herald

Wednesday 13 December 2017

So two thousand years of history is lost -- for what?

IT wasn't beautiful, the Lia Fail. Just a tall, rounded monument like a primeval penis, standing upright on the Hill of Tara in Co Meath.

But to see it as the sun rose or set was to be connected with five thousand years of Irish history, because this is the spot where kings were crowned.

The stone carried writing from a time we can barely imagine. A time when Ireland was filled with mystery and myth. It caused visitors to realise just how small they are, in the long, long story of this island.



VANDAL

Until someone took a lump hammer to it. Some anonymous vandal struck the monument at least eleven times. Oh, the power that vandal must have felt, destroying history with each blow.

And the secret power the vandal may still feel, clutching some of the pieces chipped off the stone.

Souvenirs to be boasted of with drinking buddies, or maybe just savoured in private to prove how heroic the vandal is, in his own eyes. (Sorry to be sexist, but the chances that the perp was a woman are pretty small.)

Vandalism happens all the time. Someone gets hold of a marker and covers a wall with graffiti. Or smashes a window. Or takes a box cutter to a bus seat cover.

This was vandalism on a different scale. Whoever did this has a pathetic need to prove themselves bigger than history. And they succeeded.

They erased some of the work of a craftsman who reached out to us across the centuries. They severed a link that mattered. Let's face it, if you drop a glass bought in IKEA last week, you sweep it up and forget about it.

If you drop a glass left to you by your grandmother, you're furious with yourself; some part of your family past has been accidentally destroyed.



HEirLOOM

But you'd never, ever take a hammer to a family heirloom. Of course, more Irish people go to Disneyland in any given year than ever visited the Lia Fail in Meath, and many of those who have visited were not that moved by the tall rounded lump of stone.

For many, this was a "whatever" moment, rather than a shock-and-awe issue. And now, some expert will assess what can be done and the majority will forget about it, because we have more immediate fish to fry.

We've lost monuments before and their loss hasn't done us enormous harm.

Someone with more fire power than a lump hammer decided to take down Nelson's Pillar in the middle of Dublin and a fair few Irish people thought "good riddance," because, although climbing all the steps to the top was a rite of passage for tourists, many locals didn't particularly like having a British admiral, however heroic, dominating the capital's streetscape.

But Nelson had been up there for nearly two hundred years. Not thousands of years. Nelson linked us with a period of our history we hated. So we got over his fall.

We replaced him with something infinitely worse, though - a meaningless tinfoil pointy thing that cries out for a lump hammer.

As do many of the pieces of "art" currently disfiguring our city, notably the misshapen brightly painted rusty lumps of metal near the toll bridge. Some of us, who wouldn't count ourselves as vandals, occasionally feel the urge to do serious damage to some of those ugly monuments to nothing in particular.



TRADITION

But here's the reality. The lads who sang The Fields Of Athenry this week in the face of sporting humiliation were following a great tradition. Making a statement in song about who we are, as a nation.

Ireland's story is told in song, in story -- and in stone. That some fool with a lump hammer destroyed one of the great stone chapters in our history is stupid, shameful -- and sad.

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