The saga pertaining to the installation of the ‘Mask of the Shannon’ sculpture at Custume Place is gathering momentum with each passing day, and has garnered much national media attention courtesy of an editorial relating to the topic which appeared on TheJournal.ie as well as being featured on Newstalk’s Sean Moncrieff Show.
The initiative is being driven by a broad diversity of people from across Athlone’s community and beyond who are lobbying the Council to reconsider the current design on the basis that it misrepresents Athlone’s and Ireland’s identity and instead hails Ireland’s subjugation by colonial forces.
When the initial consultation process took place, the wider community was asked to indicate a preference based on three potentials shortlisted by the local authority. The offerings were eye-catching and each of them appeared to have merit.
The successful sculpture, the ‘Mask of the Shannon’, is an 180 degree bronze mask, depicting an adaptation of Edwards Smyth’s Shannon keystone on the Custom House. Fierce and proud, this mask icon of the River Shannon is laden with the fruits of the river’s basin. The back of the sculpture presents a modern circuitry effect, indicative of Athlone’s key location, point of crossing and centrality.
Ralph Kenna, a native of Athlone and currently a Professor in Coventry, who has published research on cultural misappropriation during the same era as the statue represents, has put forth the argument that the proposed statue “replaces our rich native culture with a made-up one, concocted by the very people who dominated our ancestors, it also replaces the female deity Sionann with a male one, this is of particular note as there is no iconography of females in Athlone, we have, on the other hand, only male statues, including two for the one man.
“The statue has nothing specific to do with Athlone. The Council informed us that there will be an inscription on the back of the statue, but this still means that our town will be represented on the rear of a Dublin piece.”
Fiona Lynam, who contested the recent local elections as a Social Democrat Party candidate, noted an additional grievance with the chosen piece.
“On the face of it, the group are unhappy with the River Goddess Sionann being overlooked and replaced by a foreign-influenced God. We are appalled at the Council’s decision in this regard which they have admitted to taking with full recognition of the meaning of the proposed icon. At this stage, we are being told that the process is closed and that they are not willing to engage. We have growing support and we now want the elected members to listen to their constituents. The goal of this is to see the Goddess Sionann appropriately honoured and remembered in Athlone,” Fiona emphasised.
Adding to this, Orla Donnelly said, “it’s hard to believe that in these times a colonial male object from the Custom House, Dublin, has been selected to represent the Shannon in Athlone. I am involved in this because I believe that with some courage and humility, the Council still has the opportunity to have this piece of public art symbolise the Shannon authentically and people will embrace it”.
It is expected that the successful sculpture will be installed in its Custume Place berth during the third quarter of the year.