A West Cork Sculpture Trail

Posted on: 31st December, 2013

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 Skibbereen, over to Dunmanway and Macroom. 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.

Skibbereen Famine Memorial, Abbeystrewry Graveyard:
Skibbereen Famine Memorial was created by Skibbereen Famine Commemoration Committee and was completed in 1998. Like many famine memorials throughout the country, it is very site-specific. It forms part of Abbeystrewry graveyard and is located next to a mass burial ground of between eight and ten thousand coffinless famine victims. This mass burial ground has now been tidied up and it is difficult to comprehend that this small, unadorned patch of ground contains so many famine victims.

The memorial consists of a number of elements. The main feature is a covered gateway which acts as the main entrance. This replaced the original gates which had fallen into disrepair. One wall of the gateway contains a large memorial stone giving a brief outline of the extent of the famine in the area, referring to Skibbereen as ‘the epicentre of this horror’.  It also refers to the mass burial ground as ‘burial pits’. Four lines of a song are included, ending with the well-known ‘And that’s the cruel reason why I left old Skibbereen’.

The second feature is a row of five limestone headstones, each with an inscription reminding us of the sights and sounds of famine burials: ‘the creak of the burial cart, the rattle of the hinged-coffin door, the sigh of spade on earth’. Perhaps the most poignant of all the lines are the final ones — ‘O God, that bread should be so dear and human flesh so cheap’.

The site also contains a Celtic Cross, donated by the Famine Committee to all those buried in “this ancient cemetery” and a number of smaller plaques dedicated to local people.

The site is knitted together by a network of superbly-crafted footpaths.

The memorial site by was designed by Barry Bros., and the construction of the site was carried out by local builders.

Finances for this impressive and imaginative famine memorial were raised by Skibbereen Famine Commemoration Committee through local subscriptions.

Location. Leave Skibbereen on the road to Ballydehob. On your left you will see a magnificent five-arched stone bridge. Turn right here onto a narrow road. This will bring you up behind the graveyard. There is limited parking and a pedestrian entrance. There is no need to park at the main entrance on the busy Ballydehob road.


O'Donovan-RossaJeremiah O’Donovan Rossa Memorial, Skibbereen:
No visit to Skibbereen would be complete without reference to Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa. He was born in Rosscarbery, the third of four children. He was sent to live with his grandparents in nearby Reenascrena at the age of three. He returned to Rosscarbery between 1838 and 1844 and attended school there. But his happy childhood was soon shattered by the realities of the Famine. His father’s business went into decline, and the family lost almost everything. The family was forced to split up, and Jeremiah was sent to live with his aunt in Skibbereen, where he lived for the next 16 years. In 1848, the entire family, except Jeremiah, emigrated to America.

He spent five years working for a relative in a hardware store, and later set up his own business, but was less than successful in this endeavour. It was at this time that he became involved in politics. In 1857 he set up the Phoenix National and Literary Society, dedicated to ‘the liberation of Ireland by force of arms’. Rossa veered towards the use of physical force rather than constitutional politics. But his business was in decline and he emigrated to America in 1863. He returned after the death of his second wife and moved to Dublin to manage the Fenian newspaper ‘The Irish People’. He was arrested in 1865 and following the infamous Fenian Trials in which he defended himself, was given a life sentence. He was released after seven years of such appalling treatment that it led to the Devon Commission of Inquiry. On his release from prison in 1871, he emigrated to America with his family — he had now married for the third time, his first two wives having died. His third wife, Mary Jane Irwin of Clonakilty bore him 13 of his 18 children.

But he continued his political activities in America. He joined Clan na Gael and the IRB  He masterminded the bombing of English cities — the ‘dynamite campaign’ — but this lost him the support of some of his supporters. He published his prison diaries and his memoirs and travelled widely in America, lecturing and delivering speeches. He survived an assassination attempt and died in 1915.

The return of his body to Ireland for burial was a carefully-orchestrated publicity exercise.  His burial in the Republican Plot in Dublin’s Glasnevin cemetery in August 1915 brought Dublin to a near standstill. The graveside oration was delivered by Padraig Pearse in which he quoted the famous line ‘The fools, the fools, they have left us our Fenian dead’.

