Travelled thousands of miles to photograph art inspired by sister

Author Ann Lane at book launch with President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins and his wife Sabina.
Author Ann Lane at book launch with President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins and his wife Sabina.
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After almost three years researching, travelling and photographing, Dublin-writer Ann Lane had a book ready for publishing in 2010 which she wanted to call ‘Heavy Metal and Hard Rock’.

Groups like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and The Who travelled vast distances on concert-tours and Ann covered over 16,000 miles by car and motorbike, but her book’s preferred title was changed to ‘By the Way’.

Front cover of 'By the Way 2' features an Irish elk

Front cover of 'By the Way 2' features an Irish elk

Which was equally appropriate, because it was about statues and sculptures - mostly in steel or stone - sited ubiquitously (and occasionally obscurely) near and around the highways and byways of the island of Ireland.

“Even I could see the problems my intended title might have caused in a Google search!” Ann told me last week.

Sub-titled ‘A Selection of Public Art in Ireland’ her 2010 publication contained 760 photographs of, and essential facts about, sculptures sited beside or near roads, roundabouts and buildings, on hilltops, in fields, on pavements and in village squares and city centres.

But Ann knew that there were many hundreds of other works that her 350-page book wasn’t big enough to include.

'Make a Wish' installation at Community House in Omagh

'Make a Wish' installation at Community House in Omagh

Her second book has just been published - By the Way 2 - and extracts and images from it will adorn this page when Roamer has gone through its 1,050 installations, which Ann drove almost 22,000 miles over two years to photograph!

From Millstreet Town, County Cork, Ann has lived in Dublin for most of her life, and worked as personal assistant to Mary Robinson for 28 years during her time as lawyer, lecturer in TCD, Senator and then President of Ireland.

Subsequently Ann spent 10 years as personal assistant to three Attorneys General and for another 10 years up to her retirement as personal assistant to Senator Ivana Bacik in Leinster House.

Meanwhile she photographed random art installations around Ireland or on her numerous mountain-climbing, trekking, motorbiking, car and seagoing expeditions all around the globe including the North and South Polar regions, Mount Everest and Kilimanjaro, Route 66, the Great Wall of China and the Inca Trail in Peru.

Sculpture commemorating the Armagh rail disaster.

Sculpture commemorating the Armagh rail disaster.

“The idea for that first book came from a calendar of photographs of roadside sculptures in Cork that my sister gave me many years ago,” she explained, adding “I was so taken with the pieces that I thought I would like to see them.”

One sculpture called ‘An Capall Mo’ particularly intrigued her.

“It’s a huge Celtic horse by Tighe O’Donoghue Rosson on the Cork/Kerry border,” Ann recounted “it inspired me to catalogue roadside art right around the country.”

“We must all be very grateful to Ann Lane for assembling this marvellous index of sculptures,” said Ireland’s President, Michael D. Higgins, at the launch of By the Way 2 in Dublin’s Royal Irish Academy last month.”

Having also written its foreword, the President commended her book for providing “a new perspective on our native landscape and our journeys through it.”

For prospective visitors and tourists “I trust that it will arouse curiosity and interest,” added President Higgins, hoping that “all those who open this book will find it as inspiring as I have.”

From amongst the sculpted pieces all over Ireland I asked the author to highlight one in each county in Northern Ireland.

“The works are generally so excellent,” Ann replied, “I found it very difficult to choose one for each county so in some cases I have strayed into two. I leave the decision to you!”

Included in her list was the Armagh Rail Disaster sculpture by Rory Breslin of a little barefoot girl with a bucket and spade in The Mall, Armagh.

The bronze and limestone piece commemorates the tragic 1889 rail disaster when a local Sunday school excursion train stalled while attempting to negotiate a steep incline. It was packed with children and as the rear portion of the train rolled back down it collided with another train.

Altogether 80 people died and 260 were injured, about a third of them children.

Ann also highlighted Alan Burke’s stunning Flax Flower installation in The Pond in Bessbrook, commemorating the botanical species that was vital to the mill that drove the local economy.

Belfast and Newtownabbey’s CS Lewis and Mossley Mill sculptures featured highly on her list of northern favourites, and from Binevenagh Mountain’s Gortmore Viewing Point near Limavady she chose Darren Sutton’s Manannán Mac Lir.

Local tradition in that part of County Londonderry tells of the presence of the Celtic sea god Manannán, the Irish Neptune, in Lough Foyle. They say that his spirit is released during fierce storms, and the waves are referred to as Manannán’s sea horses.

There’ll be more examples here shortly from the book, with their background stories, but ending today’s peek preview is the sad, poignant and extremely beautiful Make a Wish installation at Omagh’s Community House on Drumragh Avenue.

Cast and fabricated by Alex Pentek the evocatively-lit bronze dandelion commemorates the victims of the 1998 IRA bombing. Symbolizing hope, Pentek chose the dandelion because it encapsulates the beauty and fragility of all life.

“The piece incorporates a series of seeds placed inside the building,” Ann explains in her book “which when viewed from outside appear to be floating as if they had been scattered.”

“By the Way 2” by Ann Lane is published by Wordwell Books at