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Influential conservation group backs residents in row over excavation at Irish beauty spot

One local said: 'All of this happened so suddenly and without warning or permission of any kind'
The damage to Faughill mountain on the border beween South Aramgh and Louth has caused devastation to the wild life of the area.

The damage to Faughill mountain on the border beween South Aramgh and Louth has caused devastation to the wild life of the area.

Hugh Jordan

An influential conservation group has backed residents objecting to an unplanned excavation at a south Armagh beauty spot.

Last month residents around Foughill Mountain near Jonesborough woke to find industrial diggers removing a substantial section of the picturesque hillside.

But as reported in the Sunday World a short time later, building work was stopped when the local council slapped an interim order on teenage developer John Aiken.

Mr Aiken (19) told the Sunday World "that he had no planning permission and the it was his land and he could do with it what ever he wanted"

Mr Aiken (19) told the Sunday World "that he had no planning permission and the it was his land and he could do with it what ever he wanted"

The land in question is situated at the entrance to the scenic Gap of the North and a few hundred yards from Irish border.

And now the Ring of Gullion Landscape and Partnership Scheme has demanded the mountain be restored to its original beauty.

Des Murphy, who heads up the council-sponsored organisation, told the Sunday World this week: "This area is zoned as an area of outstanding natural beauty.

"To come in and bulldoze away a hill contravenes everything which has been put in place to protect the area.

"We have educated local people to know and understand the special history of our area and we receive great support from the people who live here.

"All of this happened so suddenly and without warning or permission of any kind.

"I have informed all of the relevant departments about what happened at Foughill Mountain and steps are being taken to rectify it.

"We need everything put back the way it was before the diggers moved in. And even then it will take at least two generations for things to come back to normal.

"If this had happened in south Belfast or Bangor or Holywood or Dublin 4, a legal war would have broken out." said Mr Murphy.

He added: "It's entirely wrong and it will be challenged legally."

But as our inquiries revealed, last month entrepreneur John Aiken, from nearby Ravensdale, Co Louth, had failed to apply for planning permission before moving his men on to the site.

Instead, digger drivers began removing large amounts of soil from the mountain, which during the Troubles was home to a controversial British Army spy post.

Dubbed 'Bandit Country' by the British media, south Armagh became a crucible of paramilitary conflict for many years.

And Foughill Mountain made world headlines when a British sniper sited at the top fired across the border, seriously wounding a civilian in the car park of a Co Louth pub.

During a recent protest at the site, local historian Seamus Murphy told developer John Aiken: "The British Army was here for three decades. But they never did anything like the damage you've done here."

It is understood 19-year-old Mr Aiken recently bought the acre site from a relative who had inherited it.

When the Sunday World asked Mr Aiken why he ignored Northern Ireland planning laws before going ahead with the excavation, he told us: "Who owns this land? I do and I can do what I like."

But after a flood of complaints from residents, Newry, Mourne and Down Council served Mr Aiken with an order preventing him from carrying out any further development work for a period of 28 days.

This was to allow the local authority time to access the situation.

When the Sunday World pressed John Aiken about any sympathy or understanding he had with local people living in the area, he said: "I'm only interested in protecting people from getting injured from falling rock.

"Rocks were falling down from the mountain onto the road. People could have been injured. And by clearing the site we made it safer," he said.

Last night, Margaret Campbell of the Gap of the North Walkers Group welcomed the support of the Ring of Gullion Landscape and Partnership Scheme.

"As far as we're concerned this is good news. We need all the support we can get to keep this area protected," she said.

"The photographs show a huge swath of land has been ripped from the hillside and the damage to wildlife is unimaginable."

Sean Phillips' bungalow home borders the development. And he has voiced serious concerns for the future safety of his property.

Mr Phillips, whose family has lived in the Foughill area for six generations said: "A huge hole has been dug out of the hillside. It is adjacent to my family home and we are concerned about a landslide which would see our property collapse.

"But we are glad we now have the support of the Ring of Gullion Landscape and Partnership Scheme.

"As a community we are absolutely determined to stand up against this type of thing." Mr Phillips said. "In the coming days we will be stepping up our campaign."

Despite repeated attempts to speak John Aiken at his Ravensdale home, he declined to contact us.

The Foughill Mountain sight is home to several families of badgers. And it also offers protection to roosting bats, red kites and sparrow hawks.

The Sunday World understands the Foughill Mountain site was recently visited by police officers from the PSNI Wildlife Branch.

hjordan.media@btinternet.com


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