Issue 2 - 2024 200dpi

15 October 1998 Edition

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Double by-pass

By Eoghan Mac Cormaic

I see the Balbriggan by-pass has been opened at last, and according the best estimates, using it will take as much as half an hour off the trip between Dublin and Belfast. Or Dublin and Drogheda. Or one side of Balbriggan to the other. There's no doubt but that it's going to be a great help and relief to those who are constantly on those roads, and the next step now is to by-pass Drogheda, I'm told. That's on the so-called Eastern Corridor, but of course all around the country similar road improvements schemes are in operation. We have become a nation of better roads and by-passes, ring-roads and roundabouts, N roads and M ways as Ireland rapidly moves into the 21st century.

Road management is a relatively new science. Some towns are so choked now with outer rings and inner rings that they'll eventually need a motorway to cut through the town to achieve traffic movement again; maps of Irish towns will begin to look like Tara Brooches and, as my friend Vincent once said, there'll come a day when it'll be compulsory for us all to live on a roundabout.

Most people are delighted at the development, even, curiously enough, the small businesses in the towns being by-passed. Take Kinnegad, for example. Now there's a town that deserves a by-pass if ever one did. Yet a town like Kinnegad began its life as a stopping place along the road, and eventually developed into an important dining town, with restaurants and cafes and pubs all geared for the weary traveller and all designed and located in a convenient way to entice passing trade to stop. And to stay. And to block up the town. And to make it impossible to go through the town. And to require a by-pass.

Business interests in the village realise now that it they are to make a penny they have to divert most of the traffic past the town, paradoxical as that might seem.

There's a down side to all this of course which hasn't been dealt with yet, and I was thinking about it last Saturday, watching 1,500 Pike men and women marching proudly up O'Connell Street as Dublin remembered 1798. They had gathered from all parts of Ireland, dressed in period costumes, many wearing green ribbons, all carrying their pikes, all proud of the contribution their local place had made in the revolution of `98. The problem is, that many of their places are by-passed... in more ways than one.

There was a time, fadó, fadó, when it was fashionable and popular for nationalist music to be heard. Out from many a mud-walled cabin you'd have heard the strains of the Waltons Irish music programme on Radio Éireann of a Saturday lunch-time. There was history in the songs, and geography too, as we learned of places where battles were fought. The nineteen seventies, Section 31, and revisionism inflicted the first by-pass on all that and a generation began losing the names of small towns where where history was made.

Driving through most small Irish towns, still, you'll find monuments to another age. On the bridge in Balbriggan there is a plaque to three IRA volunteers who gave their lives during the Tan War... Often, stuck in traffic, I'd read the wording, think of those who died, think of those who raised the memorial, and think of us shunting slowly along, from one hold-up to another. The by-pass has put paid to that.

Likewise for other small villages. The Pikemen and women of Colooney were in Dublin on Saturday. `Where is Colooney?'' I heard someone ask. It's near Sligo. It's been by-passed. Many's the time I drove through Colooney, and admired their huge monument to 1798, on a height just at the entrance to the village. Now, if you're careful, you might just see the Pikeman on his plinth off from the dual-carraigeway as you race past the village. By-passed again.

So many of our small towns and villages are being left like elbow lakes on the bend of a dried up river, and so much history is being by-passed as a result. It's a time for new monuments to be made, replicas of those in the centres of the skirted villages, and for the replicas to be placed on the nearest available roundabouts so that in our rush to get where we are going faster, we don't forget where we are coming from. It's all very well taking half an hour off a journey. Let's not take two hundred years off our history in the process.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1