Agency calls for removal of No slogan from Ben Bulben

Campaigners describe sign as a ‘cry from the mountain to save Ireland’s babies’

Anti-abortion campaigners who erected a giant “No” slogan on Ben Bulben mountain in Co Sligo insisted on Thursday that they had not broken the law.

Those who erected the lettering described it as a “cry from the mountain to save Ireland’s babies”, and said it would remain in place until after the referendum on the eighth amendment.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service has called for the removal of the sign saying the installation of “alien materials such as this onto a special area of conservation is insensitive to its conservation status and incompatible with the habitat”.

“The owners should procure its immediate removal so that Ben Bulben is returned undamaged to its natural and beloved state,” the agency added.


Sligo County Council has confirmed its planning enforcement section is investigating the matter, having received a number of complaints.

An Taisce said it was one of those to make a formal complaint.

“As the mountain is part of a sensitive rural landscape in a visually vulnerable and surrounded by scenic routes, all designated under the Sligo County Development Plan 2017-2023, there is a requirement to obtain planning permission and no exemptions apply,” the heritage group said.

Many local people strongly criticised the erection of the sign, saying those responsible had defaced the mountain and caused embarassement for those trying to promote the north west.

But groups campaigning for a No vote locally said the action reflected frustration over a perceived lack of balance in the media.

Tommy Banks one of those involved in erecting the slogan said about 20 people involved in the operation had been on the mountain from 4am on Thursday carrying out what he described as a “mammoth task” .

He estimated that the letters were 160 feet high and said they were made from plastic cladding. Mr Banks said they had permission from all the land owners and had been helped by “men of all ages, and women as well, down making tea and sandwiches”.

In the 1970s and 1980s “Brits Out” and “H Block” slogans were painted on the mountain which was immortalised by WB Yeats.

Mr Banks told Ocean FM that the operation was “well planned and well executed” . He claimed that the Government was “planning to execute the future children of Ireland” and were were not listening to the people.

‘Beautiful icon’

Fiona Candon, president of Sligo Chamber of Commerce expressed her disgust at the development.

“It is terrible that our beautiful iconic Ben Bulben is being shown in such a light today”, she said. Ms Candon said the issue was not whether it was Yes or No campaigners , but that the mountain was being used negatively in such a way.

Susan O’Keeffe Director of the Yeats Society said it was not appropriate that “the natural landscape” be used in such a way by any lobby group.

Sligo business man Finbarr Filan, a former general election candidate for Renua who has been campaigning for a No vote , said he believed those responsible had acted out of frustration as they were “not getting a fair crack in the media”.

Mr Filan said a lot of No posters, including some of his own, had been tampered with or removed and he said that following the recent Google decision not to run referendum ads , there was a sense of frustration.

Gardaí said that, as no formal complaint had been in received in connection with the incident, it was not being investigated. A spokeswoman took issue with suggestions that gardaí would be protecting the slogan.

"An Garda Síochána does not comment on material displayed in public places by third parties , but will respect the rights of all concerned, and investigate each case or complaint on its own merits and seek a direction from the DPP," according to a statement from the Garda press office.

Sile Quinlan spokesperson for Love Both in Sligo said that she understood those responsible were people who were very concerned “about what we are being asked to vote for – the removal of protection for the unborn”. Stressing that she did not speak for those responsible, she said her understanding was that it was a temporary measure and would not leave any permanent mark on the landscape.

Marese McDonagh

Marese McDonagh

Marese McDonagh, a contributor to The Irish Times, reports from the northwest of Ireland