RoadArt: Going up North


dancing at crossroad

On the road again! This time to look at some of the art encountered on my travels as I went on many occasions northwards.

The most striking road art piece I came across in Co. Monaghan is by the artist David Annand who took his inspiration from one of Patrick Kavanagh’s poems, Come dance with Kitty Stobling. He created the sculpture “Dancing at the Crossroads” (2005), which is located on the N2 Carrickmacross bypass not far from Inniskeen, the poet’s home place. Three dancers are swirling spiritedly on high stilts and reaching out for each other’s hands. I love the dance movement portrayed, as it is both elegant and confident. This sculpture was designed to be well visible and in keeping with the poem- cavorting on mile-high stilts. The old tradition of crossroads dancing was a popular social event in Ireland up to the 1950s, when people would walk or cycle to a main crossroads and meet up to set dance.


Further up north, a stunning piece, Polestar (2006), by Derry artist Locky Morris is made of 104 telegraph poles and galvanized steel. This 12 metre high wooden structure can be seen in Letterkenny, Co. Donegal, at the Port Bridge roundabout. This site is historically significant as trade and goods would land by boat and be transported to the surrounding areas by rail and road. Transportation played a major part in the town’s development in the past.

polestar2Although abstract in form its internal structure and logic are intended to make strong visual reference to the former railway line and bridge that once operated along the site. The use of telegraph poles is a direct reminiscence of the electrification of rural Ireland programme from the 1930s and the fact that those poles would have been dispatched through the Port of Ballyraine. The linear shape of the wooden poles is suggestive of railway tracks, bringing to mind the vital rail transport system, which existed then in Donegal. Indeed steam-powered trains would travel on the various railway lines, including the Strabane-Letterkenny line back in the 1910s, delivering goods to the communities as well as transporting people to their chosen destination. Imagine traveling up to Donegal by train through the mountains; what an adventure! I think the circular sweep of the structure is spectacular and the interlocked pattern simple yet intricate. The sculpture refers, as its name suggests, to a pole star. Indeed, this star is prominent and bright and has a fixed position. According to Locky Morris, it is a star to be steered by, something serving as a guide. He believes this to be a rich dynamic statement that will hold its own as a new landmark within the Letterkenny area and I am inclined to agree.

tower of imaginationAs you are approaching Newry on the A1 Dublin-Belfast motorway, you might have noticed the steel installation on your left-hand side. This art project came about through a collaboration between Sticky Fingers, a children’s arts organisation based in Newry and the Arts Council for Northern Ireland. The Tower of Imagination (2011) was designed by artist Maurice Harron to celebrate the children of Newry. The aim of this piece was to bring the creativity and imagination of the city’s children to the wider community. The tall steel structure looks a though large tumbling blocks have been piled up to create a house. Some of the metal blocks have openings of various sizes and one can see colourful animals and friendly monsters peeping out of these windows. A smiling girl and boy standing in front of the fairytale house are looking up in amazement, it seems.

 When you reach Belfast from the M1 motorway, you can only be mesmerized by the huge metallic sphere looming in front of you. Rise (2011) was designed and created by Nottingham artist Wolfgang Buttress, who received several awards for this piece. No wonder!

riseThe 40-metre high structure was commissioned by Belfast City Council and conceived as a ‘symbol of unity and welcome’. A small concentric sphere made of steel tubes is suspended within a larger one and the sculpture sits very symbolically above the Broadway interchange. Wolfgang Buttress wanted ‘to create a sculpture that could be seen and appreciated in the round from any orientation – physical, emotional or political’. He also ‘wanted to suggest the universal, so the sculpture has neither a back nor a front. It references the sun and the reeds that were here before us and can be seen as a portal to something less tangible, Buttress has said. At night time, the art piece glows beautifully and you can really appreciate the intricacy of the framework arranged in a triangular pattern. I think it gives Belfast city a truly special sense of confidence and pride.


RoadArt: Around The Pale

In my previous post about RoadArt, I talked about the art pieces I encountered traveling east from Mullingar. This time, I will concentrate on the art sculptures around Dublin and its surroundings.

