06 October 2020

The Pyramids of Kenmare,
award-winning work by
a Kerry-born sculptor

The Pyramids of Kenmare … award-winning sculptures by James Scanlon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

Sneem in Co Kerry is known for its public sculpture.

‘The Pyramids of Sneem,’ below the bridge at Sneem, between Saint Michael’s Church and Goosey Island Caravan Park, form an unusual and unique collection of sculptures on the Ring of Kerry.

The pyramids are part of a project that began in 1988, with financial support from the Arts Council of Ireland, inspired by Sneem winning the Tidy Towns Competition the previous year (1987).

The artist James Scanlon was inspired by the people of Sneem and the place. He felt the workers involved in the project became the medium more than anything else and the idea.

He believes it was their character and their way of doing things that became the core of the endeavour. Using stone and coloured glass, ‘Scan’ and his team created what they believed was a magical effect, marrying the natural and the human world.

James Scanlon was inspired by the people of Sneem and the place (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

James Scanlon, who works in a variety of media, was born in Brosna, Co Kerry, in 1952 and now lives in Ballinspittle, Co Cork. He received the Cork Arts Society Award for Sculpture in 1976 and studied at the Crawford College of Art and Design, Cork, where he received his Diploma in Sculpture and Film-Making in 1978. He later studied glass techniques (1981), and received the British Film Award for film, The Cage in 1982.

He was once told by a gallery to go away and come back when he knew what a portfolio was.

He worked with stained glass for a number of years and established a stained-glass studio with Maud Cotter in 1982. He has received critical acclaim for his revival of the art of stained glass in Cork as a contemporary art form. He has also worked on complex environmental sculptures and received several public art commissions, including Seem, Co Kerry, in 1990 and Saint Moling’s Well, Brosna, Co Kerry in 1998.

His other works include stained glass windows in Glenstal Abbey and the Europa Building of the European Council in Brussels.

James Scanlon has been a member of Aosdána since 1991. His primary concerns meditate on embodiment, morality and faith.

James Scanlon named the pyramids ‘The Way the Fairies Went,’ and his work won the National Landscape Award and in the 1997 Tidy Towns Competition.

I walked around the Pyramids in Sneem last week, with the sound of the River Sneem behind me, the sound of birdsong all around me, and blue skies above.

The pyramids are set beside River Sneem, below the bridge at Sneem, Co Kerry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

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