Memorial to Cearbhaill O'Dalaigh, former President of Ireland

Cearbhaill O’Dalaigh Memorial

In the South Square Fair Green rests the Irish National Memorial to the late President of Ireland, Cearbhaill O’Dalaigh.  It is a steel structure created by Cork woman, Vivienne Roche and it was unveiled in 1983.  The artist describes it as reminiscent of mountains and megalithic structures which would have been of particular interest to the late President.

President O’Dalaigh lived in Sneem for the last year of his life and was buried in Sneem cemetery after a State Funeral in the village.  This memorial was the first erected in what has become the Sneem Sculpture Trail.

The accompanying plaque describes the creative process by the artist, Vivienne Roche

National Memorial Cearbhall O’ Dálaigh (1911-1978)

Chief Justice of Ireland 1961-1973

Judge of the Supreme Court of Justice 1973-1974

President of Ireland 1974-1976

Unveiled June 5th 1983 by The President of Ireland Dr. Patrick Hillery

Sculptor Vivienne Roche

I don’t usually invest my work with a metaphorical resonance.  My sculptures don’t symbolise anything. But this piece is different to an extent, both in its conception and in execution, in that it is informed by the spirit of the man it commemorates and of the place in which it stands.

From the very start of this project, when I came to visit the site in Sneem, I was aware that above all else this piece must be a fitting memorial to Cearbhall O’ Dálaigh.  I was surprised then to find that my first impressions of the place related strongly to my feeling about the man. I had an immediate image of a sculpture which would be solid but gentle, integrating a dark, almost mysterious interior with clean, outward-looking forms.  A shell-like structure layered in some way. I also felt that the piece should not dominate its site, that it should essentially be non-aggressive, even meditative. This conformed with my image of Cearbhall O’Dálaigh.

The initial shell-like image led me to think in terms of working with the sea, specifically wave action.  I surrounded myself with photos I had taken of the sea. Most of these were studies of rolling, folding water, the complexities of breaking waves.  I worked with these, becoming intensely interested in the unfolding interior created by the thrusting plane of the wave and gradually the forms emerged.  I was pleased to discover that they were reminiscent of mountains and of megalithic structures; this worked well with my ideas about colour.

The Square is actually full of strong colours, which the piece has to neutralise.  But I still felt that colour should be a major element. Therefore, I decided to paint the interior planes definite colours- dark blue, sienna brown and slate grey derived from the colours of the surrounding hills.  (I felt that the planes were broken-up enough to take them). These colours give the interior a solid, earth-bound mysterious quality, while the exterior is lightened by a warm white which also enhances the clean lines and tensile strength of the steel, while absorbing and reflecting light.  Indeed the piece derives much of its interest from the interplay of light and shadow through it. Its whole character changes as the sun moves across the sky.

In conclusion, the scale of the piece (it’s 7 ft. 3 ins high) allows it to retain a certain privacy.  A moderation, which is I think, its best claim to be a monument to Cearbhall O’Dálaigh.

Signed Vivienne Roche