Senator calls on committee to explain its rationale in selecting controversial sculpture
THE committee who chose a controversial public sculpture for Ennistymon have been called on to come forward and make a statement on the row that has erupted over the plan.
Senator Martin Conway, a native of the town, insisted the proposed Púca of Ennistymon, a mythical half-man, half horse, must be “consigned to history”.
The two-metre high sculpture was chosen for a site at the bottom of Church Hill, after an open competition, as part of a significant upgrade to the streetscape of the town.
The artist who won the commission, Aidan Harte, told The Champion he believes the piece meets the brief of creating an “out-of-the-ordinary” piece that will entice visitors to stop and spend time in Ennistymon.
However, anger at a perceived lack of public consultation and objections to the design, prompted Clare County Council to announce the pausing of the project. Senator Conway has now urged the adjudication panel, who chose the Púca from a total of 18 proposals, to explain their decision.
“I am calling on the committee to come out with a full and detailed statement and explain the rationale for choosing this,” he said.
“It’s a reasonable request given that it’s public funding of €30,000 that is going towards the sculpture. I lobbied hard for Ennistymon to be chosen for the half-a-million streetscape funding from Fáilte Ireland, and that’s very welcome, but frankly I find the sculpture element ugly.
“The Púca has negative connotations as well as positive ones. Lots of people believe in fairies and are very superstitious about this. It would have been more appropriate to have a piece based on something like Joseph Tobin, who was the last town crier in Ireland, or Dylan Thomas who lived at the Falls Hotel for a time.
“Surely to God, the design could have reflected that rich tradition and there are questions to be answered by the people who went for this design.”
Another public representative, local postmaster, Councillor Shane Talty, said the controversy has proven divisive.
“There has been a sense of ‘them and us’ about it,” the Fianna Fáil member said.
“Some people mistakenly said it was newcomers and so-called ‘arty’ types who were imposing this on locals, but that’s not the case. This is a council project.
“There are lots of positives in the streetscape upgrade. There’s also the fact that a contract has been signed for a new car park after two years of negotiations.”
As for his own reactions to the design, Councillor Talty said, “At first view, I didn’t take offence, but it’s entirely subjective.”
He added that the overwhelming majority of representations he had received were from those opposed to the Púca. “It would seem clear at this stage, the most people don’t want this,” he said.
Councillor Talty said he believes the project can now only proceed with public agreement.
“There has to be inclusiveness and openness,” he said. “If there is, it doesn’t have to be scrapped.”
One of the first people to receive contact on the matter was Bill Slattery, a former councillor for North Clare.
“I got several calls even though I don’t have a political mandate,” he said. “I got in touch with the engineer for the council who made some inquiries and that got the ball rolling for the very large number of people who have raised legitimate concerns.”
Among those was local woman, Ciara Fahy, who found out about the proposed sculpture when she saw a briefing taking place outside her business at the end of last year.
“It’s just not welcoming and not warm,” she said. “It doesn’t reflect our people or our history.”
Meanwhile, an Ennis-based public sculptor, Barry Wrafter, has rowed in behind Mr Harte. “The controversy is a bit like something out of Fr Ted,” he said.
“There is some bad public art out there, but this is good. The anatomical detail is great. It’s really well designed and crafted.”
On the issue of public consultation, Mr Wrafter, who has worked on a number of major public art projects including one on the Kilkenny hurling team, said experts should be allowed to lead the way.
“You’re not going to get Joe Soap to design a house, for example,” he said. “You’ll leave that to the person who knows what they’re doing, that’s the architect.”