A West Cork Sculpture Trail

Posted on: 6th February, 2014

Category: Features

Contributor: West Cork People

A native of Clonakilty, Vincent Allen has spent most of his working life in the public library service in Dublin. After taking early retirement in 2012, he was awarded the Diploma in the History of European Art from Trinity College, Dublin. Vincent looks at some of West Cork’s many and interesting sculptures and the history behind them. In this part of this Sculpture Trail, he traces sculptures from Ballydehob, over to Ahakista and Bantry. Please note that in the interest of consistency, the spelling of all place names follows that of the Ordinance Survey of Ireland maps. Irish spellings of towns have been taken from the same source.

Dan O’Mahony, (Danno) Ballydehob

sculpturedanDan O’Mahony , or ‘Danno’, as he was more popularly known, was born in Ballydehob in 1912. He joined the Irish army and was an athlete, hammer-thrower and weight-thrower, as well as a boxer and wrestler. He was bought out of the army by an American promoter, as much for his looks and powerful build, as his wrestling skills. He won the World Wrestling Championship and followed this with the World Heavyweight Championship (as is the case with professional boxing today, there were a number of ‘world titles’) His early glittering career – he enjoyed 49 consecutive wins — soon turned sour. O’Mahony fell victim to the shady dealings of the different promoters. He also fell victim, literally, to the rough-house tactics of some of his opponents. His popularity was in decline, due to an increasing number of draws or losses. He returned briefly to Ireland to promote professional wrestling, but this new departure in his career proved short-lived. He returned to America and continued as a wrestler, but was now reduced to the role of the ‘named opponent’, whose job it was to lose to the top names. He joined the American army during WWII,  and after the war, continued wrestling till 1948. He returned to Ireland but died just five weeks later in a car crash near Portloaise. He was still only 38 years of age.

James McCarthy has produced a superb depiction of the bare and barrel-chested O’Mahony, clad only in high-waisted shorts and laced-up boxing boots. With clenched fists, O’Mahony stands motionless in a wrestling ring but exudes an aura of restrained power and strength, waiting to be unleashed.

Location: At the top of the main street in Ballydehob, at the junction of the Schull/Durrus roads.


Air India Disaster Memorial, Ahakista

SculptAhakistaThis is probably the most moving of all the sculptures and memorials featured in these articles. It is dedicated to those who lost their lives in the Air India disaster of June 23, I985. It sits on the southern side of the Sheeps’ Head Peninsula, overlooking the spectacularly beautiful Dunmanus Bay. What has become known down through the years as the Air India Disaster was, in fact, a terrorist bomb attack. The contrast between the beauty and tranquillity of the memorial site and what it commemorates is overwhelming. The memorial site is approached through a superbly maintained garden of formal flower beds and a lawn containing shrubs. The memorial itself consists of two elements: a circular, open, flagstoned area with a low stone wall at the rear and in the centre of the circle, a low platform, surmounted by a sun dial. The wall contains a memorial stone in three languages, English, French and Hindu: It reads ‘Remember those who died, Air India, 23 V1 (June) 1985’. The stone wall also contains two lists of names in bronze. One list contains the twenty-two crew members by rank, while in the second all 329  passengers are listed alphabetically by surname. 132 bodies were recovered, the rest were lost at sea. Seats are embedded into the wall at both ends.

The central platform consists of three parts. A bed of stones supports a table, on which sits a sundial in the shape of an Irish harp. The sundial represents the wheel of life. Both the table and the sundial are in Kilkenny limestone. The sun hits the dial at the time of the bombing, 08.01. The table contains a lot of information. It includes the exact lines of latitude and longitude of the accident, as well as a small bronze plaque explaining how to convert local time to Greenwich Mean Time. A quotation in English runs around the edge of the table: ‘Time flies. Suns rise and shadows fall. Let it pass by. Love reigns forever over all’. The lines are interspersed with abstract symbols, depicting infinity. The table and sundial are the work of Ken Thompson, as are the bronze lists of names and the trilingual memorial stone. Ken, in fact was responsible for the overall design and layout of the site.

To the left a short flight of steps leads down to the seashore and the water. This ties in with the Hindu tradition of bathing in sacred rivers such as the Ganges.

The idea for, and the location of, the memorial came about in a purely unplanned manner. Surviving relatives were visiting the area and wishing to throw wreaths in the sea, stopped at Ahakista. This was the genesis of the memorial. Through the sculptor Ken Thompson, the site was purchased by Cork County Council, who then prepared and constructed the site. The memorial was unveiled on the first anniversary. Every year a commemoration ceremony is held on the date and at the time of the bombing.

It is a tribute to the Bantry office of Cork County Council and its staff that they maintain the gardens and memorial site in perfect condition.

Location. coming from Durrus, it is just before the small village of Ahakista.  You will see the car park on your left. The memorial itself is not visible from the road.


The Spirit of Love, Bantry

SculptuloveThe accompanying plaque to The Spirit of Love, a bronze sculpture by Patrick Campbell simply states that is dedicated to ‘all those who have lost their lives in the waters of Bantry Bay’. It is perfectly situated at the Abbey Burial Ground, between the large graveyard on the hill and the sea. It consists of two airborne figures encircling a mast, one above the other, moving towards each other with outstretched hands but the hands not quite touching. The accompanying plaque contains a poem in Irish and English, by Donal Fitzgerald. ‘Peace, kind reader, do not cry/Nor pass not, pass not quickly by/Surely we shall meet again/No more to part, no more to die/Saviour of the mighty sea/Let us find repose in thee.’ An author’s note states that the two figures ‘convey love, loss, anguish, forgiveness, peace, reaching, letting go’.

Although its subject matter is a sad and tragic one, the two figures immediately bring to mind the grace and athleticism of gymnasts or circus trapeze artists. It is movement in metal. It is a superb sculpture.

It was commissioned by Cork Council Council and unveiled in 2006.

Location, as described above on the southern approach into Bantry  (N71) from Skibbereen.


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