Last week’s armchair journey through Ireland north and south via the island’s numerous sculptures and statues continues today.
Using Ann Lane’s newly-published book about public art as a guide, history unfolds on every page - memorable people from days of yore, ancient myths and fables, significant events from the past, commemoration, expectation and celebration.
All depicted by eye-catching artworks of all shapes, sizes and styles, photographed and catalogued by province, county and specific locality.
Called ‘By the Way 2’ the book is a continuation of the author’s first, island-wide, sculptural safari over a decade ago when Ann drove and motorbiked some 16,000 miles in three years photographing 760 artworks.
Her first ‘By the Way’ was published in 2010 and she has clocked up another 22,000 miles and 1,050 outdoor installations for her latest publication.
“There were some funny, strange and surreal experiences,” Ann told me “like the day I was rushing along a very minor road, totally lost, with my Sat Nav shouting at me, and suddenly I came upon a man sitting in a car in a very lonely spot.
“I was so lost that I didn’t care if he was an axe murderer. I screeched to a halt behind him but before I could get out he was right at my door panting.
“Before I had a chance to open my mouth he asked in a state of desperation, ‘Are you the new vet?’ He was a farmer with a very ill cow in the field and had spent ages waiting in his car. I may have grown up in the country but I was no use to him in his crisis!”
Her book, however, is both useful and immensely enjoyable. It is useful as an authoritative catalogue of the unique character, characters and charisma of our island.
“As well as recording the sculptures,” Ann told me “I also had another reason for doing the project - this country! There will never be a time in my life when I might become jaded by the people, the atmosphere and most particularly the landscape that surrounds us…the more I saw the more I was reminded of what a stunningly beautiful place I am lucky enough to spend my life in.”
The book confirms her inspiration, packed with large, colour photographs of beautifully crafted artworks set in either remote seclusion or thronged metropolis - or between or betwixt.
Thus the enjoyment in perusing its host of pictures and explanatory captions “from Ahakista to Ards” Ann enthused “and from Burtonport to Kilmore Quay there is an extraordinary variation in landscape - some of it quite breath-taking.”
Which demonstrates another of the book’s captivating distinctions. While Ahakista sounds like a sun-parched region of India or Afghanistan it’s a tiny seaside village on West Cork’s Sheep’s Head peninsula overlooking the picturesque Kitchen Cove.
“It’s a great place for meeting the locals, beginning great walks, sailing, and enjoying great food” local travel brochures rightfully boast, adding “you’ll come across artists and sculptors here too.”
And aside from seeing the fruits of their labour in Ann’s book Roamer has never been to Ahakista, nor have I seen Japanese artist Shiro Masuyama’s Apples in the People’s Park in Ballymena, or Galway sculptor Donnacha Cahill’s Bird’s Nest and Eggs in Broughshane’s riverside walk.
Those are just two from dozens of County Antrim installations in the book.
Shiro Masuyama’s installation associates “the apple with Adam and Eve, William Tell, Isaac Newton and Steve Jobs” Ann states in the caption, adding “the apples symbolise some community-based themes: working together, trust, growth and peace-building.”
The photographs’ captions and summaries show that each artwork is in essence evocative, significant, profound, poignant, whimsical or enlightening - often expressed together in a single installation.
County by county in Northern Ireland, the book contains 28 pieces in Armagh, 26 in Londonderry, 73 in Antrim, 46 in Down, 8 in Fermanagh and 13 in Tyrone.
Ann explains in her introduction that it was “a unique, educational and sometimes entertaining experience. There was always the unexpected.”
All of those feelings became entwined with guilt when I noticed Alec the Goose on page 302!
I regularly enjoy the buzz, colour and camaraderie of Belfast’s St George’s Market and have often walked past the sculpture of a little girl and a goose at the market’s East Bridge Street entrance.
But I never paused to read the explanatory plaque to the market’s feathered ‘former patron’ and school-girl chum, endearingly sculpted by Gordon Muir.It’s a delightful if sad-ending tale.
“The goose, owned by a local poultry vendor, was a favourite in the area and a regular visitor to the market during the 1920s” runs Ann’s caption to the photograph.
Enticed by her summary - a feeling to be shared on almost every page of the book - Roamer sought further information!
Alec is not being taken to St George’s to be sold for Sunday lunch.
He frequently visited the market on his morning stroll, probably for a few tasty treats from the stallholders.
Alec also walked children to school and became something of a local hero in the 1920s…until he was run over in 1926.
Memories not cast aside, but cast in bronze.
‘By the Way 2’ by Ann Lane is published by Wordwell Books at www.wordwellbooks.com