Carrickmines saga haunted by echoes of Wood Quay


The tactics of the 'Carrickminders' matched those of the Wood Quay protesters more than a quarter of a century earlier, writes Liam Reid.

For many, the saga of Carrickmines Castle has been the new Wood Quay. When the extent of the archaeological remains on the site, in the middle of the path of the planned M50 motorway, became public in 2002 experts soon began drawing comparisons with the famed site on Dublin's quays.

Wood Quay, where extensive Viking remains were found in the 1970s, has become a byword for conservation activism.

Even the initial tactics of the self-styled "Carrickminders" echoed those of the Wood Quay protesters more than a quarter of a century earlier.

Conservationists became interested in the Carrickmines site soon after archaeological works began on a site where the Carrickmines interchange was to be located.

Soon after the archaeologists began their work, it quickly emerged that the Carrickmines site was large, and significant.

The archaeologists had uncovered the remains of Carrickmines Castle, a medieval fort which served as an outpost to Dublin throughout the middle ages, defending its Norman and English residents against incursions from the native Wicklow families, the O'Tooles and O'Byrnes.

The work uncovered up to 20,000 pieces of medieval pottery, as well as coins, musket and cannon balls, weapons, human skeletons and medieval textiles.

The overall complex excavated included 1.5 acres of buildings, workshops, houses, kilns and wells. The archaeologists also unearthed a medieval ditch, or fosse, which formed part of the castle's fortifications.

In the autumn of 2002, as the archaeologists began to finish up on the site, it became clear that part of the fosse would be destroyed to make way for the road and roundabout.

Various organisations and people looked for the road to be rerouted around the castle remains.

When it emerged that there would be no compromise route, the Carrickminders reacted by staging a picket to prevent machinery from moving onto the site.

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and the National Roads Authority (NRA) responded by obtaining court injunctions against the picketers.

By early January 2003, as work got under way to remove part of the fosse, the Carrickminders mounted a legal challenge against the work, centred around the fact that neither the council nor the NRA had received permission from the Minister for the Environment to destroy part of the castle remains, which are a national monument. The Supreme Court agreed, and work came to an abrupt halt at the site.

In the summer of 2003, the Minister began the process required to give his consent for the work to re-commence. In the meantime, to prevent against delays in the M50 being completed, the Minister for Transport, Mr Brennan, moved to separate the 14km stretch of road into two separate contracts so that the contractor could get on with completing the road on either side of Carrickmines.

The assumption was that the legal challenges would fail, and the road would go ahead as planned.

Approval for the works came through in October, and work resumed on dismantling part of the castle remains. In January work was brought to a halt again when a new legal challenge was mounted, centred around the claim that the Minister for the Environment did not have the authority to make the order.

The Supreme Court agreed again, and work at Carrickmines came to a grinding halt yet again.

Legislation giving the Minister for the Environment extensive powers in relation to national monuments was passed last month. It is now almost certain that work will resume, for the final time, at Carrickmines next month.