 Eccentric Orbit byRemco de Fouw and Rachel Joynt (2002) is located on the North strand in Portmarnock, Co. Dublin. This large limestone sphere was commissioned by the Southern Cross Trust to commemorate early 20th century aviation. Noted aviator Captain Charles Kingsford Smith, departed from the Velvet Strand in June 1930 in his Fokker aircraft The Southern Cross, to reach Harbour Grace in Newfoundland, Canada 31 and a half hours later.  Smith gained world renown when he made the first trans-Pacific flight from the United States to Australia.

The surface of the sphere in Portmarnock is carved to detail the ocean currents and the countries’ topographies while a bronze compass needle at the top of the sphere points directly at the North Star. The sphere is pinned with bronze studs to show the stopping points on the journey to Australia. This impressive globe is a homage to pioneering navigators like Smith and Irishman J. P. “Paddy” Saul who was Smith’s navigator on his round the-world trip. It pays tribute to the men and women who travelled around the world in harsh conditions and without the technologies of modern aviation.

Beehive Huts by Irene Beurer and Robert Mc Colgar (2001) can be seen at the Balbriggan by-pass on the M1. The artists were inspired by local Medieval history. Beehive huts or clocháns were one of the oldest stone structures in Ireland. The three corbelled beehive huts are grouped together and are in between one to two metres in height, each one bearing one or more air-vents.  I find it fascinating when I drive along this road I always get the feeling that these cut-stone huts have just been dug from the ancient past, they seem so intrinsic to the Irish landscape.

 Amnesty International commissioned The Universal Links on Human Rights in 1995 to represent the jails around the world holding prisoners of conscience. This memorial sculpture by Tony O’Malley is located in Dublin city centre close to Amiens Street, at the back of Customs House and across from Busáras. This simple art structure of welded interlinked chains and bars measures 2.60m in diameter and houses an eternal flame powered by natural gas. This commemorative art piece is always strikingly relevant as it reminds us on a daily basis that freedom of speech and democratic views are not a reality in many societies throughout the world.

Famine is a poignant artwork designed and crafted by sculptor Rowan Gillespie. It was commissioned in 1997 by Norma Smurfit to commemorate the anniversary of the Irish Famine (1845-1849). The sculpture, located on Custom House Quay in Dublin city centre, was subsequently donated to the Irish people. It represents a group of seven life-size emaciated figures in rags heading to the nearby harbour, alongside them and threatening is a growling dog. One of the men carries a tired or sick child across his shoulders while the other men and women hold their meagre belongings in their arms as they wait to embark on board a ship that will take them to a new life in a new land.

I find this bronze sculpture extremely moving as the artist has managed through his work to represent the emotion of fear felt by these bedraggled distressed people. Standing beside these ghost-like figures is a pretty eerie and disturbing experience.  You can almost feel the suffering and the hardship thousands of Irish people went through during the Great Famine and appreciate a little the impact it had on Ireland for generation after them.

The location of the art piece is particularly appropriate and historic as one of the first voyages of that horrific period was on the Perserverance, which sailed from Custom House Quay on St. Patrick’s Day in 1846.  In June 2007, a second series of famine sculptures by Gillespie entitled Arrival, was unveiled by President Mary McAleese on the quayside in Toronto’s Ireland Park to mark the arrival of thousands of Irish emigrants to Canada.

Blackrock Dolmen is an earlier art piece by Rowan Gillespie (1987) and is located on the N11 at the Blackrock bypass. This bronze and fibreglass sculpture is graceful in its shape and acts as a praise to the Irish cultural heritage. The Blackrock dolmen is unusual as three slender women replace the traditional upright stone slabs of a dolmen and hold the large flat stone or capstone above their heads and face outwards. Their body movement seems to almost suggest a light dance as they twirl around on their tiptoes. This artwork makes me think of the 2nd century Roman marble statue, The Three Graces, which is part of the ancient Greek and Roman collection in the Louvre museum in Paris.

 Mothership, a giant cast iron and stainless steel sea urchin by Rachel Joynt (1999)  is quite an iconic artwork located on the Sandycove Seafront. It is as if the rough sea threw up the shell onto the shore one stormy day.  Once on the shore, the sea urchin came to a halt and has remained suspended in motion, leaving a trail of silvery seawater droplets in its track. It is possible to climb into the body of the shell and by doing so, you enter a different dimension, feeling cocooned and therefore protected from the outside world. When inside, you are able to look through it and out onto the sea as if you were looking through a porthole of a ship.

