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Pottery Sculpture Unveiling Highlight Of ‘Culture Night’ In Carrigaline

Writes Leo McMahon

One of the highlights of Culture Night (September 17th) in 2021, was the unveiling at the Plaza of the superb Carrigaline Pottery Sculpture by Mick Wilkins.

Welcoming the large attendance at the launch on a wonderful sunny autumn evening, chairperson Liam O’Connor said it was a Carrigaline Tidy Towns project forming part of a cultural, heritage and artistic trail in the South Cork capital.

‘A sub-committee to commemorate the pottery industry was established back in 2019 comprising Tidy Towns members Maura Allen, Betty O’Riordan, Claire O’Mullane and myself; two former pottery workers Thos Maye and Pat O’Farrell and local visual artist and sculptor Mick Wilkins,’ said Liam.

Sculptor Mick Wilkins of Kilnagleary Studios, Fine Art, Stone and Bronze Works, Carrigaline told The Carrigdhoun Newspaper: ‘It started as a community arts project to commemorate the legacy of Carrigaline Pottery and acknowledge the role it played in the development of the town. Covid changed all that, but I still benefited from the input of some members of the community who had worked in the pottery many years ago. Their suggestions and recollections influenced the end result’.

‘The sculpture is a playful assemblage in a scale of four-to-one of the wares that the pottery produced. That is, the size of every detail is four times bigger than the original. With the advice of the pottery workers, I incorporated tools that would have been used. This is to help the viewer understand the process of working with clay.

‘The sculpture was made of bronze at Kilnagleary Studios, Carrigaline and took approximately one year to complete. Several processes were used, including sand casting, lost wax casting and bronze welding.

O'Riordan (Treasurer), Liam O'Connor (Chairperson), alongside Thos Maye & Pat O'Farrell, Carrigaline Pottery former employees, at Culture Night in Carrigaline, Friday 17th September 2021. Photo Siobhan Russell

‘The base structure is cast concrete, the design of which is based on a similar structure which had wheels, which when loaded with unfired pottery, was wheeled into the kiln for firing. The entire sculpture weighs around 2,000 kilogrammes,’ said Mick.

‘A lot of meetings were held before we all agreed on a design for the concrete and bronze sculpture,’ said Liam O’Connor. ‘Mick spent a lot of time reading and looking at old photos about processes, tools and equipment used in the former pottery which he incorporated into the design. It’s planned to move the sculpture to the original site of the pottery at Main Street near the hotel where there will also be an information board’.

Liam O’Connor thanked Cork County Council, especially its Arts Department (Ian McDonagh and Grainne O’Connor) and area office (Madeleine Healy and Pat O’Sullivan); Carrigaline Lions Club, Astra Construction, the O’Mahony family for permitting references to the pottery in its booklet from the late Sean O’Mahony’s book ‘The History and Folklore of Carrigaline’; Dick Jenkinson and Brian Clough of the Men’s Shed who exhibited pieces of pottery and old photographs; journalist Leo McMahon for the display of newspaper cuttings; Barry Collins SuperValu and fellow Tidy Towns volunteers and stewards John Kliwou and Kathryn Barry-McSweeney and musician Carloz Paz for the pre-launch entertainment.

Special guest Lesley Roberts, grandson of Hodder W. Roberts, founder of the pottery, thanked everyone involved with the project which, he said, was important to immortalize because there would be many living in Carrigaline who wouldn’t know the pottery ever existed and where it was located.

Lesley pointed out that Louis Keeling was pivotal in the pottery establishing in Carrigaline in 1928 because he provided the expertise and others the funding.

In 1927, Hodder Roberts, got local clay tested in Burton near Stoke-on-Trent in England, an area renowned for pottery. During his stay, he went on a bus ride to Swadlincote. Remarkably, a woman sitting beside him told Hodder that she had a young man staying in her guest house who had studied at the pottery school. That person was Louis Keeling whom Hodder met.

‘They must have got on terribly well because Louis came to Carrigaline quite quickly and being English, must have been wary of arriving in a country still in turmoil after the War of Independence and the Civil War. But he came, set the groundwork and was later joined by his wife and son Alan.

‘At the outset, the pottery business comprised Louis and six local men and in the early 1930’s some more English people with expertise came over, most of whose descendants are still around here today which is very heartening and speaks well of the welcome they received,’ said Lesley.

He concluded by referring to a tea pot made by Louis Keeling with a combination of local and English clay with the initial ‘H.R’ on the base, which was specially on display for Culture Night in the new Owenabue Arts Collective Gallery at the Bridge represented by Mary Murphy.

A wonderful Culture Night event concluded with photographs at the much admired new sculpture.

Carrigaline Tidy Towns committee has published a free Heritage Trail with a map and information about each of the following: Ballea Castle, Carrigaline Castle, Carrigaline Pottery, Kilnagleary, Kilmoney Abbey, the Old Quayside, the Pipe Band, the Railway Station and Black Bridge; Roberts Mills, St Mary’s Church of Ireland, St Ronog’s (John’s) Well, The Rock and the Lios. It has also developed the 1916 Centenary Garden at Cogan’s Mill site and the Train in Motion art work and has plans for a monument to commemorate the railway.

Other landmarks include the Heron roundabout, the Joe West athlete memorial, Mount Rivers and Ravenswood. Tidy Towns always welcomes new members and currently meet every Saturday at 9.30am at its shed in the park off Main Street near the sculpture.

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