Stonehenge-type construction is ‘public art’ says FG Councillor McLaughlin
The controversial Stonehenge-esque structure built on Achill Island last weekend should not be taken down, as it is a piece of public art and could generate tourism for the island.
That is the view of Cllr Michael McLaughlin, who has seen the site up close in his capacity as a photographer working for national newspapers in the last week.
The structure, dubbed Achill-henge locally, is the brainchild of developer and Achill native Joe McNamara, known as The Anglo Avenger after a series of protests against Anglo Irish Bank. He led construction on the unique development last weekend, with work commencing on Friday morning and concluding in darkness on Sunday evening. It was built without any planning permission.
Joe McNamara is currently in jail after being found in contempt of court in the High Court last Friday for continuing with the building of the structure on Sunday after being served with an injunction by a Mayo County Council official to cease work on Sunday morning. He also refused to consent to taking down the structure (see story on Page 2).
Michael McLaughlin, a member of Westport Town Council, believes Achill-henge is a work of genius. “It would be a terrible decision to take it down,” he told The Mayo News. “It is not visible from the road and isn’t really in anyone’s way. People will travel from all over to see it and I think it could be one of the major tourist attractions in the west of Ireland.
“If left it will still be standing strong in 5,000 years and will continue to pose questions and generate debate, that’s what good art does. It is public art in my opinion. There’s sometimes a fine line between genius and madness, but I certainly think this is genius.
“You have to see it in person to really appreciate how stunning it is. I was very happy with the pictures I took, but it has to be seen with your own eyes. I was down in Achill a lot this week, and a lot of the locals are saying that you can’t buy the type of publicity that this project has generated. It will put money in everyone’s pockets on the island,” added Cllr McLaughlin.
When asked about the tourism potential of the structure, Minister of State with responsibility for Tourism and Sport, Michael Ring would only to say that “the planning laws are there for everybody and they have to be obeyed.”
Michael McLaughlin argues that while it is clear that planning was breached, Achill-henge should be looked at differently.
“I know there are planning breaches and, by the letter of the law, it should come down. But I think an exception should be made. I think the council should accept any retention planning permission application. I can see why they had to go to the High Court, because you can’t allow structures like this to be built willy-nilly, but I think each project should be judged on its own merits and the potential with this structure is huge,” he said.
The story has garnered a lot of national coverage since first revealed in The Mayo News last week. The Sunday Independent described it as ‘strangely compelling’ while Davin O’Dwyer, writing in Saturday’s Irish Times, thinks it should be in contention for the Turner Prize for modern art, describing McNamara as one of Ireland’s ‘bravest creative souls’. It is a view Cllr McLaughlin concurs with.
“First of all, from an engineering point of view, it is a fantastic piece of work. He did it all himself and I wouldn’t say it is even one-quarter inch out of place, and he got it built in one weekend. If this was a public project, it would probably be 2014 before we would see it finished.
“This shows what can be done with the right attitude and the right application. It opens up a lot of questions about how we do things in Ireland. It is a modern-day Newgrange. There has been nothing like this in Ireland for over 7,000 years. It wasn’t just constructed on a whim. A lot of planning went into it. It would be an enormous pity if it was taken down, it is a piece of public art and can stand as a fitting reminder to the Celtic Tiger excess … it asks serious questions about the shape of our society,” he added.
The purpose of the project is still uncertain, but a friend of McNamara’s has described it as a ‘tomb for the Celtic Tiger’.
Enforcement proceedings have been taken by Mayo County Council against the construction and the case returns to the High Court on Wednesday.
Mayo County Councillor Michael Kilcoyne welcomed that move but issued a caveat.
“I’m glad to see that the council have woken up to unauthorised developments and I look forward to them applying similar enforcement procedures against other unauthorised sites in the county, but I fear they won’t. I have been critical about the lack of enforcement, which has been selective, depending on who you are.”
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Elsewhere on mayonews.ie
Achill-henge developer jailed for contempt of court
Achill-henge builder jailed
Anglo Avenger’s Achill antics