The minimalist granite sculpture, Dunrath Group, (1995) located in Loughlinstown, South County Dublin is by the artist Thomas Glendon. It depicts a family group in a pastoral setting and is reminiscent of Constantin Brancusi’s style in its modern simplicity. The granite used to carve this three-piece sculpture was sourced from a quarry in the Dublin mountains and was chosen for the uniqueness in its mica composition.

RoadArt: East from Mullingar

 I travel  some fair distances across Ireland for my interior design work. Over recent years, I have started noticing the art works that are spotted along the main roads. Some of these sculptures are pretty spectacular so I decided to keep a record of the pieces I like for their reference to Irish mythology, their shapes and for their colour.

My starting point is Mullingar in the Midlands and travelling east towards Dublin, I will describe a number of the pieces on the M4 and M6 with some detours to nearby towns. I am intrigued by the art works for their own beauty and particularly struck by the way Irish artists make connections to the history and topography of the Irish landscape.

 First a little about the roadside art itself: It is funded under the Percentage of Arts Scheme where one per cent of the budget is allocated to roadside art. Local authorities decide on a theme and they are responsible for commissioning the work, usually by open competition. This arts scheme was introduced in 1988 by the Department of Environment and launched in 1993 by Ireland’s first Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, Michael D. Higgins, now president of Ireland

Passage by Brian O’ Loughlin (2006) at the Pass of  Kilbride, Milltownpass/Kinegad junction M4/M6.

 This 10m Irish bogoak sculpture with bronze caps represents six figures travelling on their way to the Cat Stone of the nearby Hill of Uisneach: the meeting point of the ancient five provinces of Ireland. As they travel, they acumulate kowledge, wisdom and awareness. Each piece was  cut from a single bog oak trunk uncovered during the excavation works for the motorway. With “Passage”, the artist wanted to commemorate the journey that began with the mesolithic people, the first to settle in Ireland.

Enclosure by John O’Connor (2005), Cappagh Hill, Enfield, Co.Kildare

This art piece consists of two circles in steel located on either side of the motorway.  On one side, we can see a 6m stylized enclosed circle, while on the other, a solid smaller disc appears to have been cut from the centre of the larger disc.  It is easy to create the mental image of trying to fit one disc into another as we drive past between the two. The artist got his inspiration from the history and culture of the motted sites: enclosures and ring forts in the area. Ring forts are strongly associated with protection but also with circles or wheels, a shape prevalent in Irish Celtic art, symbolizing life cycles and no doubt journeys.

Axis by Austin Mc Quinn (1996), Courthouse Square, Maynooth, Co.Kildare.

The idea of the bronze sculptures emerged from discussions between the artist and the architect Denis Cogan regarding the dynamics in Maynooth as a space for learning, spirituality, economics and a sense of community. Seven bollards are situated along a curved line emerging from a central bronze disc set into the square paving. The bollards seem to be growing gradually out of the pavement and each one is at a different growing state.

St Colmcille’s Oak by Betty Newmann-Mc Guire (2006), Kells town centre, Co.Meath 

This bronze sculpture celebrates the vision and teaching of St Colmcille who established a religious settlement in Kells in the late 6th century on a sacred site, where he cherished an ancient oak tree. Most of the early Christian churches were founded on the site of druidic oak groves. Groves and individual trees had an important role in the lore of the Celts. Trees provided many of the materials essential to society and this is reflected in the importance attached to trees in the old laws of Gaelic Ireland. Every tree had its uses and everybody knew every tree. Oak trees symbolised force, wisdom and triumph as they come to leaf at the summer solstice in June.

King and Queen by Ronan Halpin (1992), Trim by-pass, Co. Meath

The artist drew from mythological sites such as the nearby Hill of Tara, the seat of the High Kings until the 6thcentury. The Hill of Tara was central to the political and pagan life of the Celts. Early medieval archeology with the 12th century Anglo-Norman castle overlooking the river Boyne was also an inspiration for Halpin. The bronze and steel slender sculptures sit neatly along the road and now with trees and other plants having grown up around them, the King and Queen are quite discreet royals.