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Larisa K Bevillard worked with Klaus Dieter Von Kerckoff to restore the statue in Portumna.

Ennis artist helps resurrect famine era sculpture of Christ

A DECAYED statue dating back to Famine times has been restored and reinstalled in Portumna’s Workhouse cemetery thanks to the help of Ennis-based artist Larisa K Bevillard and Moycullen-based Klaus Dieter Von Kerckoff.

The statue, depicting the crucifixion of Jesus, had been lying abandoned and badly damaged at the cemetery of Portumna’s Workhouse for decades.

The pair were tasked to carry out the repair work by Galway County Council and the newly restored statue has now been reinstalled back in its original location.

Ms Bevillard told The Champion it was “horrifying” to see the damage to the statue recalling it “crumbled extensively due in part to its composition and  mixture of excessive sand with insufficient cement”.

She explained that as part of the restoration the remains of the statue were first brought to Ennis, before Covid-19 restrictions, for initial works.

It was partially restored in Ennis with Ms Bevillard rebuilding the fingers and hands before it was brought to Moycullen where German native Mr Von Kerckhoff put the body together. After this she then decorated and painted the statue.

Ms Bevillard who runs Restore Fine Art Gallery and Restoration in Ennis said she had been approached by Galway County Council for assistance in restoring the artefact.

She has previously been involved in the restoration of many statues in cathedrals and churches including a statue of Our Lady, which had been situated at Our Lady’s Hospital, Ennis and had been donated by JJ McCabe to the local church in Cloughleigh.

She outlines that the council in Galway explained the statue had fallen off the original steel cross.

“It had been lying in an abandoned pile at the graveyard in Portumna for decades. The statue was made by the actual workhouse for the workhouse cemetery.

“It adorned the cemetery for decades following the Famine but the cement began to crumble over time and the cross rotted and the entire thing collapsed. The broken bits were hidden away for decades.”

In 2020 a committee within Galway County Council had been formed to work towards the restoration of the cross. She was approached by them to work on the project, and agreed to do so.

“I didn’t think it would be easy but for it to not be saved wasn’t really an option because of its history. I called upon Klaus Dieter Von Kerckoff an artist and professional statue restorer to assist me as it was a heavy and laborious job.

“We saved every bit of the original and put it together whilst maintaining the integrity of the statue at all times.

“The Christ statue was built in the workhouses during Famine times. When I started work it was horrifying to see the concrete crumble in my hands like digestive biscuits.

“I reckoned the cement/sand ratio was faulty due to cement being dear and scarce during Famine times so the sand was excessive and at a faulty ratio.”

The council had constructed a new 30 foot tall steel cross which was brought to Moycullen for the project.

Due to lockdown and travel restrictions it took much longer then either of them anticipated, and they are both pleased with the outcome.  

Working on the project and exploring the history of the workhouse Ms Bevillard told The Champion she was particularly moved by a quotation she read on the findagrave.com online listing for the Workhouse cemetery in Portumna.

It read, “The many that are interred here may not have had the dignity shown to them in their final days but are a constant reminder to all of us of our past and the struggle many face today throughout the world from hunger through no fault of their own.”

She said, “It’s important for us all to always remember the famine and the horrendous suffering of the Irish people.”

On June 11 the large steel and concrete statue of Christ was returned to Portumna and erected in its original location.

“Klaus and I are honoured to have been given the opportunity to re -erect and return the workhouse creation to its former state and we are grateful to the Galway County Council for the opportunity.”

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