Photo of Achillhenge by P.J. McKenna
Stonehenge was built on Salisbury Plain some 4000 years ago over a period of generations. An equivalent structure in concrete was thrown up on Achill Island in November 2011 over one weekend.
Joe McNamara was no stranger to controversy. The year before, he had driven a mixer truck into the gates of Dáil Éireann (the Irish Parliament), the words ANGLO TOXIC BANK emblazoned on its drum. This was a reference to Anglo Irish Bank, the institution the centre of the Irish banking crisis. McNamara, a hotel developer who lost millions when the bank pushed his business into receivership, was soon dubbed the “Anglo Avenger” by the press. While he was waiting to be charged with criminal damage and dangerous driving, he drove up again to the Dáil, this time in a cherry-picker from where he blasted Lady Gaga along with other protest songs. He received a warning but not a prison sentence.
No-one was sure why he decided to create a 4 metre-tall, 100-metre round concrete structure on a piece of common ground on his native Achill Island.Was he inspired by other Stonehenge homages, such as Carhenge in Nebraska or Fridgehenge in New Zealand? He didn’t have planning permission; he tried to claim exemption by saying it was an “ornamental garden”, a “place of reflection”. While work was still ongoing, Mayo County Council served him an order to stop construction, but the structure was completed and McNamara was again in court. This time he was served with 5 days in prison.
Opinion on Achillhenge is divided. Locals are more than willing to direct curious tourists in its direction, and hand-painted signs point the way up the mountain path towards the structure. Archaeologists complain that it’s too close to a Bronze Age site. It has been described as an eyesore, a place of contemplation, a daring piece of art, and a monument to the Celtic Tiger.
It is meaningless – in a way – so each of us can put our own meaning on it.
— Achill resident, quoted by the BBC News
A poll in a local newspaper showed a majority of residents wanted Achillhenge to stay. In 2013, it was used for a temporary art installation, “Our Nation’s Sons”, twelve-foot drawings of young Irish men adorning each pillar.
In 2015, McNamara struck again, this time in the heart of London. Several other Irishmen helped him to erect the unauthorized structure beside Tower Bridge: a 7-metre high sword driven through a heart-shaped Union Jack. This one lasted just one weekend.
Achillhenge, nearly 5 years after its unlawful construction, remains in place.
- The Irish rebel of the banking crisis, Rob Curran, Fortune 2011-02-11
- Achill-henge: A monument that divides Ireland, Kieran Cooke, BBC News 2012-02-16
- Achill-henge a gallery for Our Nation’s Sons, Ciara Galvin, The Mayo News 2013-09-03
- Avenger strikes at Anglo heart, Edwin McGreal, The Mayo News 2015-05-05