Launch of Tara Publication: Call for Landscape Legislation
INTRODUCTION AND SETTING THE SCENE
On behalf of the Heritage Council I am delighted to launch this wonderful new book, The Kingship and Landscape of Tara. This publication marks a major step forward in the study of an intriguing but complicated aspect of early medieval Irish history and is the culmination of a project which goes back to the very beginnings of the Discovery Programme in 1991. For ten years, the Heritage Council has provided funding for the Discovery Programme and we are delighted to see the fruits of the original research being made available in such a splendid book. The Discovery Programme has arguably done more research on Tara and its kingship than everyone else put together. This book forms part of a series of Discovery Programme research projects and publications that deal with Tara. Topographical survey, geophysical survey, archaeological excavation with related specialist studies, and historical investigation of the ancient and modern sources, have all been deployed in an attempt to understand more fully this extremely important site.
Such an approach complements fully the sentiments expressed by the editors of Billy Colfer’s marvelous book The Hook Peninsula when they say the atlas series to which it belongs was
“….designed to allow Irish People to see their landscape rather than just look at it.�?
Tonight’s celebration is about the work on Tara. It is about Tara’s Kingship and most importantly in to-days context about its LANDSCAPE.
The Hill of Tara in County Meath - ‘Royal Tara’, ‘Tara of the Kings’ - is one of the best-known and most important ancient sites in Ireland. It has a rich heritage of archaeological monuments, mythology, and historical documentation. Since at least the fourth millennium BC, Tara has been hallowed as a place of burial and proclaimed as the home of gods, goddesses and kings. It has been celebrated as a centre of religion, ritual, and royalty.
THE AVAILABLE INFORMATION AND VALUES ATTACHED
Despite this, until the Discovery Programme began its work there in the 1990s, very little was actually known about the various monuments, their function and relationship to each other, and the way the site had actually been used. This was, and is, A LIVING AND DYNAMIC LANDSCAPE
For the past seven years, on behalf of the Discovery Programme, Dr Edel Bhreathnach and her associated team have been engaged in researching and writing The Kingship and Landscape of Tara. This major volume will be the definitive statement on the subject of the Tara kingship for the foreseeable future. The publication is the culmination of an inter-disciplinary project which involved archaeologists, historians, linguists and place-name experts. The book includes: a series of potted ‘biographies’ of the kings and queens of Tara up to the eighth century, including those named as such in the mythological sources. There is also a re-assessment of the nature of the kingship of Tara and the legal aspects of that kingship. There is an examination of the origin and extent of the place-name Tara and of the other places in Ireland where the same name occurs. There is even an essay on Tara and the supernatural. The archaeology and topography of the kingdom of Brega in which Tara was situated is also analysed, and the book contains editions and translations of two of the earliest texts relating to the kingship of Tara. This volume offers many new insights into prehistoric and medieval Tara.
The following publications on Tara have of course already been issued by The Discovery Programme:
- Tara – a select bibliography by Edel Bhreathnach (1995, reprinted 1998)
- Tara -a guidebook [in both English and Irish language editions] (1995, reprinted in 1997 and 1999)
- Tara – An archaeological survey by Conor Newman (1997)
- Discovery Programme Reports (Tara Edition) Vol 6 (2002)
- Tara and the Ark of the Covenant by Mairéad Carew (2003)
There has also been a Tara Educational Poster for schools, issued with an accompanying booklet, again in both Irish and English.
Taking all of the above in to account one certainly can not say that there is insufficient information available on which to base decisions which are going to impact on this iconic site. Those decisions depend not only on the availability of information but the value which decision makers place on it relative to other values.
SEEING THE WIDER LANDSCAPE AND CHANGING THE VALUES BY APPLYING THE RESEARCH
There has been a growing appreciation that the Hill of Tara itself is just the dominant element of a wider surrounding landscape of related ritual and settlement sites. The emphasis is on the words ‘wider landscape’ Dealing with that landscape is of course all about VALUES. The Heritage Council seeks to push heritage values further up the decision-making ladder and there are ways in which we can work to improve things for the future. Indeed there are ways in which, if existing legislation is acted on we can make things better now rather than LATER.
The Heritage Council had/has recommended to the Minister of Environment Heritage and Local Government , pursuant to his responsibilities under the planning Act 2000, that he direct the establishment of a landscape conservation area in the area of Tara and Skryne. Such a designation would result in significant advantages beyond the current issue surrounding the route of the new road.. Those advantages relate to the ongoing social, economic, cultural and environmental well being of the landscape as a whole, and in particular the benefits to be derived for the communities which live within that landscape, those who wish to visit it and those who wish to study it. The local authority itself (Meath County Council) could designate such an area and Council has offered its assistance in not only the designation of the area but also in establishing a structure to meet agreed objectives for the area.
There is however an opportunity to use the existing provisions of the Planning Acts to demonstrate what could be done, on a pilot basis.
That Pilot needs to inform development of specific legislation for our landscapes. . We are now one of the few to rely on the vagaries (disparate threads) of the planning system to achieve such ends.
New landscape legislation would join up many of the dots surrounding rural development, economic development, conservation and the quality of life for our citizens and tourists who choose to visit our country. It is interesting to see the pronouncements from Failte Ireland on the significance of scenery and landscape and environment if we are to maintain and enhance Ireland’s economic and environmental standing.
We were one of the first countries to fully ratify the European Landscape Convention which has some very specific measures and which came in to force in 2004. SO why not a Landscape Ireland Act (2010) to help us achieve what we are already committed to achieving. Such legislation would have application far beyond Tara and bring the same substantial benefits to many areas.
I would like to congratulate all the various contributors, most of whom gave their time and knowledge voluntarily to this project. I would like to congratulate the designer of the book, Ger Garland, whose work has made this a most attractive publication. I would especially wish to thank and congratulate the Four Courts Press, the publishers. This is the first time that the Discovery Programme has collaborated with a commercial publisher and we acknowledge that this probably caused some additional headaches for their staff, but we hope that this excellent publication makes up for all of this. We would like to thank Meath County Council and the National University of Ireland, both of which made special grants to the Discovery Programme to help publish this massive work. We would also like to thank the Royal Irish Academy for permitting us to launch this book here. The Discovery Programme has had a close relationship with the Academy and I am glad to see that through the ongoing publication of the in-house journal Discovery Programme Reports that relationship will continue.
I have left my final thanks and congratulations to the most important person connected with this book – Dr Edel Bhreathnach. Edel has not only edited the book but has guided the project from its inception. She has been a vigorous advocate of this study and a tireless worker to bring it to fruition. The book is a marvellous tribute to her perseverance, diligence and scholarship over so many years.
My hope is that the landscape of these kings and the research which has been carried out will assist us all in making sure effective legislation and mechanisms are put in place to allow future generations to continue to appreciate and enjoy their landscape to the same extent as we obviously do ourselves.