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Achill-henge still standing ten years on

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SHINING THROUGH Achill-henge, days after its construction, as shot by Westport photographer Michael McLaughlin.


Edwin McGreal

It’s ten years ago this month that the controversial Achill-henge structure was first erected on an Achill hilltop.
And despite a court order for it to be taken down, it is still standing sentinel at the western end of Ireland’s largest island.
Work on the site on a hill above Pollagh commenced on Friday, November 25, 2011 and finished in near darkness two days later on the Sunday evening.
The man behind the outlandish development was Achill man Joe McNamara, from nearby Pollagh. He led a team of workers on the project, one which has provoked considerable debate.
Believed to represent a tomb to the Celtic Tiger, the 15 feet high, 30 metres in diameter structure was built without planning permission.
McNamara was ordered to cease construction by Mayo County Council that weekend but continued on regardless.
A lengthy court process followed almost immediately, during which McNamara was jailed for a short time for refusing to undertake the removal of the structure.
McNamara argued in court it did not require planning permission, with his legal team arguing it was an ornamental garden.
However, the court disagreed and McNamara was ordered to take it down and Mayo County Council said that if he did not take it down, they would. However, ten years on the structure is still in situ.
On Saturday last, a trip up to the Henge showed it as resolute as ever, after you navigate the bog road up to it. Two professional signs point the way.
It still attracts visitors on a regular basis, according to locals.
The structu
re is believed to be incomplete with a centre-piece reputed to have been built but never installed. The foundation for such a piece can be clearly seen.
McNamara refused to be drawn on the purpose of the development when approached by The Mayo News during its construction, although he did later say in the High Court that it was a ‘place of reflection’.
Sources close to the Achill native did say he had designed and planned the structure so it would align with the solstices, so that on these days the sun would rise over the mountains of Achill and shine through one of the gaps in the outer ring and light up a centre-piece.
The structure has provoked much debate. A Mayo News online survey showed over 80 percent of respondents in favour of Achill-henge being left standing.
The Achill Historical and Archaeological Society expressed their opposition to the development, with their secretary Gerard Mangan writing to The Mayo News in 2012 saying that allowing Achill-henge to stand would have ‘grave implications for the future preservation’ of other archaeological sites in the area as ‘it may lead to inappropriate developments elsewhere in the area’.
However, this led to the resignation of the society’s Honorary President, John ‘Twin’ McNamara, who argued for the tourism benefits of the project.
The Sunday Independent described it as ‘strangely compelling’ while Davin O’Dwyer, writing in The Irish Times, reckoned it should be in contention for the Turner Prize for modern art, describing McNamara as one of Ireland’s ‘bravest creative souls’.
Award-winning Mayo-based photographer Michael McLaughlin, then also a Fine Gael member of Westport Town Council, argued strongly for it to be left standing.
McLaughlin photographed the structure extensively in the days after it was erected.
“It would be a terrible decision to take it down. 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.
“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 said.
A one-time property developer, Joe McNamara first came to national prominence in 2010 for two protests in Dublin which earned him the moniker ‘The Anglo Avenger’.
One incident saw him drive a cement mixer to the gates of Leinster House while another saw him park a cherry picker outside Leinster House. Both protests were against the controversial Anglo Irish Bank, to whom McNamara owed money.
McNamara is currently based in London, where he works in the construction sector.

 

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