After a prolonged saga, a replica of the original statue of Pádraic Ó' Conaire is to return to Eyre Square following an eleven year absence. The original statue of the famed Irish literary giant dominated the top of the Square since it was unveiled by Eamon de Valera in 1935. The sculpture was a top attraction for visitors to Galway, many of whom had their photograph taken alongside the writer.
In 1999 a group of young men broke off the head of the statue. They were subsequently charged with causing £50,000 worth of damage to the statue. Despite restoration work, it was decided in 2004 that the fragile condition of the piece required it to be removed to a safer location. It was initially transferred to the city council offices at College Road and later to the Galway City Museum at the Spanish Arch.
At Monday's city council meeting, executives revealed there was a plan in place to unveil a replica statue by September. The original sculpture is to be taken from the museum, copied and moulded in to bronze.
The work will go out to tender this week for four weeks and a number of councillors expressed their desire that the tender would be awarded to an Irish company. Council executives indicated that this was the plan. An exact location for the statue has not yet been decided and it was agreed this matter would come back before councillors.
Sinn Féin's Mairéad Farrell says Pádraic Ó'Conaire's significance to Galway could not be under-estimated and it is fitting that the work is being carried out at a time which the city is bidding to be named the 2020 European Capital of Culture.
Councillor Padraig Connelly said people still come to Eyre Square seeking to find the original statue. "It is nice that he will again be displayed in a prominent place rather than being hidden away down at the museum."
Cllr Conneelly lamented that councillors had been battling this issue for years. He said there appeared to be no difficulty erecting statues in other parts of the country citing examples like Mick Mackey in Limerick, and Bill Clinton in Ballybunion. "After 11 years, will you please get a move on. Why is it taking so long?"
Councillor Mike Crowe said he was not a fan of replicas and could not understand why the original statue could not be returned to Eyre Square. "This is costing €50,000, it is a waste of money." Councillor Pearce Flannery echoed those sentiments and believed the €50,000 should have been used to support modern irish art. He again spoke about the need to establish a literary trail around the city and to make the trail part of the Capital of Culture bid.
Labour representative Billy Cameron said all Galway writers needed to be recognised. He believes there needs to be more promotion of this area. "There is a multitude of plaques around the city that nobody knows about. I agree with Councillor Flannery that we should have some form of arts trail to honour our poets, actors, and writers. These are the things we must be concentrating on as part of the bid."
Councillor Catherine Connolly remarked that this was the third council this issue was before and she welcomed that the work was finally being completed. "I hope this is the start of Galway recognising the importance of celebrating its writers." Cllr Connolly asked that the literary trail issue be put before the Strategic Policy Committee (SPG ) as a matter of urgency.
Executive officer for arts, culture, and communications Gary McMahon agreed that work was needed on establishing and promoting a literary trail. He also said there was a significant lack of public sculptures in Galway in comparison to other places. "The council's arts office is exploring the possibility of developing a competition for sculptors, meaning that more works will be developed and constructed in the future. It is hoped this competition will be progressed in the coming months."