Sunday, December 1, 2013

Achill-henge, a monument to the Celtic Tiger, continues to roar

Stonehenge and Achill-henge. Image (c) by Alex Blackwell.

Two years ago, Joe McNamara, one time developer and native of Achill, Ireland's largest island, frustrated by the rise and fall of Ireland's economy known as the Celtic Tiger, launched a mysterious plot. By the light of the moon on a cold Friday 25 November 2011, 30 trucks arrived on Achill carrying loads of concrete and building materials. They carried the materials up the hills onto commonage lands high above the village of Pollagh, obscured from direct view from roads and homes. By Sunday evening, under the cover of darkness, they had constructed a structure soon after dubbed Achill-henge.
Walking up the muddy road
soon after the construction.

We went to see it as soon as the word got out, just days after its construction. They had dug a foundation and laid concrete earlier it seemed, and the imposing structure seemed very solid. Towering about 15 feet from its base, the prefabbed concrete columns topped with lintels were a marvel of engineering. Precisely aligned and fit together in a circle close to 100 meters in circumference, they immediately brought to mind the prehistoric standing stones of Stonehenge.

Majestic setting and scale
Mayo County Council immediately slapped Joe McNamara with an order to remove the structure as he had erected it without planning permission. McNamara, a controversial figure at the best of times and best known for having driven a cement truck up the steps to the parliament building in protest the prior year, said it didn't need permission as it was simply an ornamental garden. The Council didn't buy it and placed him in jail for four days.

The unfinished interior
There was a second phase that was to be installed in the centre of the structure which was meant to be a contemplative garden. It is not certain what the original intent was but it is widely believed that it was to be a monument to the Celtic Tiger which  brought enormous wealth followed by enormous ruin to many in Ireland, including Mr. McNamara.

Mayo County Council took McNamara to court, and both The High Court and An Bord Pleanála agreed with the council. After lengthy court and planning hearings, Joe McNamara was informed he must take it down. Joe flatly refused. Two years later, Achill-henge still stands and has become one of the biggest tourist attractions in the region. People say the spirituality grows with every visitor. Graffiti is written in turf on its walls, including words of praise for "Joe" who conceived of this audacious project. The Mayo News reports that papers are still waiting to be served as McNamara no longer lives in Ireland.
Outer wall of rubble from the excavation

Mayo County Council is preparing to take the structure down and send the bill to McNamara if they can find him.  We understand that MayoCoCo has to stand by the law. But in this time when money is in short supply, wouldn't it be more prudent for the people to let the standing stones remain unturned? If they spend the money to remove it, and they cannot get reimbursement from McNamara, then that money has to come out of the people's pockets. Wouldn't it make eons more sense to finish the project, which still needs to be cleaned up with gardens installed, and operate it for the local benefit of the people. Perhaps the proceeds could go toward cleaning up the remaining unfinished eyesores Mr. McNamara left behind on Achill in retribution. A little lateral thinking couldn't hurt. 

Don't stand so rigid MayoCoCo.  Why not make it the start of something good for a change? 

Happy First Advent! 
An engineering marvel

A mystical inspiration

Room for contemplation

Room with a view

The place and the scale fills one with awe

Tucked into the beautiful hills of commonage that surround it

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