Back in April the National Geographic magazine attempted to explain to its horrified readers the seemingly inexplicable rationale behind the Islamic State’s fanatical hatred of the priceless, ancient monuments and artefacts of the Middle East:
“While using the destruction of cultural heritage to demonstrate their “piety” and stoke division within local populations, ISIS also sees the practice of archaeology as a foreign import that fans Iraqi nationalism and impedes their ultimate goal, in which modern nations of the Middle East are subsumed into a wider caliphate encompassing the entire Muslim world.
An article on the destruction at the Mosul museum in a recent issue ofDabiq, the online magazine of the Islamic State, makes its position clear: “The kuffār [unbelievers] had unearthed these statues and ruins in recent generations and attempted to portray them as part of a cultural heritage and identity that the Muslims of Iraq should embrace and be proud of.”
Just a few months ago our own Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, warned of the dangers posed to the physical legacy of Ireland’s millennia-long civilization by ISIL/ISIS, albeit in typically unconvincing fashion.
“Speaking to reporters earlier today, Kenny pointed to the growth of the terrorist group in Syria alone and the global threats they pose.
“Purely from the historical point of view, they want to blow up Newgrange and the Rock of Cashel...”
Which is a somewhat ironic given that more harm as been done to the archaeological heritage of this island nation during two decades of successive government by Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Labour and the Greens, than anything we have seen by wannabe adherences of militant political Islam.
From the corruption-driven desecration of the landscape around Teamhair na Rí, the Hill of Tara, which drew the condemnation of the international academic community, to countless local acts of cultural vandalism such as the loss of the Knockhouse ringfort in Waterford, we do not wait for the barbarians to appear upon our shores – instead we elevate them to high office and watch as they lay waste to our history in the name of commerce and facile modernity.
From the blog of Donal O’Keeffe another chapter in the continued deculturalization of Ireland:
“In 2005, a 3,000 year old Bronze Age wooden road was uncovered in Mayne Bog in Coole, Co Westmeath. Described by An Taisce as “a major, timber-built road of European significance”, this was an archaeological find of huge importance.
According to Professor John Waddell, the Emeritus Professor of Archaeology at NUI Galway, the Mayne road (or “Togher”) is, in terms of size, age, and antiquity “truly of European significance and is on a par with those preserved in dedicated heritage centres like Wittemoor in Lower Saxony, Flag Fen in Peterborough (UK), and Corlea in County Longford”.
Professor Waddell’s mention of Corlea is interesting. The Corlea Trackway (Bóthar Chorr Liath) is an Iron Age structure near the village of Keenagh in Co Longford. At least a kilometre in length, it was wide enough for two chariots to pass each other side by side and it has been dated to 148 BC. Corlea now has an interpretive centre which has, for the past 21 years, employed four people seasonally from April to September and, attracting over 5,500 visitors each year, it is now Longford’s leading tourist attraction.
With all of the considerable respect due to Corlea, the find in Westmeath puts Corlea in the ha’penny place. Whereas Corlea is a trackway, the Mayne Togher is a proper road, up to 6 metres wide and 675 metres in length but, An Taisce notes, “it was seen to extend beyond both recorded limits”. Mayne is also a thousand years older than Corlea.
For the ten years since the find, Westland Horticulture has – entirely legally –continued to mulch something as old as Newgrange into compost for window boxes. At least 75% of the road is gone now. Dr Pat Wallace – former director of the National Museum of Ireland – has described this as “an international calamity”.
Professor Waddell says “It is quite extraordinary that this discovery has not been the subject of comprehensive survey and more extensive excavation. It is a scandal that its destruction through industrial peat cutting continues unchecked . . . Given the European significance of discoveries like this, the inaction of the Department of Arts, Heritage and An Gaeltacht is as depressing as it is inexplicable.”
A spokesperson for Minister for the Arts, Heritage and An Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys TD, told An Taisce: “Further steps under the National Monuments Act… would not be warranted at this stage.” It’s hard not to interpret that as “Sure the damage is done now. They might as well keep going.”
Even a completely soulless Philistine without any regard for our culture, our history or our heritage would have to admit that – if nothing else – the destruction of the Mayne Togher represents a stunning disregard for the potential for tourism attendant upon such a discovery. Even if money is the only thing which moves you, you would have to wonder how we can afford to squander such a resource.
“The track is undoubtedly of European significance and far older than the Roman roads,” Ian Lumley of An Taisce told The Irish Times. “We’re now referring the matter to the European Commission for intervention on the basis of a (possible) breach of a European Commission Environmental Impact Assessment Directive.”
Even if Mayne Togher is now, belatedly, declared a national monument, at least three quarters of it has been needlessly destroyed. And for what? For potting compost.”
Deny a people its past and you deny them their future, facilitating the imposition of other ways of being, of understanding. That is as much an explanation for the actions of the Islamic State in Syria as it is for the actions of the Neo-Ascendancy in Ireland.