Sunday, March 11, 2007

N11 Memorials

I grew up near Carnew in south Co Wicklow and moved to Dublin in the late 1970’s. The N11 road from Dublin to Wexford through Wicklow is the road I’m most familiar with and travel most outside of Dublin – visiting my Mother and Father in Carnew and holidaying in North Wexford. The long overdue road improvements on the stretch of road between Bray and Gorey are welcome to me as a regular user of this road. Recently, works to connect the Ashford/Rathnew by-pass to the Arklow by-pass, and continue on to Gorey have begun. At last - an end is in sight to travelling the dangerous twisty roads near Redcross, Jack White’s Cross, Scratnagh, and Inch.

If you travel the 40 miles or so on the N11 from Bray to Gorey you will see 13 roadside memorials in the form of flowers, headstones, photographs, teddy bears, and a solar powered light, to 23 people. None of these memorials are located on the dual carriageways – instead, they dot the sides of the old twisty N11 like bits from a cemetery.

For years I have driven past these memorials – never stopping to see who they commemorate or when the accidents happened that claimed so many lives. These memorials always seem to be well maintained and have fresh flowers – family and friends continue to mark the black spot where their loved ones died tragically. For me, these memorials have a stronger influence on me to slow down and drive more carefully – a roadside memorial does a better job than speed limit signs, speed cameras, or Garda checkpoints.

Coming home to Dublin recently on a busy bank holiday weekend, traffic was so heavy near Jack White’s Cross that for several miles I was either crawling or stopped. I looked out of my car window at one of the four memorials in this location and saw a familiar family name from my youth – the memorial marked the spot where a young man from near Carnew died in August 2005. “Rest in Peace” the simple plaque said. Suddenly, these nameless roadside markings had more meaning – real people and real tragedies lay behind every one.

I made up my mind to stop and look at all the other memorials – what names, ages, dates, and fond messages were displayed at each location. I was struck by the fact that most of the dead were young – a majority in their twenties, and most were male. The messages of sorrow at each memorial pierce the heart:

Paddy – the “Daddy always loved”
Darren – “Sadly missed” by his loving Ma, Da, and family
Elizabeth - “Remembered by her husband and three sons”
Stephen, Ann-Marie, and Alex – “Sadly missed by their son”
John Paul, Peter, and Joseph – “Who lost their lives here”
Michael – “In loving memory from Mum and Dad, 10 sisters and 6 brothers”
Priscilla – “In our hearts you will live forever - Mam, Dad, brother and sister”

…the list of fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters goes on.

With the new road coming in the next couple of years, what will happen to these memorials? Will a bull-dozer erase each memorial in the name of progress and faster travel? Will we ever drive past these tragic black spots again – wondering who they are dedicated to? Will our driving behaviour worsen in the absence of these reminders of our mortality? The people who build dual-carriageways tell us that they are safer than the older roads – too late for the N11 tragedies.

It’s not just the N11 that is dotted with memorials – all over the country, roads are marked with crosses and flowers to remind us of the grim toll on our nation’s roads. This is also a world wide phenomenon – in the US, some states ban the practice outright, in California you must pay $1,000 to erect a roadside memorial. There are even web sites dedicated to showing pictures, messages, and discussions about roadside memorials.

I think I’d like a memorial to mark the spot should I die in a road accident – simple flowers and a message “To all who pass this spot – slow down and take care”.

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