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10 April 2008 Edition

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Tara tunneller hopes sense may yet prevail on M3

Lisa ‘Squeak’ Feeney

Lisa ‘Squeak’ Feeney

FOR JUST three days in March, Lisa ‘Squeak’ Feeney held the attention of the nation as her tunnel sit-in at Rath Lugh Fort against the planned M3 motorway through the Tara Skryne valley both gripped and divided public opinion on the merits of the motorway and the changing nature of political protest in Ireland.
But in the blanket media coverage of the event, it was hard to get a true picture of either Lisa Feeney, the Rath Lugh Direct Action Group which has led the campaign, or what was really happening at the site of the 2,000-year-old promontory fort threatened by the NRA bulldozers.
This week, An Phoblacht interviews Lisa Feeney and asks her about the ideas behind the Rath Lugh group, life in their camp and that vital question: which work by Pádraig Pearse was she reading while entombed within the Rath?


IT DOESN’T take long talking to Lisa Feeney – Ireland’s most famous tunneller since the 1997 Long Kesh escape attempt – to realise that it’s not just about Rath Lugh, or the M3. Her ambitions have a much wider scope which runs through the anti-pylon campaign in Meath, Cavan and beyond, the Shell to Sea campaign in Rossport, and the need to protect our ancient heritage through support for an alternative, environmentally sustainable way of life. “We need to connect the dots, and people are beginning to sit up and take notice,” Lisa told An Phoblacht.
According to Lisa, Rath Lugh Direct Action Group is “a method of protesting rather than a hierarchical group”. There are roughly 25 people living on the site across three tree houses, though there are other encampments as the numbers ebb and flow as the stand-off between the National Roads Authority (NRA) contractors and the Rath Lugh group moves from the courts to the actual road site and back again.
The group had a windmill on site and a green energy recording studio, but during the winter a lot of effort went into getting wood and water for the camp. As spring approaches, they are planning renewed workshops on themes like horticulture and yoga.
In terms of the court case, the protestors are appealing their failed High Court injunction to the Supreme Court and papers will be lodged with the court next week on behalf of the Rath Lugh campaigners.
Part of the problem, Lisa Feeney says, is the ambiguous maps used by the NRA which, in terms of Rath Lugh, “protect only the inner Bronze Age ring, neglecting the outer Iron Age ring and three ancient burial grounds”. Lismullen, which is in the same area, was “aligned with the equinox” but is to be concreted over.
So why did Feeney leave her tunnel if the NRA and its contractors were getting it so wrong? “We had an agreement signed by Kevin O’Rourke of the NRA which had some pretty positive commitments in it,” she said.

The 10-point plan included:-
1) Building a protective ‘crib’ wall between the roadworks and the Rath, using preserved timber;
2) All future work on the site would be supervised by an archaeologist;
3) The site would be landscaped using foliage and trees native to the valley;
4) A spoil heap of top-soil dumped within view of Rath Lugh would be removed;
5) No additional land around Rath Lugh would be subject to compulsory purchase orders;
6) No work would take place on the site before 17 April.
Within days of Lisa Feeney leaving the Rath Lugh tunnel, the NRA was constructing a crib wall of metal embedded in concrete, barring her from the Rath and returning to building work on the site. Feeney had returned to Rath Lugh on 18 March with a tape to measure distances from the fort to the road works only to find her way blocked by the Garda.
So how have gardaí treated the Rath Lugh group?, “There are quite a few who are understanding, but most don’t want to know why we are there.”
In terms of the main contractors, SIAC, who have also had a “big security presence for the last week”, Lisa said “most are grand, they are young lads and there can be a lot of teasing between the two groups”. SIAC have had floodlights on the entire site at night “which can make it hard to sleep in the camp”.
Support for the protestors has been “absolutely brilliant”, she said. “A steady stream of locals and people bringing their families with young children have visited the site.” Others have come to donate food and other necessities.
This is all positive “because the public need to know it’s a peaceful protest, not a bunch of anarchists wrecking the site”. Lisa has found some of the media coverage of her protest difficult. “We are labelled as protestors, as being anti-something. We are not protestors. We are protectors. For the media it became all about a tunnel, while we want to promote the wider context.”
So what about Lisa Feeney herself? What was the journey that led her to Rath Lugh? Feeney is a 26-year-old psychology graduate from Trinity College Dublin. She had been to some anti-war activities and Critical Mass bicycle demonstrations but Rath Lugh is her first protest.
One of her motivations for this action at this time is a belief that “Tara is where it all started” in Irish mythology and history. She is worried that the traditions and heritage of our Celtic and pre-history past may be forgotten. Lisa “believes passionately” in the traditions of story-telling and our ancient heritage. “I am proud to be Irish.”
So what about the books she told Ryan Tubridy that she read in the tunnel? Some were about Celtic spirituality, Lady Gregory’s tome on Celtic mythology, and John Moriarty’s Invoking Ireland and a book of quotations that included Pearse’s Mise Éire (the English text of which printed below) seem particularly apt to describe the M3 project.
For now, Lisa may move to new sites on the motorway. The NRA has admitted it could move the road – the task now is to make that happen. Last words to Lisa: “We can stop the road. We hope that sense will prevail. We are resolute.”

Mise Éire

I am Ireland:

I am older than the Old Woman of Beare.
Great my glory:
I that bore Cuchulainn the valiant.
Great my shame:
My own children that sold their mother.
I am Ireland:
I am lonelier than the Old Woman of Beare.

An Phoblacht Magazine


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