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Aidan Harte with a clay casting of his Púca statue

Puca artist says Clare council’s emoji-based survey will benefit naysayers

THE creator of the controversial Púca statue has expressed concerns that a Council online survey over the artwork “will give the naysayers an effective veto”, writes Gordon Deegan.

Aidan Harte was commenting after Clare County Council launched the online survey to get the views mainly of the people of Ennistymon as to whether the Púca should be installed in the north Clare town.

In launching the survey that comprises five questions about the Púca and its location, the Council state that its results “will guide Clare County Council and Fáilte Ireland in a final decision in relation to the proposed artwork”.

In May of this year, the project was paused after a local outcry including parish priest, Fr Willie Cummins denouncing the bronze two metre high Púca from the altar at Sunday mass.

The Council survey includes an option for participants to say how much they like or dislike the Púca by sliding a smiley face across a page.

If a participant in the survey really dislikes the Púca, the face has a sad face and can be seen shedding a tear.

Mr Harte said, “It would be a shame if the Púca is decided on a binary ‘yes or no’ happy or sad face because that is a simplistic approach. It is no kind of art criticism. Imagine your favourite poem being put to that test? Would it have got published? Probably not.”

The survey also asks participants why they like or dislike the Púca and their thoughts on its proposed location across from ‘Blakes Corner’, the bridge that currently brings traffic out to Lahinch and the Cliffs of Moher.

The Púca is inspired by Ennistymon’s horse fair, equine heritage and Irish folklore and Mr Harte said: “The Puca is an unusual sculpture. I hope people will give it a chance.”

Two of the country’s best known entertainers, Dara Ó Briain and Chris O’Dowd have already voiced their support for the  Púca and Mr Harte stated that his preference would have been to go to Ennistymon for “an honest and robust town hall debate” on the Púca.

He said: “I would have preferred to talk to people face to face and bring the little Púca model down and people could see that it is not a monster that is going to come for them in their beds.”

The sculptor stated that “unfortunately with an online vote I can’t think of a better way to empower a vocal minority”.

Mr Harte commented: “It is a very high hurdle now for the Púca to jump.”

“Almost everyone agrees that art picked by committee or by a popular vote is not a good way to do it but that it where it has ended up. If you want inoffensive, crowd pleasing art, this is a way to get it if that is what you want.”

Mr Harte added: “‘No’ is always a little bit louder than ‘yes’. I do appreciate that Clare County Council is in a difficult position because they need to represent the people and if a couple of loud voices have said no, they can’t ignore them.”

He stated that based on radio vox-pops “the feeling in Ennistymon appears to have moved on and most people think it was a silly post ‘lockdown’ overreaction in the protest to it”.

He said: “I do hope that the people in Ennistymon who do want it there, this is the time to speak. If they don’t now, it is the naysayers who will get the veto.”

In launching the survey, the council refer to the Puca as being “provisionally” selected through its open competition as the artwork for Ennistymon.

However, Mr Harte described this statement as “inaccurate” and an attempt by the Council to re-write history.

He stated: “My piece was selected and commissioned. We signed a contract.”

Mr Harte stated that he has been paid €10,000 out of the €30,000 commission to date.

The artist stated that the “hullabaloo” has brought “a forgotten character from Irish folklore into the national consciousness”.

“I am waiting patiently to see the outcome. It has been a long wait since the project was paused and there could yet be a happy outcome.”

The closing date for submissions in Tuesday November 23.

Link to survey here

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