FROM a Gaelic chieftain surveying the Boyle bypass to the giant, rearing horse overseeing the roadway from Tralee to Cork city, Ann Lane has spent four years and travelled over 14,000 miles on an odyssey to catalogue the country’s main pieces of public art.
Having finished her work earlier this year, Ms Lane’s photographic journal will be published in the autumn as a major art book.
The 64-year-old, originally from Co Cork, said it was her initial encounter with Capall Mór, the ferro-cement over a steel structure, near Tralee, that depicts a Celtic war horse with broken chains around its forelegs, signifying freedom, which inspired her to undertake the task of cataloguing the works.
“The best of these works, such as the Chieftain at Boyle, can make the hair nearly stand up on the back of your neck, they are so impressively located. That statue itself has become a tourist attraction with coaches bringing holiday-makers to see it.”
Ms Lane estimates she has photographed over 750 pieces, but several remain to be added to her list.
“I was doing up to 800 miles a weekend photographing in specific areas just to find out I’d missed works and would need to go back,” she added.
Hundreds of figures and statues have appeared along the country’s highways and within developments during the massive upgrading of the road network and construction boom of the last two decades.
Micheal D Higgins, former Minister for the Arts, was central to the flowering of public art, introducing legalisation during the early 1990s which resulted in each development having to set aside 1% of its funding towards artistic creation.
“Knowing that we were on a verge of a whole series of public developments I was anxious that local authorities and corporate entities would have a proportion of the construction budget that addresses the need for public art,” he said.
Mr Higgins added: “This was never investing for art out of surplus but was integral to development.”
The downturn has resulted in a massive slump in construction — and public art. Pressure is also mounting to scrap Mr Higgins’ rule, with some councils objecting to the funding of public arts while services are being cut back.
In the case of Limerick County Council, some councillors unsuccessfully attempted to halt the spending of €110,000 earmarked for roadside art on the new M7 Limerick to Nenagh motorway, demanding the funding be diverted to other projects.
* Ann Lane’s photographic journal of public art will be published this autumn by Wordwell Books.
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