Springs are in the air in Killarney

Click to follow
Sometimes, you just can't escape. In Ireland for a family funeral last week, we went to Killarney for a short break. The skies were clear and the tourists were gone - an astonishing combination (they normally say that when you can see the mountains it's about to rain; and when you can't, it's raining). But we landed in the middle of one of Ireland's hottest environmental rows.

Honest, I didn't mean to. We chose the pleasant Castlerosse Hotel, for its views across Lough Leane (no relation) to Macgillycuddy's Reeks, and for its rock-bottom off-season rates. But it is under attack for proposing to put part of a golf course in the Killarney National Park; petitions are circulating and the letters column of the Kerryman is ringing with denunciations of the "nauseating" and "merciless" plan.

The land in question is bare, rough farmland, of relatively little conservation value - and the hotel proposes, in return, to give the park a rather larger area of ecologically rich lake-shore woodland.

Environmentalists retort that the wood will soon be preserved by law anyway, that there are already two courses (and another being built) within range of a Tiger Wood's drive, and that taking National Park land sets a dangerous precedent. The Heritage Council has now backed them.

Oh, I almost forgot. The course has been designed by Arthur Spring, brother of the deputy prime minister. The minister who will take the decision, Michael D Higgins, belongs to the Labour Party, which Dick Spring leads. Irrelevant, I'm sure.

Just literally up the road - in Dick Spring's own constituency - is Ireland's answer to the Newbury bypass. Kerry County Council wants to build a pounds 23m, one-and-a-half-mile motorway, into the little town of Tralee (pop 20,000). This would ruin much of one of Ireland's most valuable wildlife sites, Ballyseedy Wood, which qualifies for protection under EU law. To add insult to injury, most of the wood was given to the council for safekeeping by the townspeople after they had raised money to save it from felling.

The council says the road is needed for summer tourist traffic, but a local objector, Don Nolan, says its size can only be justified by envisaging "a future unstoppable stream of cars hurtling westwards to hurl themselves like lemmings into the Atlantic".

Newbury veterans have been to Tralee to offer help. "They look a bit odd, but their hearts are in the right place," says Mr Nolan. "The people who worry me are are nicely turned out but have cold hearts and greedy minds."

A local petition goes before the European Commission this week: the scheme is likely to be financed by EU money, part of a steady flow of funds for dubious projects which are hastening the browning of Ireland.

While I am feeling uncharactistically anti-EU, let me mention new evidence that Euro- scepticism helped force the departure of the Romans. Some archaeologists and historians, wondering why Britain, unlike the rest of the Empire, did not retain spoken Latin, money, episcopal Christianity or an urban culture, reckon it never really accepted Romanisation. Roman epigrams from Gaul describe "a good Briton" as an oxymoron, while the fifth-century British writer, Gildas, depicted his compatriots as always revolting. But, as every schoolchild learns, post-Roman Britain did not regain the same standard of living for well over 1,000 years.