An image of what the artworks will look like.

‘Turning Circles’ art for greenway

Westmeath County Council are planning to install five sculptures along the Old Rail Trail greenway by the middle of next year. Details of the project, part of the government’s Per Cent for Arts scheme, were unveiled to members at the November meeting of Athlone Moate Municipal District.

The Per Cent for Art scheme was introduced in 1978, and it provides that one per cent of the cost of any publicly funded capital, infrastructural and building development can be allocated to the commissioning of a work of art. Since 1997 the scheme has been made available to all capital projects across all government departments.

Municipal district manager, Jackie Finney, told last week’s meeting that the cost of the sculpture project is €65,000 and it is planned to install the artworks at various locations on the greenway "in April or May of 2023". She said that the sculptures will "go out as far as Streamstown".

The sculpture project is a collaboration between Aosdána poet and Haiku specialist, Gabriel Rosenstock, and sculptor, Martha Quinn, and they have called it ‘Turning Circles’.

Director of services, Barry Kehoe, apologised to councillors for his lack of "artistic expertise" in advance of giving a detailed presentation on the sculptures, which contained illustrations of what the artworks will look like.

He said that each sculpture touches on "a different aspect of the greenway experience" and will represent the diversity of flora and fauna, the historical context and the active engagement of visitors using the Old Rail Trail.

The sculptures will be made of Irish limestone and the title ‘Turning Circles’ reflects cycles and the passing of time.

Ms Finney said that while the brief for the project stipulated four sculptures, the artists have agreed to create a fifth piece.

The presentation to council members included details of the four sculptures, which are to be located in Streamstown, Moate, Kilcumreragh and Crosswood bog.

A large limestone sculpture of 2.8 metres in height is planned for Streamstown and will be on the platform opposite the station. It will be orientated to allow approaching cyclists and walkers see it from a distance and the open circle will frame the changing view.

This sculpture will contain a single haiku, which is a type of short form poetry originating in Japan. The words inscribed on the sculpture will be ‘a wispy cloud… the wind carries a memory of the Old Railway’.

Mr Kehoe said the ideology of the ‘Turning Circles’ is connected with all forms of wheeled transportation, and reflects the repurposing of the railway line, the turn in tides and the change in histories.

The sculpture designed for the Moate section of the greenway is a "people friendly sculpture" and will appeal particularly to children and family groups. It consists of a series of limestone rings (530mm to 1,000mm in diameter) intended to allow children to climb over, through and to sit on and in.

Crosswood Bog is a Special Area of Conservation and the five standing stones to be placed here will reflect the "sensitivity of this location".

The series of limestone sculptures will be placed at regular intervals over a stretch of the track, each stone having a poem carved into a cylindrical small ‘pillar’ of stone that can be turned by hand to read the text. The poem pillars will be mounted on both the front and back of the stones, the English version of the haiku facing in one direction and the Irish facing the opposite way.

The intention of the five standing stones is the celebrate the flora and ecology of the bog, and they will contain carvings such as a moth, a seed or a small bird. Each stone will stand at a height of two metres and will be 45 centimetres in width.

The municipal district meeting heard that the standing stones are designed to emulate in many ways "the upended railway sleepers that are used to notify pathway users of cattle crossings".

The final sculpture that councillors were given details of will be placed at Kilcumreragh at the 21km point on the greenway, and is designed to celebrate the historical context of the locality and a past that no longer exists in living memory.

The sculpture will consist of three etched standing stones of 2.2 metres and 0.6 metres in width. Each will be etched with circular patterns created by a hammer and chisel to give the suggestion of ring forts, stone circles, fossils and other ancient things.

The English and Irish versions of the haiku poems will be carved on smaller stone cylinders, in the same fashion as the Crosswood Bog sculpture.

Councillors gave a broad welcome to the sculpture project. Cllr Aengus O’Rourke said he loved the idea of circles, which are reminiscent of train wheels, bicycle wheels and other forms of transport.

He said "huge credit" must go to the artists responsible for the project, and it was noteworthy that they had agreed to create a fifth piece as part of their suite of sculptures.

"I only hope we don’t see the same controversy as the last Per Cent for Arts scheme project we took on in this council," said Cllr O’Rourke referring to the installation of the so-called ‘Mask of the Shannon’ project.