Rihla (The Journey) – was the short title of a 14th Century (1355 CE) book written in Fez by the Islamic legal scholar Ibn Jazayy al-Kalbi of Granada who recorded and then transcribed the dictated travelogue of the Tangerian, Ibn Battuta. The book’s full title was A Gift to Those who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Travelling and somehow the title of Ibn Jazayy's book captures the ethos of many of the city and country journeys I have been lucky to take in past years.
This Rihla is about modern reflections and pre-historic sound in Achill Island.
You get to Achill Henge by travelling through Keel village westwards and about 1km later taking a road to the right, signposted the Hill, just beyond the church in Poolagh. After 50m or so there is a small wooden sign, low to the ground, pointing to a trackway to the right with Achill Henge written on it. From here the road climbs upwards and swings first to the left and then to the right 50m beyond a corrugated shed. The Henge appears as you mount a small rise and although expected, from previously seen photographs, it really is a surprise.
Achill Island Henge was built over a weekend in November 2011 by Irish banking-crisis and serial monumental protestor Joe McNamara. It is built on commonage in which McNamara had an interest. It consists of 30 concrete columns, 4 m high capped by further ring of concrete lintel slabs and is 36 m in diameter and 100 m in circumference. It is situated on a small hill 118m surrounded by upland blanket bogland above the villages of Pollagh and Dooagh on Achill Island, Co. Mayo, Ireland and along side an unpaved hill trackway that meanders northwards and upwards to the deserted famine village on the southern slopes of Slíabh Mór.
Mayo County Council took instant umbrage at the unscheduled development and ordered McNamara to take it down. He appealed to An Bord Pleanála (the National Planning Authority) on a number of grounds but primarily that the Henge constituted an exempted development because he wanted to create an ornamental garden on agricultural land. In July 2012 An Bord Pleanála declared the existing Henge structure unauthorised, and that those works and future planned completion works on the site were not “an exempted development”. McNamara had submitted that in a second phase he planned to construct an inner circle of columns of the same height and a central column 5m high. He also planned a 40m high “lighthouse” and claimed exemption for this as it would be a navigational aid.
It is well that the full development did not get approval. As it stands the Henge is at its simplest and I think most effective and should be retained. The presence of a central column in particular would have taken away or negated what is now a perfect acoustic point, where sound is amplified by its reflection from the surrounding circumference of concrete columns. I always find this phenomenon fascinating, whether it be under the central dome of the Masjed-e Imam (Shah) Mosque in Isfahan, Iran or on the side of mountain in the West of Ireland. In addition to this the acoustic properties and significance of large henge structures such as Stonehenge are increasingly being investigated.
McNamara said the Henge was a place of “reflection” and perhaps this is what he meant. However he also applied for an exempted development status for the site on the grounds that it was a ‘burial ground’ (Class 40 of Part 1 of Schedule 2 of Planning and Development Regulations 2001): a burial ground for the Celtic Tiger!