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Artist Aidan Harte at the unveiling of his Púca statue at The Michael Cusack Centre in Carron. Photograph by Arthur Ellis.

‘Terrible beauty’ will do well by people of Carron

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IT WAS a soft day in North Clare when one of folklore’s most intriguing characters made his first public appearance at The Michael Cusack Centre.

Banished from Ennistymon, even before he had been cast in bronze, the Púca roamed the rocky Burren until he found a cosy lair at Poll a Phúca in Carron.

A public backlash against proposals to install the statue in Ennistymon, provided the opportunity to the operators of the Cusack Centre to offer an alternative home.

While someone, or something, seemed to be playing puck with the weather last Saturday, the welcome for Aidan Harte’s sculpture could hardly have been warmer.

The queue of cars bound for the official launch was matched only by the beeline of visitors eager to rub the creature’s toe and get a selfie with the now world-famous statue.

Visitors were captivated by the piping of Blackie O’Connell as raindrops drummed their rhythm on the canopy of trees in the Púca’s shady grove.

There was poetry too and storytelling, amid much speculation about what magic the folkloric beast might weave in tourism terms.

Legend has it that the Púca is an unpredictable creature. Reputed to bring good fortune or bad, depending on his mood, he is said to have a penchant for taking wayfarers off course if they happen to cross his path on a dark night.

First mooted, in early 2021, as a piece of public art to increase visitor dwell time in Ennistymon, Púca stirred public feelings to fever pitch and found himself paused for most of last year.

Eventually rejected by a public vote, he was eagerly embraced in Carron, where his new home is a stone’s throw from the cottage of the founder of the GAA, Cusack.

Impatient to reveal himself, after the long debacle that threatened his very existence, Púca teased onlookers with a few flashes of his gnarly foot, while dignitaries spoke words of welcome.

The shapeshifting trickster even interrupted Steve Lally’s storytelling, calling his phone to urge him to speed things up, then putting paid to the PA system.

Public fascination – ancient and modern – with the Púca’s story was captured in a poem by the Cusack Centre’s Education Officer, Sheila Keane.

She outlined that: “By the cottage of a hero, from a long past yesterday, the Púca found his heart’s desire at the home of the GAA.”

The centre’s Tim Madden welcomed Councillor Joe Killeen, on one of his last official engagements as Leas Cathaoirleach of Clare County Council; Deputy Cathal Crowe; and new Mayor of Ennis, Clare Colleran Molloy. He thanked CEO of the local authority, Pat Dowling, and his team, for their support.

“Thank you so much to the people of Carron for supporting us in the process, Clare GAA and especially chair, Kieran Keating,” Mr Madden said.

Chair of the Cusack Centre Dónal Ó hAiniféin gave a sporting three cheers for the community of Ballyvaughan, who had also made a bid to take the art piece.

“Púca is well travelled,” Mr Ó hAiniféin noted. “Whatever they say about him, he always brings people back safe and sound to where he found them – maybe with a little bit of a warning not to be walking the roads late at night in an inebriated state.

“Sin scéal don Phúca and we wish to explore those with a Samhain festival, later in the year, at the centre here, and to dig into the treasure trove that is duchas.ie and the Schools Folklore Collection… Táimid an bhródiúl as an bPúca.

“You can see the connections with Michael Cusack. November 1 is Púca’s Day, the day the GAA was established. It’s the beginning of the Celtic new year, a good time for new enterprises. Cíosóg knew what he was at when he chose November 1.

“While the Púca is a controversial enough figure, as we know, Cusack himself was controversial enough. After founding the GAA and spreading it around, he must have been riding the Púca, roller-coasting around the country, because he visited so many parishes and townlands and clubs. Not long afterwards, he was out.”

Mr Ó hAiniféin also welcomed the oldest man in the parish, Paddy Hynes, who at 94 years was on hand to tell stories in Cusack’s cottage.

There was a rapturous reception for sculptor Aidan Harte. The Kilkenny man paid special tribute to his mother-in-law Bridget Murphy who celebrated her 80th birthday on Saturday.

“She’s very happy for me with my new statue,” he said. “She just wishes it was a bit more pretty. She’s not the only one. It’s been called a lot of things – ‘The Scare from Clare’, ‘The Monster from Munster’, ‘The Chernobyl Pony’, ‘Crazy Horse’.

“The word ‘grotesque’ was mentioned, more than once. It’s true enough, he’s no oil painting. I won’t rehash the strange events of this year, except to say before it all started, it never crossed my mind that a statue should be pretty.

“My North Star, when I was making this, was the phrase from WB Yeats, ‘a terrible beauty’.

“Douglas Hyde, who collaborated with Yeats and Michael Cusack called the Púca ‘a terrible steed’. In the same breath, Hyde said that the Púca grants wishes and tells fortunes.

“A lot of people want to know if he’s good or evil. The fact is he’s neither one or the other. He can’t make up his mind, just like the rest of us.

“When things in Ennistymon kicked off, Johnny Dillon of the National Folklore Archive, Duchas, spoke up to say there’s Púca’s a-plenty in Clare, in Rineen, Crusheen and Poll a Phúca, where we are today.”

Mr Harte describe the folklore around the Púca as being “fuzzy at the edges”.

“The Banshee always looks the same, more or less, but the Púca is not like that. He takes many forms. Although, the horse Púca is ubiquitous, in Wexford Púca is an eagle. In Roscommon, he’s a goat. In Kilkenny, he’s Brian Cody. In some stories, he’s a vengeful ghost, but in most, he’s simply a pest.”

Noting that the Púca is a rural creature, drawn to wild places, Mr Harte said “wherever you find civilisation, law and order, street lights, concrete and plastic, you won’t find the Púca there”.

“Towns are great for doing business, networking, making money, but sometimes things get tangled up in towns,” he added.

“Traffic stops. Gossip turns to back-biting. Everybody’s a stranger. At times like that, you need a change and quiet places, places like this where new ideas are born.”

Councillor Joe Killeen was on hand to do the honours and unveil the statue.

“I truly believe the Púca has found his natural home here,” he said. “It really is a valuable addition to the overall offering at The Michael Cusack Centre and is going to prove a big draw.

“The more controversy that there was about it the better, because it will draw more people into the Burren for us. The Púca’s presence is going to add greatly to the centre here in Carron.

“Adding value to our attractions in the Burren is key to building a sustainable tourism offering and spreading the economic benefits throughout the communities of North Clare.”

After the Púca was revealed, to rapturous applause, a hurl was presented to Mr Harte and another to his father, the Kilkenny hurling star, Billy.

Historian and author, Dr Pádraig Ó Ruairc, who wrote to The Champion, in the early stages of the controversy, defending the Púca and his connection to Clare lore, was among those to attend the launch on Saturday.

“I’m just delighted to see the statue go up at this stage,” he told The Champion.

“I’ll be bringing my children up here. I heard stories of the Púca in Miltown Malbay from my granduncle Miko Hayes who was a seanchaí. He passed on the tradition of the Púca to me.

“I tell my kids stories about the Púca. I’ll be bringing them up in the summer to go the The White strand and I’ll bring them here to see the Púca.”
Thanking the local community, Mr Harte said, “The people of Carron have given Púca a welcome. I’ve no doubt he’ll do well by them.”

Fiona McGarry
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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 The University of 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.

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 The University of 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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