13 July 2020

King Donal Mór O’Brien
returns to Saint Mary’s
Cathedral in Limerick

Will Fogarty’s sculpture of Donal Mór O’Brien, King of Munster, in the grounds of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

I spent some time at the weekend walking around the streets of Limerick, by the banks of the Shannon, at a late lunch in the Green Onion, and visiting Saint Mary’s Cathedral for the first time in many weeks.

A new addition to the cathedral grounds since the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown took its grips on the country is a sculpture of Donal Mór O’Brien, former King of Munster, by the chainsaw sculptor Will Fogarty.

The sculptor from Hospital, Co Limerick, was commissioned by the cathedral to make one of his works of art. The sculpture was commissioned by Saint Mary’s Cathedral to revive one of the trees that had to be removed from the boundary walls due to the damage they were causing to the walls.

‘A few trees had to come down because they were doing damage to the boundary walls in Saint Mary’s. They are beautiful structures, so it would have been an awful shame if anything happened to them,’ said Will, of Fear na Coillte Chainsaw Sculptures.

Donal Mór O’Brien was a 12th century King of Munster whose palace stood on the grounds of the cathedral. When he came to power, he founded churches all over Munster, including Saint Mary’s Cathedral.

Will Fogarty’s attention to detail includes the chainmail effect on the king’s sleeves and the brooches on his cape (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

It took Will a week and a half to turn the remains of a poplar tree into this new sculpture, and he completed the work at the end of March.

His attention to detail includes the chainmail effect on the king’s sleeves and the brooches on his cape. ‘He has a pretty big nose,’ Will told the Limerick Leader. ‘But somebody told me … that apparently the O’Briens were renowned for having big noses.’

‘It was lovely working in my hometown,’ he said at the time. ‘The amount of support I got was brilliant. People passing by the railings were shouting in, giving encouragement, giving thumbs up. It was amazing.’

Will Fogarty, who lives in Co Limerick, is a self-taught chainsaw sculptor. He began hand-carving walking sticks and decided one day to pick up a chainsaw and give it a go.

Will Fogarty also calls himself Fear na Coillte, in reference both to the wood spirits in his work and to himself. He lives in the foothills of the Ballyhouras in Co Limerick, surrounded by mountains and forests. He now spends half his time creating large sculptures for towns, parks, schools and public places.

The other half is spent carving smaller commissioned pieces in people’s gardens or at home, and he also gives demonstrations of his work.

Most of Will Fogarty’s work is on a commission basis following briefs from clients. A large part of his work is on stumps left after a tree is felled. All his work is in wood that has been felled by nature or has been cut down in a way that is sustainable.

By the River Shannon in Limerick at the weekend (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020; click on images for full-screen view)

On the way back from a wedding in Sligo late last year, two of us stopped at the Linear Park in Carrick-on-Shannon, where he has created a sculpture of Saint Eidin, a local seventh century saint. He carved this new statue on the site and it was unveiled in August 2018.

His other sculptures include three sculptures in the Forge Park beside the river walk in Tarbert, Co Kerry. He was commissioned by the Tarbert Development Association in 2014 to work on the tall stumps of three trees that had to be shortened after the storms of the New Year in 2014. He cut two faces from fables into two of the stumps and the Salmon of Knowledge from the Fianna myth into the third stump.

The two faces are of wood spirits; one is ‘The Spirit of Night,’ asleep with a wise owl by his beard; the second face, ‘The Spirit of Dawn,’ is awake to represent the dawning of the day, and has fish jumping out of his beard.

A third image, ‘The Salmon of Knowledge,’ marks Tarbert’s connection with salmon fishing in the River Shannon and also celebrates the local centre of knowledge at Tarbert Comprehensive School.

Will Fogarty also fashioned a number of seats from the tops of the trees he felled, and these make for a perfect spot to stop at in the Forge Park these days and to enjoy the summer sunshine.

The Panoramic Wheel at Arthur’s Quay, Limerick, at the weekend (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

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