Cork town unveils sculpture to mark Covid-19 pandemic

A new memorial in Charleville pays tribute to the community spirit there, and the people who died during the pandemic, reveals ADRIENNE ACTON
Cork town unveils sculpture to mark Covid-19 pandemic

The Covid-19 memorial in Bruce Square, Charleville.

WITHIN days of Ian Doyle being elected Mayor of Charleville early last year, the pandemic struck.

Over the next 18 months, as the local community dealt with lockdowns, many suffered the pain of grief.

Ian’s family lost their mum to the Covid-19 disease, one of more than 5,000 deaths from the disease nationwide.

“It took its toll on so many,” says Ian, a Fianna Fáil councillor. 

“I wanted to do something that would stand as a reminder to all that we lost and all that we achieved.”

In the Lord Mayor’s office, it was decided that the money usually kept for the annual charity ball would be used to create a monument dedicated to the people of Cork during the pandemic.

The result is a striking new bronze landmark in the centre of the town, in Bruce Square, in front of the library.

It was decided to send the idea out to competitive tender and the sculpture by Eithne Ring and Liam Lavery was the one chosen by Ian, Cork County Council and the Arts Council.

“It is indeed beautiful,” says Ian. “Bronze set on a marble plinth. The designers wanted to reflect what happened and how we as a community responded.

Mayor of Charleville Ian Doyle at the Covid-19 memorial.
Mayor of Charleville Ian Doyle at the Covid-19 memorial.

“The sculpture depicts the two metre rule and washing of hands, but also shows images of people helping one another, and social distancing not being a barrier to caring for one another.

“The moving light during the day reflects each side and underneath we see the shape of the virus, unable to surmount the resilience of the communities in Cork.”

The sculpture is situated on a plaza that is also host to benches for outdoor dining and inspirational murals and information about help-lines for those that need to talk or are finding life a bit difficult.

“The monument is a reminder of what we went through, what we suffered, but most importantly how we responded,” says Ian. “In years to come it will stand as a testimony to our kindness to one another through a very difficult time."

Ian gives an insight into how he and others reacted when the pandemic began.

Within a week, he and co-chair Tim Lucey had set up a Covid response team. “There were roughly 25 of us in zoom meetings,” he says, “some were statuary bodies like the gardaí and Health Board, and some were charitable groups and organisations like the GAA and St Vincent de Paul.”

All over the county, people were mobilising to help one another. These were unprecedented times.

In Charleville, the two main supermarkets started to organise food deliveries.

“We have 1,200 children and 900 adults registered with St Joseph’s foundation in North Cork and South Limerick, so we needed to make our response quickly and efficiently,” explains Ian.

“The library became ground central and most things were organised from there. Books and anything else that were needed were dropped around the locality. The staff at the library rang members to offer assistance in any way they could.”

Ian says that it was humbling and impressive to see how the community rallied around the vulnerable.

Sculptors Eithne Ring and Liam Lavery.
Sculptors Eithne Ring and Liam Lavery.

The sculptors, from nearby Dromina, Liam Lavery and Eithne Ring, are a husband and wife team who have been collaborating on public art for the past 20 years.

One of their best-known commissions commemorated the victims and survivors of the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915, located at the memorial to it on the Old Head of Kinsale, while their Aoife and Strongbow seat sculpture in Waterford city has also attracted great interest.

Their Charleville work is a six-sided cube which on its top three sides depicts the collective community action of ordinary people suppressing the spread of the virus.

“The idea behind our artwork stems from the continuing great effort that the community has taken to overcome the Covid-19 pandemic, that has changed our lives in so many ways,” the artists explained.

“One of the main aspects of this effort was delivering physical, emotional and psychological support to all people cocooning and in need of help as a result of isolation and reduction in everyday services.

“This community effort and cooperation contributes greatly to the struggle against this cruel and insidious virus that still lurks everywhere in the shadows.

“We hope that our artwork will reflect this great communal spirit which we all share.”

Council chief executive Tim Lucey said the sculpture was “an appropriate way of marking community co-operation in this difficult time”, adding: “Artists have the ability to make us feel and share, through their creativity, some ideas and concepts that can be difficult to articulate.”

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