Causeway stones sell for €22,000 at auction
Seven stones believed to be from the Giant's Causeway and once used to protect US Open golf champion Graeme McDowell's home club from IRA car bombs have sold for around €22,000 at auction in England.
The collection of hexagonal basalt column sections, which were outside the Rathmore clubhouse at Portrush, Co Antrim, at the height of the Troubles, were auctioned in Billingshurst, West Sussex, with a £10,000-£25,000 asking price, finally fetching £19,112.50 (€22,000).
After significant interest in the auction room and on the phone, they were bought by an overseas phone bidder, a spokeswoman for Summers Place Auctions said.
The stones were bought by the golf club in 1974 and positioned in the car park between the locker rooms and entrance hall to try to prevent an attack after several other clubhouses and sports pavilions across the North were damaged in explosions.
James Rylands, director of the auctioneers, said the stones originated from the famous tourist attraction.
Rathmore - where McDowell, 31, learned to play before going on to win this year's US Open at Pebble Beach and then the match that clinched the Ryder Cup for Europe against the United States earlier this month - bought the stones from a quarry company more than 35 years ago.
The club decided they were no longer needed and got rid of them when they were hoisted on to the back of two lorries last year and taken away. They agreed a nominal fee with a man who wanted them as part of plans to landscape his garden.
He sold them on to another man who put them up for sale by auction.
Catalogue details said: "Preliminary research would suggest that stones of this size and magnificence, with each example weighing in the region of two tonnes, are possibly unique outside their original location and as such represents a 'once only' opportunity to acquire such rarities."
Mr Rylands said: "We've never had anything like this before. It's incredibly rare. We have heard that some people may have carried away stones from the Giant's Causeway before, but nothing on this scale.
"There are very few other locations in the UK, or indeed throughout the world, where there are similar geologically configured stones like these. It's a real piece of history."
The Giant's Causeway, which boasts 750,000 visitors a year, was declared a World Heritage site by Unesco in 1986. It has been owned by the National Trust since 1961. A new £18.5m visitors' centre is due to open in 2012.
A trust spokeswoman said the removal of stones from the site would be in breach of conservation regulations.
She said: "Naturally, as custodians of the Giant's Causeway World Heritage site, we are disappointed to see basaltic columns for auction.
"That said, we cannot actually prove they are from the World Heritage site, or if, or when, they would have been from the Giant's Causeway."