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'It's a wild place and he's a wild thing': The Púca finds a home in the Burren

Plans to install the Púca in Ennistymon were scrapped earlier this year.

Aidan Harte at his studio with the Púca.
Aidan Harte at his studio with the Púca.
Image: Ross Whitaker

Updated Wed 11:30 PM

THE MUCH DISPUTED Púca of Ennistymon has been installed in its new home in the Burren, after it was turned away by locals in the Co Clare town. 

It has been moved near the village of Carron after an application by the Michael Cusack exhibition centre commemorating the GAA founder was successful.

Plans to place the statue in Ennistymon were scrapped in January after controversy and objections from locals, including a parish priest denouncing the statue during a mass.

Clare County Council then decided to seek expressions of interest from other communties in north Clare to host the two-metre tall bronze artwork.

The statue’s creator, Aidan Harte, is pleased that the Púca finally has its place. “I can now get on my life. It’s a huge relief, aside from having it open to everyone, it’s just been kind of all-consuming because it’s seemed to have trundled on for for months.”

His creation inspired “songs, cartoons, lads getting tattoos, all sorts” as debate raged in Ennistymon over whether or not to accept the Púca. 

“I have a pretty thick skin and like I trained in Florence where my teachers were, you know, very hardcore. They would like break you down to build you up.

“So I’m used to it, and I don’t say that the sculpture a great piece or anything like that; it’s certainly as good as I can make the sculpture and it was what I intended it to be.” 

The €30,000 commission for the statue formed part of a project to improve attractions for Ennistymon and to enhance the appearance of the town.

Fáilte Ireland allocated €500,000 towards the now nearly completed capital project, with the local authority providing an additional 25% match funding.

The council confirmed last month that two applications from Michael Cusack Centre and the Ballyvaughan Community Development Group presented their case for hosting the artwork to an independent panel of judges.

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The Michael Cusack Centre won out and will host the Púca by the thatched cottage where Cusack was born during the Famine.

It’s a fitting place, according to Harte, as the centre has strong connections to the Gaelic Revival of the 1800s and will lend itself well to the interpretations around the Púca. 

“It’s a wild place and he’s a wild thing,” he said.

“Different counties have different views of him. In Westmeath he’s a snail and in Roscommon he’s an eagle, but he’s best known as this horse-like figure and this creature of chaos.

“He’s kind of solitary fairy who plays by his own rules. Is he good or is he bad? He’s neither: he’s just wildly inconsistent like the rest of us.”

What he believes has been a positive throughout the outrage, is that more people have been introduced to Irish folklore. “It intriguing to a lot of people and is untapped, I think.”

Among the proposals from the Michael Cusack Centre are for an annual Samhain/Púca Storytelling Festival on November 1st to celebrate new beginnings and the potential with a programme of events ranging from the academic to children’s art.

Harte, who is from Kilkenny, previously worked with his native county’s animation studio Cartoon Saloon before moving towards solo work as a sculptor.

For this Saturday’s official launch at 12pm in The Burren, he is is encouraging people “to come along, rub the Púca’s toe and see what happens”.

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