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London Achill-henge makes waves


TIME LIMITED APPROVAL Joe McNamara’s new Achill-henge on the outskirts of London has received a thumbs up from local councillors and may even be nominated for the prestigious Turner Prize.

Edwin McGreal

He never got to finish Achill-henge but Joe McNamara’s similar creation in London has fared much better.
While he served jail in Ireland in relation to the unauthorised structure on a hilltop above Pollagh on his native Achill Island, in the UK he has been granted temporary planning permission for a near carbon copy in London.
And local councillors there have done so in order that the structure may be entered into the prestigious Turner Prize art competition.
The London ‘henge’ has made considerable headlines in the UK, including a lengthy segment on BBC with a rare interview with McNamara himself. McNamara says the purpose of the structure is a warning about climate change.
McNamara has refused to comment publicly on Achill-henge since its construction in November 2011.
The London version is located just off the M25 in Romford and was installed in just one night last December and opened to the public last June. News of its construction was broken by The Mayo News last May.
Its dimensions are slightly bigger than Achill-henge. It is 113 metres in circumference  and 36 metres in diameter constructed with 30 concrete blocks, each four metres tall, topped by 30 lintel blocks adding a further metre in height. A monolith in the centre is six metres tall.
The centre also includes an hour clock along with SOS in morse code.
The central monolith is believed to be carefully positioned so that at midday during winter solstice the sun will directly hit the monolith, which carries a picture of Queen Elizabeth II and the words ‘ageless, timeless, majestic’.
There are lights along the top as well, which light up the structure from above at night time.
Incredibly, the London structure stood from December to June with little in the way of controversy or attention.
Work on erecting it commenced at 5pm on Saturday, December 18 and it was completed by 9am the next morning.
“We wanted to get it done in one night because we weren’t sure how it was going to be received. I have previous back home and it wasn’t received too well and I was locked up for a week because of it,” Joe McNamara told the BBC.
He put out a Lord Kitchener style poster in fields all over the general London area with the sign reading ‘I need your field’.
Jim Beirne, a native of Roscommon, answered the call. He already had a smaller ‘henge’ type structure in his field in Romford.
He saw them get to work on December 18 and did not expect them to be finished the following morning.
“I can’t believe it, they’ve done this in a night,” he told the BBC about how he felt the next day. “I had a field the day before and the next day I’ve got this wonderful structure. I absolutely love it. It was beyond my wildest expectations. I just couldn’t believe it.”

Council debate
A retention planning application came up before the Brentwood Council Planning Committee the week before last.
Joe McNamara addressed the meeting where he said the structure is about climate change.
“For the last five years I’ve been gathering enough money together to build it. It took me over a year then to find a site suitable or a willing participant to allow me to erect it.
“The monolith sits on the jaws of the hourglass and it is basically telling us that time is running out in relation to climate change,” he said.
Cllr Philip Mynott (Lib Dem) said there was a possible planning precedent with the Headington Shark in Oxford where a 22 foot shark stuck out of the roof of a terraced house in Hedington, Oxford after being put up overnight in 1986.
The local council were against it, Cllr Mynott said, but a planning appeal lead to it being retained, with the planning inspector’s report stating ‘an incongruous object can become acceptable as a landmark after time becoming well-known and well-loved in the process’. The report also said ‘any system of control must make some small place for the dynamic, the unexpected, the downright quirky’.”
Other councillors said they could not be seen to call for something which could win the Turner Prize being taken down.  
“It’s huge, it is concrete which I don’t think is very green if I’m being honest, but it is stunning. I really do think I would like to know the outcome for the Turner Prize before we made a decision,” said Cllr Keith Barber (Conservative).
The majority of councillors voted for a time limited approval for 18 months with only one councillor voting against.

Achill-henge still standing
Achill-henge was erected on a hill above McNamara’s native Pollagh over the course of one weekend in November 2011. He was served with an injunction by Mayo County Council on the Saturday to cease work on the structure, which had no planning permission. However, he carried on, finishing the outer structure but a centre-piece for the creation was never installed.
Despite a court order still in place to take it down, Achill-henge is still standing over ten years on.
A lengthy court process followed after its construction, during which McNamara, a one-time property developer, was jailed for refusing to undertake to remove the structure.
It still attracts visitors on a regular basis.
The structure has provoked much debate. An online survey in The Mayo News showed over 80 percent of respondents in favour of Achill-henge being left standing.
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’.
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.