27 November 2019

‘A Gaelic Chieftain’
surveys the landscape
above a battle site

‘The Gaelic Chieftain’ by Maurice Harron off the N4, near Boyle, Co Roscommon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

The sculptures I stopped to see and admire on my way back from Sligo early last week included ‘The Gaelic Chieftain,’ a majestic road-side sculpture overlooking the site of the Battle of the Curlew Pass near Boyle, Co Roscommon.

This sculpture by Maurice Harron is on the N4 bypass about 2 km north-east of the battlefield. Nearby is a picnic area with views across Lough Key. But the peaceful setting of ‘The Gaelic Chieftain’ belies the brutal history of this area.

Maurice Harron’s sculpture was unveiled 20 years ago on 12 April 1999 to mark the 400th anniversary of the battle. It depicts Red Hugh O’Donnell who, on 15 August 1599, led a Gaelic Irish force to ambush the English as they marched through a pass in the Curlew Mountains.

This was the last victory by the rebels during the war, and one of the most important battles during the Nine Years’ War. It was fought between and English force under Conyers Clifford and Irish rebels under Red Hugh O’Donnell, who ambushed the English forces marching through the pass.

The English forces suffered heavy casualties and were defeated. Losses by allied Irish forces were not recorded but were probably minimal. It was a resounding victory for Irish rebels in a war that would lead to the Flight of the Earls and the Plantation of Ulster.

‘The Gaelic Chieftain’ is arguably the most experimental and impressive piece by the sculptor Maurice Harron. He was born in 1946 in Derry, grew up there, and studied sculpture at the Ulster College of Art and Design in Belfast.

Much of his work is public art sculpture and he has works on display throughout Ireland. His other acclaimed commissions include ‘Reconcilition/Hands Across the Divide’ in Carlisle Square, Derry, overlooking the Craigavon Bridge on the River Foyle.

His ‘Let the Dance Begin’ (2000), near the Lifford Bridge in Strabane, Co Tyrone, was commissioned by the Strabane Lifford Development Commission. It features five semi-abstract figures – a fiddler, a flautist, a drummer and two dancers – on the theme of music and dance, each 4 metres high and is made of stainless steel, bronze and ceramic tile mosaic. It is one of the largest pieces of public art in Ireland.

‘The Workers’ (2001) is a monument made from stainless steel and stone and is located at The Dry Arch Roundabout in Letterkenny, Co Donegal. It commemorates a generation of men who worked on building the original bridge and train track at the Dry Arch. He also created ‘The Rabble Children’ monument in Letterkenny.

He also has work in Britain and the Us, including the Irish Famine Memorial on Cambridge Common in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which was dedicated on 23 July 1997.

‘The Gaelic Chieftain’ by Maurice Harron overlooks the site of the Battle of the Curlew Pass (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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