Jaw-dropping piece of art in Cork village was carved from old tree

A newly-unveiled wood carving from an old tree in Ballyvourney is a remarkable work of art. ADRIENNE ACTON reveals how one of the figures pays tribute to a former district nurse in the town and her faithful dog
Jaw-dropping piece of art in Cork village was carved from old tree

The Crann na nÓg wood carving in Ballyvourney

IT was never just a tree.

It was planted at the same time the school in Ballyvourney was built no less than 120 years ago and had stood tall and proud up until 2019.

Then, a few passing locals, including the parish priest, noticed it was looking a bit sickly. A tree surgeon was called out, but, the diagnosis wasn’t good. The tree was sick and would only get sicker.

The worry was that a branch would fall and hurt one of the school- children if left as it was, so a difficult decision had to be made. A notice went into the parish newsletter that the tree would have to be felled, and to say there was upset would be an understatement. In fact, the whole saga was reported on the RTÉ news.

You see, it was never just a tree.

Every child from the village, their parents and their grandparents, had tales of sitting under it in the shade reading a book. Memories of climbing onto the branches, waiting for the morning bell to ring, and of the tree being a meeting spot when the school was closed.

The tree stump that became the Crann na nÓg wood carving in Ballyvourney.
The tree stump that became the Crann na nÓg wood carving in Ballyvourney.

In short, the tree had become as much a member of the community as anyone else.

The primary school principal, Conchúr O Luasa, decided to keep the five metre stump in place in case a project around it would come to light in the future. 

And so the locals waited, as per the instructions of the surgeon, to see if the tree would remain safe or become a danger and have to be removed completely.

Thankfully, it was the former.

The school and the tidy towns committee then came together and decided to commission a carver to make the tree a symbol of the artistic talents of the children in the school and the folklore of the area, and a memorial to some of the extraordinary people that can call Ballyvourney and Ballymakeera home. A timeless piece for the ages.

Having discussed the project with six carvers from all over Ireland, they chose the award-winning talents of Special Branch Carvers from Fenor in Co Waterford to turn their vision into reality.

Its master craftsman John Hayes is responsible for the longest carving from a single piece of wood, known as Dragonslayer, which can be seen at the Waterford Viking Triangle in Waterford City. His talent is recognised and admired worldwide.

The next topic to discuss was money. Thankfully, €8,000 was provided by Grousemount windfarms/ESB, a grand was provided by the Gaeltacht Arts Council, and the rest was fundraised by the community, with generous donations from local businesses.

John covered the VAT costs as a thank-you to the community, and after three weeks of hard graft in the recent blistering heat, Crann na nÓg (young tree) was revealed in all its glory. The stunning results can be seen here.

To say the work of art can stop traffic is an understatement. It is a jaw-dropping, stunning piece of art that draws the attention of every passer-by.

FAR LEFT: The Crann na nÓg wood carving in Ballyvourney
FAR LEFT: The Crann na nÓg wood carving in Ballyvourney

You have to walk around the piece to see and appreciate every depiction that John created with his chainsaw.

There are coloured pencils representing the adjacent school and woodland animals and birds from the surrounding wooded area. A seat with a cat sitting peacefully and an old style kettle. There is a deer on top paying homage to St Gobnait and the story of her settling in the area, having found the nine white deer she had been instructed to seek out as an indication of where she should start her religious community.

At the top of the carving, you have two characters, and depending who you speak to, you might be told that they are two local children. Or you may be told that they are Gráinne and Oisín, or even that the female is a depiction of St Gobnait.

But that is the beauty of art and the beauty of nature, they mean different things to different people.

The former local district nurse Julia Singleton as depicted in the carving with her trusty dog, Renti.
The former local district nurse Julia Singleton as depicted in the carving with her trusty dog, Renti.

My favourite carving is that of nurse Julia Singleton with her faithful dog Renti.

She was originally from Cullen near Millstreet but wed a man from Ballyvourney. He, Michael Creedon from the old forge, built a timber house on the site where the Abbey Hotel is now and there they settled.

Julia was the district nurse for the area and it would be fair to say she delivered almost every baby in the area over several decades.

Ballyvourney district nurse Julia Singleton with her faithful dog Renti, who feature in the Ballyvourney wood carving, Crann na nÓg.
Ballyvourney district nurse Julia Singleton with her faithful dog Renti, who feature in the Ballyvourney wood carving, Crann na nÓg.

She travelled from house to house on her bicycle, and even travelled to Coolea by horse and cart to deliver a baby two days before her own son Conrad was born.

Julia’s husband unfortunately died young and Renti the dog became the companion of Conrad when his mother was out delivering babies, and company to a tired nurse when she came home in the dead of night.

The nurse only retired a few years before she died in the mid-1970s.

Crann na nÓg is a beautiful piece of art, well worth visiting when you’re next in the area, and even though it will darken in colour with age, as long as it is oiled regularly it will be there for all to enjoy and admire for many years to come.

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