12 November 2020

Five sculptures that
celebrate how hurling is
both a sport and an art

Sculptures and statues in Wexford, Kilkenny and Limerick celebrate the truth that hurling is both a sport and an art (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

My favourite sports are rugby and cricket – and if armchair spectators are counted in too, then soccer too. I am looking forward to a new tournament getting off to start with Ireland v Wales on Friday evening, and have been delighted with Aston Villa’s performance so far this season.

But since my childhood I have also had an enthusiasm for hurling, nurtured by kind uncles who brought me to see Waterford and Wexford playing.

I could never understand Gaelic football, but it was impossible to grow up in the south-east without being infected with the all-pervading enthusiasm for hurling.

This weekend promises to be gripping one for anyone interested in hurling, and I shall be keeping a keen eye on the performances of Wexford, Waterford, Limerick and Kilkenny.

During my ‘road trips’ in summer and autumn, I saw again a number of sculptures and statues that celebrate the truth that hurling is not only a sport but an art too.

The statue of Nicky Rackard on Selskar Square in Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The statue of Nicky Rackard, Wexford’s best-known hurler, is unusual because he is on one foot only. The statue on Selskar Square shows Wexford’s most famous sporting son in a typical all-action pose, sliotar in one hand, hurley in the other.

Nicky Rackard was the hurling hero of the 1950s and one of the greatest hurlers of all time. He is the leading championship goal scorer of all time with 59, and won two all-Ireland hurling titles with Wexford.

He played both hurling and football for Wexford from 1942 to 1957. With his brothers, he helped Wexford to two All-Irelands in the 1950s. He and his team are credited with revolutionising the game of hurling as the lifted Wexford to the top of the game. He died in 1976.

Wexford Borough Council commissioned the Ludlow-based portrait sculptor Mark Richards to cast a larger than life-size statue of Rackard in his hurling prime.

Mark Richards specialises in fine figurative work. He was taught by AJ Ayres who, in turn, had worked with Eric Gill. Johannes von Stumm, Past President of the Royal Society of Sculptors, describes him as ‘one of the finest figure and portrait sculptors in Great Britain.’ The €120,000 commission was funded through the Per Cent for Art scheme.

The sculptor travelled to Wexford to meet Rackard’s children and to learn about hurling. He also met Kevin Gore, ‘who showed me how to hold a hurl and hurler maker Philip Doyle, who made me a hurl like the one that Nicky would have used in the 1950s, so as to be accurate as possible.’

The statue was unveiled in Selskar Square, just off North Main Street and close to Selskar Abbey, in March 2012 as part of the Set the Heather Blazing Festival. It has been a very popular feature in the town centre since then.

Sadly, the statue has since suffered from bouts of damage since, and it has been fenced off a number of times when his hurley was damaged and repair works were carried out.

The ‘Pride of Kilkenny’ by Barry Wrafter in Kilkenny (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The ‘Pride of Kilkenny’ is a sculpture by Barry Wrafter on Canal Square in Kilkenny honouring Kilkenny’s hurlers. It was more than three years in the making and was unveiled on 26 May 2016.

This work beside John’s Bridge is a four-metre high, two-tonne sculpture. It shows three hurlers, in black and amber, with hurleys and helmets, reaching for a sliotar.

The sculptor Barry Wrafter from Ennis, Co Clare, has been immersed in the stone trade since his youth. The Wrafter family has been in the trade dating since the 18th century. They were renowned sculptors and have the distinction of being mentioned in Seamus Murphy’s book Stone Mad.

Wrafter has stressed that his sculpture, the ‘Pride of Kilkenny,’ does not depict a particular player, although the player fielding the sliothar bears a striking resemblance to Tommy Walsh.

The Kilkenny hurlers have won the All-Ireland Senior Championship 36 times. This ‘testament to both hurling’ was unveiled by the Kilkenny Senior Hurling manager Brian Cody.

Mick Mackey in a characteristic solo-run pose in Castleconnell (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

A life-sized bronze statue of the Limerick hurler Mick Mackey (1912-1982) was unveiled by the President of the GAA, Liam O’Neill, in Castleconnell, Co Limerick, in May 2013.

The Clare-based sculptor Séamus Connolly, best known for his life-size statues of Richard Harris and John B Keane, was commissioned for the statue depicting Mackey in a characteristic solo-run pose.

Mackey is considered one of the all-time hurling greats. He was born in Castleconnell in 1912 and became known for his strength and skill on the pitch with Ahane GAA club. During his playing career over 20 years, he won three All-Ireland titles, five Munster championships, five National League titles and eight Railway Cup medals. He is also credited as the inventor of the solo-run in hurling.

He received the Texaco Hall of Fame Award in 1961 for his outstanding contribution to hurling. He was honoured again in 1980 with the inaugural All-Time All-Star Award. He died in 1982. Two years later he was named at centre-forward on the Centenary Team and in 2000 was chosen at number 11 on the team of the Millennium that also featured Christy Ring.

The Mick Mackey Stand at the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick was completed in 1988. Limerick County Council also named a roundabout on the main Limerick to Dublin road after the legendary hurler.

Jackie Power (1916-1994), the ‘Prince of Hurlers,’ in Annacotty, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Jackie Power (1916-1994), known in Co Limerick as the ‘Prince of Hurlers,’ is commemorated with a statue near the mill and square in Annacotty, Co Limerick – the former Irish rugby international Peter Clohessy is also from Annacotty.

Jackie Power was born in Annacotty in 1916. He was prominent in hurling from 1933 to 1949, winning medals at club, county and province level. He also played Gaelic football. He died in 1994.

The life-size bronze statue of Jackie Power was erected in Annacotty in 1996. The inscription on the plinth of reads:

Jackie Power
The Prince of Hurlers
With Ahane, Limerick and Munster

Jackie was a hurling artist whose amazing skill technique courage dedication and sportsmanship ensured his place amongst hurling immortals

‘Ruck and Puck’ on O’Connell Street, Limerick, celebrates Limerick’s obsession with hurling and rugby (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

‘Ruck and Puck’ is bronze statue outside the AIB Bank at 106 O’Connell Street, Limerick, and represents Limerick’s two sporting obsessions – hurling and rugby.

The initiative for this sport monument was taken by bank manager Paddy O’Callaghan.

This bronze statue of a rugby player and a hurler is the work of the sculptor is Robin Buick from Ballymena, Co Antrim. It was unveiled by President Mary Robinson on 18 May 1992.

A T-shirt boasting of Kilkenny’s hurling skills (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

There is a well-known T-shirt in Kilkenny that reminds people that Carlsberg does not do Hurling … but if they did, Kilkenny would probably still beat them.

I have been honoured to lift the Liam McCarthy Cup with Limerick hurlers after Limerick won the All-Ireland final in 2008.

But at the weekend, I’ll be cheering for Wexford, and then for Waterford.

Wearing the Wexford colours (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)


Anonymous said...

Morning, Patrick. Fyi, it's the MacCarthy Cup and Limerick didn't win it in 2008. Kilkenny did. Not sure if that was a typo.

Anonymous said...

This is a wonderful essay by Patrick. I’m fairly sure it’s a typo and it should be 2018, when Limerick won the hurling All Ireland.