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 final part of this Sculpture Trail, he traces sculptures from Bantry to Castletownbere. 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.
St. Brendan the Navigator, Bantry: The statue to St. Brendan, or Brendan the Navigator stands at the western end of Wolfe Tone Square and looks towards the sea. Brendan was born near Tralee, in 484 and was ordained a priest in 512. His life is a mixture of reality and myth. He was a missionary who founded a number of monasteries and monastic sites in Ireland and along the Atlantic seaboard. He is reputed to have travelled to Iceland and is said to have beaten Christopher Columbus to the Americas by some 800 years, sailing in a leather boat. The myths about his life were further strengthened by the publication of Navigatio Sancti Brendani in which he recounts tales of finding Paradise in the Atlantic Ocean and encountering sea monsters. Because of his epic adventures, he became known as the patron saint of sailors and navigators.
The bronze sculpture by Imogen Stuart sits on a limestone plinth. It depicts St. Brendan with arms dramatically outstretched, accompanied by two companions. The prow of the boat carries an interesting combination of sea waves and Celtic interleafing.
A plaque at the base states that it was erected to commemorate the opening of Whiddy Island Oil Terminal in Bantry Bay in 1969. It was unveiled in May 1969 by Taoiseach Jack Lynch. It was funded by the oil company British Petroleum.
Theobald Wolfe Tone, Bantry: The statue of Theobald Wolfe Tone is the second of two in the eponymous square in Bantry. Like the nearby sculpture of St Brendan the Navigator, Wolfe Tone also looks towards Bantry Bay and the sea. It is very site- specific. It recalls the ill-fated attempt by Wolfe Tone to land a French fleet in Bantry Bay in 1796 as a prelude to overthrowing English rule in Ireland. The fleet arrived safely in the Bay, but was destroyed by bad weather. Tone’s second attempt at landing French forces in Ireland was more successful, but the much smaller force soon surrendered. A third fleet was defeated in battle off the northern coast in 1798. Wolfe Tone was arrested, tried and sentenced to death. His request to be shot rather than hanged was rejected. Tone responded by taking his own life.
The bronze statue by Jeanne Rynhart shows Wolfe Tone elegantly dressed in a French naval uniform. He is wearing a swallow-tail coat, cravat, and knee-high boots with tassels. His hands, clasped behind his back hold a small telescope. He manages to look both relaxed and authoritative simultaneously. The bronze plaque, set into the plinth, contains Tone’s political ideology and objective — “To unite the whole people of Ireland, to abolish the memory of all past dissensions and to substitute the common name of Irishman in place of the denomination of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter”.
It was commissioned by Bantry Millenium Committee and unveiled in 2000.
Capt. Francis O’Neill, Tralibane, Bantry:
Capt. O’Neill is the second musician to be featured in these articles (see Canon James Goodman in Skibbereen).
Francis O’Neill was born in Tralibaine, outside Bantry in 1848. He was brought up in a house full of music and musicians. After attending two local schools, he emigrated to England in 1865. He went to sea and working as a cabin boy, travelled the world and visited NewYork in 1866. He survived a shipwreck on the ‘Minnehaha’ and settled in San Francisco.
By 1870 he had become a school teacher, in Missouri. He came into contact with local musicians, learning many new tunes from them. Visiting Chicago twice, he met Irish musicians, adding more tunes to his vastly increasing repertoire. He then moved permanently to Chicago in 1870 and joined the police force in 1873. Quickly moving through the ranks, he achieved the rank of Chief Superintendent, hence the moniker “Chief O’Neill”. He enjoyed an unenviable reputation for integrity and honesty. He became the public face of the Chicago police force. He immersed himself in the Irish community and wasn’t averse to getting his musical friends — pipers, fiddlers, flute players- into the police force. His home was a regular stop-off point for visiting musicians. He was hugely influential in preserving traditional Irish music and dance in America, which was then experiencing the emergence of new types of music, especially jazz.
After an absence of 41 years, Francis returned to Ireland in 1906 for a short visit of six weeks, and gave a number of concerts. He died in 1936
Jeanne Rynhart’s life-size bronze statue was unveiled in March 2000 by Garda Commissioner Pat Byrne. It is located in the Captain O’Neill Memorial Site. The site also contains a commemorative wall. The wall houses granitebricks, purchased by those wishing to be associated with the legacy of the Captain. Regular music events are held at the site, including a midsummer night’s dance and a Pattern Day.
Location: this proved to be the most difficult of all the sculptures to find. The easiest (though certainly not the shortest) route to the site is to leave Bantry on the road to Skibbereen (N71). After ten km, turn left at a junction where you will see two signs to the site. Follow the signs for a few km. Alternatively,you can experiment with the minor roads around Bantry, leaving town ‘up by the church’.
Twilight Haul, Castletownbere: Twilight Haul is the second of two sculptures on the shores of Bantry Bay which are dedicated to lives lost at sea. (see also Spirit of Love, Bantry). The bronze sculpture, by Barry Linnane consists of two fishermen holding a boat aloft. One looks out to sea, while the other looks back inland, symbolising the interdependence of land and sea in a fishing community.
The sculpture has two accompanying seats and a plaque. The plaque invites visitors to ‘Please sit, remember and acknowledge those who lost their lives at sea. Quiet and contemplative, a stilled moment, a form of salute, as if time has stood still’. The plaque states that the memorial is especially dedicated to the relatives of those whose bodies have never been recovered — ‘that this may be a place where they find some sense of peace if not closure’.
The memorial was the initiative of the Castletownbere branch of Mna na Mara, an organisation and support structure for women involved in the fishing industry. It was commissioned by Dept. of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and unveiled by the Minister for State, Mr. Tony Killeen, on June 29,, 2009.
Location: The memorial is located on Dinish Island, now accessible by vehicular bridge at the eastern approach to the town. After crossing the bridge, follow the road to the far end of the island. The memorial is at the water’s edge, overlooking Bantry Bay.
Special thanks to the following for their help: Sandra Bell, sculptor. Colm Brennan, sculptor. Maurice Harron, sculptor. John Hurley, Bandon. James McCarthy, sculptor. Sean McCarthy, sculptor. John Madden, Lislevane. Gerald O’Brien, Skibbereen. Elaine O’Driscoll, Bantry. Jerry O’Sullivan, Skibbereen. Ken Thompson, sculptor. Tomas Tuipear, artist and historian, Clonakilty. Pat Whooley, metalworker, Skibbereen.
Vincent can be contacted by email email@example.com.