A fine memorial to O’Donovan Rossa stands at the entrance to O’Donovan Rossa Park. It consists of a number of diverse elements. The most prominent feature is an arched vehicular double gateway by Barry Bros. There is a smaller pedestrian entrance on either side. Directly underneath the arch is gold-painted metalwork in a Gaelic typeface, which spells out the words Pairc Ui Dhonabhain Rossa. Underneath this lettering is some excellent metalwork incorporating a harp, two shamrocks and Celtic interlacing. The next element is a pair of wrought-iron gates, with two rows of fleur de lis. All the metal and wrought-iron work is by Pat Whooley, The Forge, Shreelane, Skibbereen. These are a replacement for and a copy of the original work by Shamrock Foundry, Skibbereen, which fell victim to extensive rusting. The replacement work was carried out in 2001.

Atop it all stands a fine statue of O’Donovan Rossa by Killorglin sculptor Eamonn Lowney. Six feet tall and broad-shouldered, arms folded and elegantly dressed, he looks back imperiously to the town of Skibbereen.

The memorial was unveiled by President Sean T. O’Kelly in July, 1950.

Location; just off the Ballydehob roundabout, next to the G.A.A. grounds of the same name. 


Sam-MaguireSam Maguire, Dunmanway:
Just about everybody in Ireland (and thousands more elsewhere) has heard of Sam Maguire, yet most people know very little about him.

Sam Maguire was born near Dunmanway in 1879. He joined the Post office in London and became involved in both GAA activities and revolutionary activities. He was a friend of Michael Collins, and became his chief intelligence officer. He was at the centre of Scotland yards investigations into  the murder of Sir Henry Wilson, killed by I.R.A gunmen in 1922. Maguire was tipped off, left London, and returned to Ireland. He received a job with the newly-established Irish Civil Service.  But Maguire found it difficult to adapt to a peaceful, post-war Ireland and clashed with his new superiors in Dublin..  He was dismissed from the service. His health was now deteriorating and so he returned to Dunmanway, a somewhat broken and forgotten man. He died of tuberculosis in 1927, at the relatively young age of 48.

After his death, it was decided to present a cup in his name to the GAA to keep his memory alive. The first cup, based on the Ardagh Chalice, was commissioned in 1928, thus Sam never actually saw the cup. The commission was given to a company by the name of Hopkins & Hopkins, (H & H) but  the work was carried out by Staunton & Sons, although H & H appeared in the design. It was modelled from a single sheet of silver —the hammer marks are clearly visible. The cup visited numerous schools, hospitals and clubhouses, it attended many social functions, often as the guest of honour, the occasional drop of alcohol passed its lips, babies were photographed in it, it crossed the Atlantic to America, it is even reputed to have gone missing in action on one occasion. It was decided to replace it in 1988, with a copy of the original cup. The first cup now rests in the G.A.A. Museum in Croke Park.  Against all the odds, the last player to hold the cup aloft was also the first player to raise the new cup, as Meath won back-to-back finals in 1987 and 1988. This unique honour went to Joe Cassells, captain of the Meath team on both occasions. A copy of the new cup was made in 2010, but this is used purely for promotional purposes.

The bronze statue shows Maguire standing on a four-sided base, tapering slightly outwards. In his hands he is holding letters. The double reference here is to his employment in the post office and also his role as collector of intelligence information for Collins. It is worthwhile studying the base. It contains rows of small plaques or bas-relieves — these immediately call to mind the friezes of Greek temples. These bas-relieves contain scenes of children playing hurling, football and camogie. But the remarkable aspect of  the relieves is that they were created by the children of the locality. The sculptor Maurice Harron invited local children to create images, in clay, of Gaelic games. The children left nothing to the imagination. These are not sanitised or romanticized images of our games. Look closely and you will see shirt-pulling, eye-gouging and Tyrone-style marking — and that’s just the camogie players. There are scenes of ecstatic and rowdy supporters, jubilant captains holding cups aloft, victorious players, flag-waving officials. All sporting life is truly here. The clay models were then, through a very difficult process, turned into bronze relieves. Involving local children in an important public commission such as this was a bold and imaginative step to take and the sculptor is to be applauded for it.

Maguire is buried in St. Mary’s Church of Ireland (Maguire was born a Protestant) in Main St., Dunmanway. His grave, in a family plot, is marked by an impressive Celtic

Cross, flanked by two marble headstones. The local GAA pitch is also called after him.


The-Bull-MacroomThe Bull, Macroom:
The Bull does exactly what it says on the tin.  It needs very little explanation or interpretation.  Macroom was once an important market town and the bull was selected to represent the important economic role of the market in the life of the town. It stands on an outcrop of red sandstone, adding an extra air of authenticity to the design.

The life-size bronze work is by Don Cronin and was commissioned by Cork County council in 1998.

Location.  approaching the town on the eastern entrance from Cork (N22) it on the right hand side of the road, at the entrance to a small private housing estate, just before the large Lexus car showrooms. 




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