Countryside came to an end.
As a grown-up I rediscovered Tara in my early twenties. It was accidental. A friend was learning to drive and asked me to bear her company.
She shared the common belief that an inability to change gear or stay on the correct side of the road was compensated for by having someone else in the car, even if that person couldn't themselves drive. After a very interesting and eventful trip we found ourselves at the turn-off to Tara. "Take the road to Tara" I remember screaming, solely in the hope of getting her off the main road. We jerked our way in first gear up the hill and arrived at the car park – after falling from the vehicle and kissing the ground I suggested a walk to calm our nerves and postpone the inevitable return trip. So we wandered rather glumly up the approach, clambered over the stile in the churchyard wall and through the moss covered graves in the churchyard.
From the narrow and earthly concerns of the churchyard through to the vista and spread of the Hill itself is a psychological moment . The wind – Tara is almost always freshened by a stiff breeze – hits you as you emerge from the church grounds, and the main thing you notice is sky. Tara commands a view second to none, with a limitless sky above you: the prevailing impression of each trip to the hill is dictated by this canopy of heaven; slate grey, azure blue, impossibly clear with a hot summer sun, crossed and chased with clouds that tell 100 stories as you lie on your back on the Mound of Nine of the Nine hostages…the sky and the horizon remind you of a time when your vision wasn't bounded by buildings and limitations.
I put the sense of relief and calm and welcoming to the sheer terror of our journey there: but I returned time and again and realized that Tara always has this effect. Perhaps it's just me: I don't think so though. I watch tourists thrill to the tales of their guide, feeling at last that here, here where kings dwelt and an oak temple supports the hill and bloody revolution was fought, here they have reached something of the Ireland of their dreams and imaginations.
When you wander around the hill, over to the witch thorns or up and down those impossible ramparts and earthworks and meet another fellow citizen, a little self conscious at being caught walking the spiral or meditating in the hollows, and exchange that look (half embarrassed half defiant) that says "Well, it is Tara after all" – then you realize what Tara is about. It's the place which transcends Rosary and Rattle: where everyone be they tourist and Irish, immigrant or native, finds something that reaches them: where every single moment of irish history finds some expression from the earliest settlers to the recent past. Tara is the heart of Ireland because it brings all things, all traditions and threads of irish life, to itself and has done for thousands of years.
Politics, Religion, Art, Mystery, Oppression , Invasion, Revolution, Oppression, Freedom – the great stock characters of a nation's history stalk the stage at Tara. It is possible to tell Ireland's story in microcosm through Tara and impossible to tell Ireland's story without Tara.
But what is all this in the face of "progress" or what passes for it nowadays? A new motorway threatens the archaeology of the Skryne Valley and Tara, and is set to inflict noise and light pollution at the least on the Hill itself. Oppose this road and you will feel the fury of the outraged "average citizen" who having moved to housing estates in Meath to escape Dublin house prices find themselves in dire need of faster transport into work in the capital. Oppose this road and, I am told, I shall be personally responsible for keeping mother and child, father and family apart; forcing parents to rise at five am to make a 9 o'clock start in the city centre; ensuring a generation grows up sans supervision and probably psychotic through lack of parental interaction; and not least I shall be a crank and a Luddite.
Actually as a hard worker and a Dubliner myself I naturally feel a great deal of sympathy for the poor sods buying homes in the sticks because Dubliners have been priced out of Dublin. However if I were them I would have checked a few things like infrastructure first: and I would blame the greedy developers and the county council and the planners and the government who ignored the lack of sufficient infrastructure when allowing over development and overbuilding in what was an essentially agricultural area. Nor and I am aware how harsh this sound… nor did I ask them to have kids. I'm sorry but other people's lack of thought and planning is threatening one of our most precious national sites. When anyone protests we're called cranks and those in favour of this unnecessary and badly thought-out road bleat "what about the poor families?"
Well what about them?
Well if I were them I would put the blame firmly on the heads of those responsible, and try to think a little beyond the obvious. What about these families? Think of the children? Well if anyone was really thinking of the children they would have opted for railroad over the gross environmental and cultural fallout of yet another road. They might have thought they would like their children to grow up in something other than a glorified car park, breathing something approximating fresh air.
And should the rest of the country and the world, because Tara and the archaeology involved has meaning and importance for the whole world, be held over a barrel to satisfy the short term wants of a minority?
Tara has 'til now always brought me peace: I leave feeling recharged, refreshed; once more aware of the core and the centre of myself. But now when I think of Tara I feel anger. Rage. Outrage. I am sick of hearing smug politicians dismiss the protests of thousands of people, hearing them imply that somehow an involvement with and care for our past makes us ridiculous. Outrage at hearing a community beg, and plead for the means of destruction of its environment and heritage, to get into work a few minutes earlier.
In the end the big boys may win, but we owe it to ourselves, and to Tara and to our history and to the environment and the future, not to give in without a fight. We also owe it to our future to provoke the discussion, how many more roads do we actually need? How many people have to die on main roads, speeding under the false illusion of safety, before we rethink our transport plans? Why are other plans, like railways and alternate routes dismissed out of hand. There are a myriad of small battles to be won on the road to saving Tara, and each of them need to be fought, for all our sakes.
So when they call you a crank, smile sweetly and say "I'd sooner be a crank than a selfish shortsighted slave to instant gratification."
If you can manage a "yah boo" as well, so much the better.
Copyright Geraldine Moorkens Byrne