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

Púca creator is ‘hopeful’ ahead of council decision

THE creator of the controversial Púca of Ennistymon has called on Clare County Council to stand behind its Arts Office who commissioned the proposed sculpture.
Ahead of a review of a public consultation process, Aidan Harte, told The Champion he remains hopeful the council will back his proposals. “I think the council were slightly wrong-footed by the controversy, but there was a transparent public tender process and I think the council now need to defend the robustness of that,” he said.
The preferred design was publicised last May, but within a matter of days, the public art project was ‘paused’ due to considerable local opposition.
The 2-metre sculpture, proposed for Lower Church Hill, generated intense controversy at local and national level. Despite some strong opposition, the proposed half-man, half-horse secured the backing of a number of celebrities, historians, artists and folklorists, podcasters and documentary makers.
The local authority has now confirmed that a consultation survey is now being examined with a view to deciding how to advance the project. Mr Harte said he anticipates a decision before Christmas.
The artist, who has received a number of offers of alternative locations for the sculpture, said he had a number of concerns over the process and would have preferred an in-person ‘town hall’-style event.
“I had offered to come to Ennistymon and addressed the concerns that some people have,” he said.
“Clare County Council didn’t take me up on this offer, even though I was ready to bring a model of the Púca and explain the thinking behind it. I think that kind of forum could have been cathartic. For some reason, people got the wrong idea and thought it was some kind of pagan idol when it’s not. The Púca is a shapeshifter and a character and I think it’s fully in line with the design brief which was to put the town on the map and give people another reason to visit.”
The Kilkenny native said he believed the use of a survey to gauge public views had potentially reignited the controversy. “Polls can, typically, be very divisive,” he said.
“I would have preferred a situation where people could discuss their views face-to-face, I do understand the public health guidelines may not have permitted that earlier in the year.”
The sculptor said he had been encouraged by recent research from Dr Sarah O’Brien of the University of Limerick (UL) who examined the controversy. “Her thesis is that local people were unfairly caricatured by the national media,” he said.
“She also believes there is a lot of support and appreciation for the Púca.”
Meanwhile, Mr Harte also expressed unease about a video posted on the Ennistymon Town Facebook page for a new song about the controversy.
The song entitled ‘The Ennistymon Púca’ is by The Burning Pitchforks. Mr Harte said that, at first, he considered it a humorous take on the row. “It was posted the day before the council’s poll closed,” he said.
“It’s quite funny until you get to the end when there is a mock execution. I think there’s a kind of implied threat to the project there. I presume it’s not serious and I’m not sure it will get a lot of public support.”
A spokesperson for Clare County Council has confirmed that: “The survey in relation to the installation of the Púca has concluded in the last number of days”.
When asked about the timeframe for a decision, the authority said: “This survey is now being analysed. Further information will issue once this process is concluded.”
The sculpture is part of a project aimed at increasing visitor dwell time in Ennistymon. €500,000 has come from Fáilte Ireland under the Destination Towns Programme, for signage, pedestrian access and significant additional car parking, with 25% funding from the council. A public artwork is included in the conditions of the programme.

About Fiona McGarry

Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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