12 August 2005

Archaeologist in plea to save the Maze from bulldozers


Angelique Chrisafis, Ireland correspondent
Friday August 12, 2005
The Guardian

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It is one of the most notorious prisons in Europe, soon to be transformed into a sports stadium to host football matches for the London Olympics.

But a British archaeologist warns today that the multimillion-pound redevelopment of the Maze prison in Northern Ireland will see hundreds of acres of buildings bulldozered before crucial historical research has been carried out.

Laura McAtackney of Bristol University argues in British Archaeology magazine that the Maze "remains in limbo, at an uncomfortable crossroads between the present and past, between history and heritage".

The prison, which housed some of Northern Ireland's toughest paramilitaries, saw political protest, gun murder and the death of ten republican hunger-strikers.

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The site, which is the size of a small town, is to be developed into a sports complex. Fifteen acres of the 365-acre site will become the International Centre for Conflict Transformation, preserving isolated fragments including the hospital building where hunger-strikers died and a section of perimeter wall.

Ms McAtackney acknowledges the politics surrounding the Maze's future but says lack of access has thwarted proper historical research.

Although the last prisoners left four years ago, the prison is still under high security. "There has been limited academic investigation, and few have had unlimited access," Ms McAtackney warns.

She says that the "piecemeal" remains to be kept for the new centre will "create a collection of isolated artifacts" - but not enough to create a comprehensive history.

Around 100 acres of the site have not been allocated a new purpose and will not be used for 15-20 years.They have also been ordered to be "cleared and decontaminated".

"Why clear such an iconic site, much discussed but little researched or understood, before necessity dictates?" Ms McAtackney asks.

Her argument comes as Northern Ireland debates what to do with the architectural legacy of the Troubles while post-ceasefire society rushes to reinvent itself.

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