A Tomb for the Celtic Tiger
09/12/2011 9 Comments
Having followed the story since it first broke, I’m convinced that the mock megalithic construction recently erected on Achill Island should not be mindlessly disassembled without consideration given to its meaning. Whatever Joe McNamara’s original intentions, it is hard to deny that he has created one of the defining pieces of contemporary architecture in this country. With its bare concrete as a reflection of the unfinished building sites across the country, this ‘Tomb for the Celtic Tiger’ makes the kind of honest and immediate statement which officially sanctioned, purposely inoffensive public art is incapable of.
If one reads the structure’s ring of upward reaching columns as symbolizing the ambitions of the last fifteen years, then the heavy lintels placed atop them are a brutal acknowledgment of how those dreams have now been capped. The massive scale of the Achill construction is thus appropriate given the crisis currently faced by the nation. Nonetheless, the monument’s circular shape does suggest a better way: a potential post-Tiger society defined by unity, cooperation, and community. It challenges us to meet the recent era of excess and irresponsibility with the best of human nature and so it is hardly a surprise that people want to knock it down. An Ireland in which we all stand shoulder-to-shoulder is, as it has always been, a threat to the vested interests of the day. The Achill Circle’s remote location says as much. Sited almost as far west of the Dublin meridian as it is possible to be in this country, the Tomb for the Celtic Tiger is a low-rise negative of the hubristic Dublin Spire. The latter, piercing the heart of a commercial and political nexus which has failed the nation, is commodified by association; its vacuous stainless steel sheen, apropos of nothing, is a poor contrast to the Achill Circle’s undressed concrete. Built upon commonage land, on a scale which admonishes while still allowing for human interaction, the Tomb for the Celtic Tiger belongs to everyone.
What’s more, the monument’s questionable legality only adds to its potency. Minister of State Michael Ring’s recent statement on the matter, that ‘the planning laws are there for everybody and they have to be obeyed’, betrays a profound naivety at how things have been done in this country. The fact that the Achill Circle was built without permission openly mocks the lax planning regulations of the Celtic Tiger years and so, in addition to everything else, Mr. McNamara’s construction is the ultimate performance of insider-art. It is an act in which he has involved us all, with reactions to the structure ranging from public bafflement to the imprisonment of a prominent property developer, in this case Mr. McNamara himself, and so a restaging of how we responded – and might wish to respond further – to the economic collapse. In such a light, reactionary calls for the structure’s demolition are disappointing, but not without a meaning of their own. To take apart the Achill Circle would be to pantomime the systematic dismantling of education and public services meant to pay for everything this structure stands as a rejoinder to. It would be as good as admitting that we have learnt nothing.
The Tomb for the Celtic Tiger is a great work because it makes us, the Irish people, the object of examination. It serves as an interpretative centre for the future, the lack of the usual comprehensional aids signaling a rejection of the curatorial ethos which has defined the careful packaging and control of history and culture in recent times. Instead, the space within the Achill Circle is offered as a place of reflection. It says that the future is up to us to decide.
Other posts you may enjoy:
- ‘Long time no see, indeed’: Healy’s first novel in a decade is mesmerizing’: my Irish Examiner review of Dermot Healy’s Long Time, No See.
- ‘Bridging the gaps in McGahern’s journey to becoming a great writer’: my Irish Examiner review of Denis Sampson’s Young John McGahern.