WHEN Kilbaha sculptor Seamus Connolly was commissioned to create a larger-than-lifesize bronze statue of legendary Kerry footballer, Páidí Ó Sé, he immersed himself in the life of the West Kerry man, who died suddenly in December 2012.
Eight months of patient, creative toil carried out at his forge in Kilbaha was revealed in Ventry recently , when a huge crowd gathered for the unveiling of the statue.
Another former Clare manager, Mick O’Dwyer, who has a statue of his own standing in Waterville, helped to officiate, along with Páidí’s son, Pádraig Óg.
Prior to hauling his life-like depiction of Páidí to West Kerry from West Clare, Seamus was visited by the committee who commissioned him.
“I’d already had an indication that the committee were very happy because they had seen it in the clay. I work with a certain amount of direction but after that, it’s up to me. Just before we make the moulds, when it would still be feasible to change something, that’s when I call up the committee. Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh came up, as did Tom Ó Sé and Máire. They loved it at that stage. The minute they saw it, there was tears so I knew there was a very good likeness after that,” Seamus outlined.
“My main concern was when the cloth was taken off in Ventry because the family were going to be there, Páidí’s three children and his wife, Máire. There was that anxiety but they seemed to be absolutely delighted with it and, in fact, they were quite emotional I think,” he found.
To illustrate the presence of spirit of Páidí, Seamus set aside weeks of his life.
“None of this is an accident. I studied him online because that’s where you get everything now. An impression of his physicality and how he played gets burned into your brain. The statue was originally made in clay, then we make moulds from it and cast it into bronze in our own foundry here in Kilbaha. The committee wanted him to look youngish, so I depicted him at about 21 when he was massively strong. The clay part takes four months but it’s very much a 24-hour thing because you’re thinking of nothing else. I have a very regular work schedule. I work from 9am to 5.30pm every day. The sculpture part takes six months and about two months before that, when I was researching it,” he explained.
It wasn’t that Seamus was starting from scratch. When he was growing up, he saw Páidí win eight All-Ireland medals.
“I grew up at a time that whenever you turned on the television in the summer, it was Kerry winning another All-Ireland. It was a bit like Manchester United in their heyday. No matter what the score was, you knew that Kerry were going to win anyway. I remember all of them from that period very clearly. I can remember how Páidí moved, Jack O’Shea, Pat Spillane, Jimmy Deenihan and the whole lot. It’s slightly larger than life because it’s a running statue. He was larger than life anyway.
At the moment, it’s the best statue I’ve ever done to date because you learn from the previous ones,” Seamus maintains. He has already produced sculptures of John B Keane and former Roscommon footballer, Dermot Earley.
Seamus feels it will take time for Páidí’s family and friends to grow accustomed to the late icon’s image in the tiny West Clare hamlet.
“When you come around the corner, it’s there looking at it. Your first impression is that it’s a real person running at you. Ventry is smaller than Kilbaha, if that’s possible. You remind yourself that a superstar lived there who loved living there and never went away anywhere else. He was a larger-than-life character and now he’s gone. Their hero is gone but at least now there is something there for people to look at,” the exceptionally talented West Clare sculptor smiled.