My heart always sinks when I hear that distinctive clink and clack of an excavator bucket and the whurrr and trundle of its tracks, as it usually means that a hedgerow is being removed and/or some beautiful bit of wildness and habitat is being scrubbed out.
General agricultural policies (Food Harvest 2020 etc.) and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) linking the “single farm payment” to reproductive land has resulted in recent years, in the removal of huge amounts of our wild-lands, scrub, wetlands and hedgerows and the subsequent loss of our native biodiversity of both flora and fauna. Also, the pressures of development especially around the periphery of our cities for housing and industry adds to this loss. I was very conscious that this development at Hollywoodrath in north Co. Dublin was one such development.
Apart from reflecting the name of the townsland and evoking history of the area, the motivation was to make an educational piece that would engage all (especially children) to learn about their natural heritage especially our native trees and hedgerows that are fast disappearing around us. I thought this was especially important in an urban environment. I wanted to create a monument to our native trees and teaching identification guide. Many people, even those who live in the countryside cannot identify our common native tree and hedgerow species.
The sculpture was commissioned by Doyle and O’Troithigh Landscape Architects on behalf Regency Developments. A huge thank you to Linda Doyle and Diathi O’Troithigh of Doyle & O’Troithigh, they were a joy to work with. Also, Thank you to Aoden Bourke and Shirley Adamson of Regency. I hope more private developers follow their example to include art works in their developments.
The stone came from McKeon Stone in Stradbally, Co. Laois which became my daytime home for a very long time. All the work was done in their yard. Thanks to Niall and Mick in the office, all in the yard, especially Barry, James, Tom, Eugene, Seamus (on forklift) and Paul for their help and advice and not forgetting Gordon & Ger.
Thank you to Eileen MacDonagh who gave me a bed, to save on the commute from home to Stradbally and who put up with me on and off for the best part of a year!
Holly – Wood – Rath – The sculpture is referencing the these three obvious features of the name Holly-wood-rath!
Holly – Thinking about the history of the site, the townsland’s names must have reflected the original woodlands in the area. In the distant past, native trees blanketed the countryside with great forests of oak, ash, alder and willow. These woodlands probably would have had a dense and thick under-story of hazel, blacktorn, hawthorn and especially Holly. Holly was exceptionally important to ancient people of Ireland as to was the only broad-leafed tree to hold its leaves in winter and provide shelter. It was a sacred tree, with its light reflecting leaves and colourful berries in mid-winter. It was brought into the home to protect from evil influences. This practice still persists today at Christmas time.
Since the earliest times holly has been regarded as a good omen, for its evergreen qualities makes it appear invulnerable to the passage of time as the seasons change. It therefore symbolises the tenacity of life even when surrounded by death, which it keeps at bay with strong protective powers.
Wood – I have developed my proposal to contain and respond to these ideas of the distant past when woodlands covered the country. In per-Christian times and through to early Christian and even during Norman times, Ireland was a land of forests and our Gaelic culture was very much a forest culture . It wasn’t until the Elizabethan period that the forests were really decimated for its great oaks for shipping and to root out Gaelic rebels. I have sought to celebrate our native trees especially at a time when the tree is under so much threat. The ash tree, so important and versatile as a wood and important to our culture (hurling), which grows in Ireland like a weed, may be completely lost from our landscape in a few years time due to ash die back disease. So, the native trees like oak, ash, birch and alder are represented in the work with the Holly tree as the centre piece.
Rath – Raths, ring forts and circular enclosures generally date from the bronze age, though the iron age and into the early Christian period. This was when the great forests were preeminent, when our Gaelic “Celtic” culture was at its peak. It was a time of standing stones, passage graves, dolmens, Ogham writing and later, the great high crosses – a stone culture! Not far up the road from Hollywoodrath are the archaeological rich sites of the Hill of Tara, the Screen Valley and the passage tombs of New Grange, Knowth and Dowth of the Boyne valley and of Loughcrew. The townsland name indicate the possible presence of a ringfort (Rath) in the area and the historic maps show the likely site of the rath at Hollywoodrath House just north of the site.