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Folklorist Eddie Lenihan is hoping to bring the Púca to Crusheen now Ennistymon doesn't want it. Photograph by John Kelly.

Lenihan pitches for Púca after Ennistymon says no

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THE hunt is on for a new location for the controversial Púca statue, after it was rejected in a public poll by the people of Ennistymon. 

Interest has already been expressed by leading folklorist Eddie Lenihan who has been a long-time champion of the half-man, half-horse sculpture.
The Crusheen man said his own village would make the ideal location, given its legendary links to the mercurial character reputed to lure people into all kinds of nocturnal adventures. “We have a place named Cathair an Phúca and there is a roundabout there,” the story-teller said.

“What could be more appropriate? It’s an amazing coincidence really and maybe this is where the Púca was meant to be all along.”

It remains to be see if Crusheen will fit the bill for the new location for the 2-metre high bronze figure, as Clare County Council announced its intention to find it an alternative home, somewhere in North Clare.

Following a survey, which attracted more than 700 responses, the authority told councillors and the artist, Aidan Harte, of their new plans. The Council unveiled the survey results on Tuesday with 43.6% of respondents saying they ‘Really Disliked’ the artwork compared to 34.3% who ‘Really Liked’ it.

In a statement, the authority said it plans to offer the work to “other North Clare towns, villages and community operated tourism sites through an Expressions of Interest process to be announced shortly”. 

The decision to seek a new piece of public art for Ennistymon was welcomed by Senator Martin Conway who described the debacle as “a lesson on the importance of public consultation”.

“Recent events have shown us that we have to be careful with it comes to statues, whether historical or mythical,” he said.

“They can be a very sensitive subject. Some people might find it amusing that people could be offended by the Púca, but what is amusing to one person could be disturbing to another. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but it’s a completely different story when you are the one opening your curtains and looking out at this. If people had been informed in the early stages, it would have been very clear that many have a genuine fear of these kinds of creatures.”

As to an alternative home for the Púca, the Ennistymon-based senator said there are other possibilities.

“Perhaps the Falls Hotel might be interested, if there’s no village or other community facility looking for it,” he said. “I don’t want to see art going to waste. Aidan Harte is an artist and a very good one.”

Local postmaster, Councillor Shane Talty also welcomed the fact the Council has taken public feedback on board.

“Art is open to interpretation and I would never judge or criticise the piece, but it had become so divisive that it just wasn’t feasible to proceed given the backlash,” he said. 

As to moves to attract the Púca to Crusheen, Councillor Talty noted that the village is outside the electoral boundary. He also cautioned that any area wishing to host the sculpture would need to be able to prove pubic support.

“Any area looking to have the statue would have to be able to demonstrate a public appetite,” he said. “They would have to prove there is buy-in. We wouldn’t want the same situation to happen all over again.”

Over the course of the controversy, Mr Harte had offered on a number of occasions to come to Ennistymon to allay concerns over any sinister element to the folkloric character.

Following the council’s announcement, said that he would be delighted for the piece to go to another location where it would be welcome, but wants greater certainty on the process. He also confirmed that the sculpture has not yet been cast in bronze and that he has received offers for the work, from private buyers.

Sculptor Aidan Harte with a clay cast of the Púca which will not be placed in Ennistymon following an online poll.

“I’m mortally afraid of my Púca getting mothballed in some council warehouse, a fate suffered by sculptures like the Floozy in the Jacuzzi,” Mr Harte told The Champion. “I’d much prefer that the Council not pay me the outstanding [fee] and call it a day rather than enduring another year of indecision and delay. I asked [the Council] for a new agreement by the end of the month. If the Council are serious, that shouldn’t be any difficulty. If not, I’m content to walk away.”

Originally proposed for Lower Church Hill, Ennisytmon, as part of a capital project supported by Fáilte Ireland and aimed at increasing visitor dwell time in the town, the €30,000 Púca was ‘paused’ last May after the public outcry.

The controversy divided opinion, not just in Ennistymon, but far further afield. While Fr Willie Cummins voiced his concerns from the altar, a number of celebrities, supporters of the Púca included comedian Dara Ó Briain, historian Dr Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc, actor Chris O’Dowd and MEP Mick Wallace. 

As regards the bill of €30,000, the majority of which would go towards casting the piece in bronze, Councillor Talty said he understands the local authority will pick up the bill.

“I’m assuming that Clare County Council will pay for the Púca and that the Fáilte Ireland funding will go towards the new piece of art for Ennistymon,” he said.

In respect of the process of devising an alternative design for public art in the North Clare town, Councillor Talty said a wider public consultation process would be vital.

“It’s a fairly prescriptive process and it may be similar to the one we had, but with the strong caveat that there would be public consultation and an opportunity for public input.”

Councillor Talty also repeated his view that, at every stage in the process, officials had acted appropriately.

The timeframe for the alternative artwork, Councillor Talty said, would probably tie in with the building of the new bridge in Ennistymon.

“The main tourism and enhancement project is ongoing and there’s no real urgency with the public art element,” he said. “That could be done in conjunction with the bridge project.”

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