The first time I saw a shot of the structure that is now dubbed 'Achillhenge' by the locals, I was sitting at my desk in San Francisco. Over the course of a weekend in November 2011, 120 slabs of concrete, comprising 30 columns, 12 feet high and 100ft in diameter were erected on a hilltop on Achill island, a beautiful rocky boggy outcrop on the western fringes of County Mayo, stretching out into the wild Atlantic Ocean. I've since moved to the west coast of Ireland and as I'm about 40 km from Achill I had to see it with my own eyes. Not least because frequently it still makes a headline in the local paper and word on the street is that any day now the County Council is going to tear it down. Joe McNamara, Achill native and former property developer who's responsible for the project never had planning permission for the structure which sits on commonage. Yet the story didn't start there.
By now everyone is aware of the massive implosion of the Irish economy brought on by sub prime loans, dirty bankers and what many consider equally dirty and corrupt politicians. Yes you've heard that story. In Ireland a bank synonymous with the bust was Anglo Irish Bank. To date Anglo (under a new name) have received close to €30 billion of Irish government bailout funds. McNamara had borrowed €7.5 million from Anglo. When Anglo called in their loans and McNamara couldn't meet his payments, somewhere along the line he decided that a course of what perhaps could be called direct action protest would better suit the situation. McNamara in his cement truck with the words 'Anglo, Toxic Bank' emblazoned on it's sides, drove to Dublin and parked his truck blocking the main gate to Leinster House, seat of the Irish parliament. In court it was reported that he said he did it because he was 'pissed off'. I'd be too if I borrowed more money than I could afford to pay back.
It took me 2 attempts at actually finding it on the island. Getting directions in Ireland I have come to learn since my return is akin to asking for directions in India. They are duly given but they're vague and often spoken like the person who asked is a local knowing such and such a person's house on the corner of some such byroad by the corner of some such green shed.
'Achillhenge' the latest in McNamara's grand designs is still being debated as to it's significance in the wider cultural context. It's 'architect' as such has refused to comment on it's purpose other than calling it an 'ornamental garden' at a recent sitting in the High Court. It has been heard that it was designed to align with the solstices on June 21st and December 21st lighting up a center piece that to this day hasn't been installed. I was there on December 8th so I can't attest to the truth of this. On a solstice day I'd duly make myself the centerpiece and wait for the suns rays to light me up. As for now the structure is slowly acquiring graffiti and on the day of my visit I was the only visitor. The wind blew through the portals and the sun struggled to appear from behind the clouds while I looked out past the boggy water logged land and toward the majestic Mweelin cliffs of Achill. I wondered if cleaning up around the site might have occurred to it's builders and whether if they'd done so I could have looked past the fact that before it was there this was an area of relatively unspoiled beauty. I called Harmack construction, McNamara's firm in Galway to interview Joe and arrange for a portrait. No one answered. So be it. Grand designs or monuments and how they incorporate themselves in their settings speak volumes about their architects. Whether you're Mies van der rohe, the Beaker people of Stonehenge or Joe McNamara, Anglo Avenger.