A Celtic sea god statue designed by a Dungannon sculptor but later stolen from a Derry mountainside is set to be replaced after councillors voted in support of its reinstatement.
The six-foot Manannán Mac Lir sculpture disappeared from Binevenagh Mountain, near Limavady, last month.
It was created by Darren Sutton, who worked on the Game of Thrones TV show, and whose workshop is situated at the Dungannon Enterprise Centre.
At a meeting on Tuesday night, Limavady Borough Council voted to replace the stolen artwork with a sculpture “as similar to the original as possible”.
Its chief executive, Liam Flanigan, told elected members that he had received letters from across the world in the wake of the sculpture’s theft.
“We’ve had offers of support from the States, Canada and New Zealand. The response has been worldwide, with many people offering to contribute to the replacement of the sculpture.”
The council is set to approach the original artist to request financial quotes for the replacement and will seek estimated costs for reinforcing the new artwork, to ensure it is more difficult to remove from its mountainside perch in future.
Councillors also agreed to set up a fund to allow members of the public to make donations towards the cost of the reinstatement.
Manannán Mac Lir is a sea god from Irish mythology and the statue had become a popular tourist attraction in the area.
Its disappearance remains a mystery, but police have said they are investigating a “religious aspect” to the theft.
Those who cut down the statue left a small wooden cross in its place, bearing the words ‘You shall have no other gods before me’.
Mr Sutton has said he believes it would have taken a number of men with angle grinders several hours to remove the heavy, man-size figure from its base.
At Tuesday night’s council meeting, Sinn Féin’s Rory Donaghy proposed that the replacement be based as closely as possible on the original £10,000 sculpture.
But a Traditional Unionist Voice councillor expressed concerns about what he described as the “paganistic” aspect of the artwork.
Boyd Douglas said: “I was never too enthusiastic about it. It’s not very Christian is it?”
Ulster Unionist Edwin Stevenson was the only member of council to vote against Mr Donaghy’s proposal.
“This was a very fine piece of art, that needs to be said,” Mr Stevenson said.
“The fact of the matter is that something as good as that shouldn’t be up on top of a mountain where we cannot secure it at all.
“We have to take some responsibility for this. We put a vulnerable piece of artwork where it could be stolen and that’s exactly what happened.”
But SDLP councillor Gerry Mullan took exception to this remark.
“By saying that you’re giving credence to a criminal act,” he said.
“This was a despicable act of sabotage and we should be able to put public pieces of art anywhere and expect them to be treated with the respect they deserve.”
An earlier proposal from Mr Mullan - that the sculpture be replaced with a full boat rather than just the boat’s hull - was defeated, with only his SDLP colleagues supporting his idea.
The issue of costs will be discussed in more detail at next month’s meeting, which will be the last ever meeting of Limavady Borough Council ahead of its amalgamation into the new Causeway Coast and Glens super council.