Celtic Tiger threatens 'very soul of historic Ireland'





HILL OF TARA, Ireland–It is a battle worthy of the old Irish legends, pitting history against modernity. But as a controversial highway creeps ever closer to the spiritual home of the early Celtic kings, it now appears both sides may lose.

For advocates of the twin ribbons of asphalt called the M3 now under construction north of the Irish capital, there is no choice but to live pragmatically with the roar of a commuter corridor in the shadow of the sacred Hill of Tara, because getting to nearby Dublin is a nightmare without it.

For opponents, the new toll highway is the most painful example of the Celtic Tiger's propensity for gnawing through all obstacles – up to and including "the very soul of historic Ireland" – in the pursuit of the almighty euro. Worse, they say, the highway is arriving just as the economy curls up into what many expect will be a deep slumber, worn ragged by a broken property bubble and the global credit squeeze.

Scheduled to open in 2010, the M3's loudest critics concede much of the damage is already done – 38 archaeological sites unearthed during construction thus far have been carved from the landscape. Among the now vanished finds, a newly discovered national monument at Lismullin that one leading archaeologist described as "the wooden equivalent of Stonehenge."

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