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Monday 4 December 2023 Dublin: 5°C
Niall Carson/PA Archive/Press Association Images

Achillhenge still standing, despite court order

Eyesore or novel attraction?

MAYO COUNTY COUNCIL says it cannot comment on anything relating to the controversial “ornamental garden” that has become known worldwide as Achillhenge because there are still ongoing legal proceedings over its erection and probable demolition.

The Stonehenge replica was built by developer Joe McNamara late last year on a hilltop in Pollagh on Achill Island. Well-known for his high-profile and daring protests against Anglo Irish Bank, McNamara has since lost a court battle against Mayo County Council, which insists that he was not granted permission to place the 30 concrete columns on the 30 metres of commonage.

McNamara, who claimed that he didn’t need planning permission because his work of art was an “ornamental garden”, was jailed for a number of days for failing to halt construction after being ordered to do so in the last week of November 2011.

After An Bord Pleanála reviewed the case over the summer, McNamara – who was called the Anglo Avenger after he parked a cherry picker truck outside Leinster House and drove a cement mixer to the gates of Government buildings in separate incidents – was told he must remove or demolish the structure.

At the end of July, the High Court determined that Achill-henge is, in fact, a development and thus appropriate planning permission should have been sought.

Although Justice Brian McGovern ruled on 26 July that the site should be returned to its original state, the 30 columns of Achill-henge are still standing – and being scrutinised by visitors.

Image: Niall Carson/PA Archive/Press Association Images

Although Achill Tourism could also not offer any comment on the structure, there are a number of indicators that Achillhenge remains somewhat of a local attraction for visitors. Last December, a number of people gathered at the site to watch the Winter Solstice, while signs directing visitors to the structure have been erected nearby. BBC News – yes, the stones made international news – reported that a poll in a local newspaper found that most people believed the monument should remain where it is.

Reporter Donald Mahoney took a trip there for the Dublin Review and said it was “impossible not to marvel at the structure”.

It looked unshakeable. It had clearly been inspired by Stonehenge, but it had an eerie contemporaneity because it was made of cold, cheap concrete.

While on the island, he heard that a more appropriate name for the skeleton-like structure would be “boom tomb” because of its resemblance to a gutted house and its links with the property market in Ireland.

His awe eventually diminishing, Mahoney was distracted by “inane graffiti” shouting things like “Balls, Love It” and “Arse” at him from the many walls. There were also some clever phrases ‘as Gaeilge’.

As well as the graffiti, structural deficits have been noted too – obvious even to the uneducated eye. In the end, Mahony decided against it:

I departed feeling that despite the fascinating things it does to and within the landscape, and the public interest it has generated, Achillhenge is first and foremost a monument to its creator. In its disrespect for the law and the environment, it embodies the spirit of feckless development that has crippled Ireland.

The monument is divisive though. Only last month, the Mayo News found a British research who was campaigning for Achillhenge to be saved because it has potential for experimental archaeological research. Researcher, computer scientist and classical musician Richard Brock believes that the acoustic properties of Achillhenge could provide vital clues to musical archaeologists. He says the sounds made in the centre of the circle match the properties of Stonehenge.

Music archaeologists try to find out what ancient instruments actually sounded like when they were played. Playing them in Achillhenge could give researchers a more accurate picture of the original sound, according to Brock who has called on the council to delay any planned demolition.

The council has previously warned that there will be serious consequences if McNamara continues to refuse to remove his project from the commonage. County Secretary John Condon said that if the developer failed to fulfil the requirement, the council would carry out the demolition and apply for costs through the courts afterwards.

The council said at the end of July that it would give McNamara some time to take down the 120 concrete slabs but would act in “reasonable haste” if he failed to comply with the court order.

Over a month on, and with McNamara apparently dragging its heels, it looks like there may be one more Winter Solstice for Achillhenge.

Earlier: ‘Achill-Henge’ can be demolished says High Court>

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