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New peak for the Reek?

100ft bronze statue planned for Croagh Patrick

Local groups unaware of proposal

Áine Ryan


A Canadian sculptor is currently working on a proposal to erect a 100 foot bronze statue of St Patrick on the summit of Croagh Patrick. Sponsorship for the project has been secured, and the idea is that it will be bequeathed to the people of Ireland from the people of the USA. However, Mayo County Council and local groups who have vested interests in Croagh Patrick were unaware of the plans when contacted by The Mayo News, and the idea looks certain to attract criticism and controversy, given the nature of the proposal and the precedent set in the past by other plans which involved development on the holy mountain.
Sculptor Timothy Schmalz has already proven his religious credentials with a significant statue of Ireland’s patron saint at Knock Shrine and a recently completed one of Saint Brigid of Kildare. The sculptor compares this idea with the Statue of Liberty, which was gifted by the people of France to the people of America in 1886, and also cited the symbolism of the Statue of Liberty. He also expressed his hopes that this new project can be considered in a similar light. At 151-feet high, the Statue of Liberty is only 50 feet higher than the currently proposed statue of St Patrick, which puts the scale of the plan into context. Although Schmalz has already established sponsorship for the statue, he wants this gift to the Irish people to be paid for by the North American people, rather than the government.
However, whether he has a head for heights is still a moot question as The Mayo News can reveal that nobody in officialdom has yet been contacted about the idea to erect the massive monument on top of the 2510-foot-high pyramidal mountain (762 metres). Instead, Schmalz has been sharing his plans with Irish American online newspaper irishcentral.com.
Seeking sponsorship and support from north Americans for the project, he revealed that he cannot understand why nobody had thought of the idea before now.
“There was only one location [the bronze statue] could go, Croagh Patrick…. [since] if there is any more beautiful place in the world, I don’t know it,” he said.

Sacred mountain
FOR Ballintubber Abbey priest, Father Frank Fahey, who regularly leads pilgrimages to Croagh Patrick, ‘the holy mountain is a sacred place in itself both symbolically and actually and thus a monument to Saint Patrick and to God’.
Responding to Schmalz’s proposal, he told The Mayo News yesterday: “From a practical point of view, it wouldn’t be a great idea to spend so much money on a monument that would not be universally accepted both aesthetically and symbolically. Croagh Patrick itself has enough inherent tradition, while the church on the peak, and its Stations, also honour this.”
Meanwhile the rather unique idea was ‘news’ for Harry Hughes, the longtime chairman of the Croagh Patrick Archaeological Group.
“The proposal to erect a statue is news to me. The church on the summit is already the focal point and any plan to erect a giant statue of St Patrick will be controversial and futile without full consultation and agreement from the parish, Mayo County Council and the wider community. I believe there has been no consultation to date.”
When contacted, John Condon, the County Secretary said: “We don’t have any proposal for such a statue on our files at the moment. Obviously, if we did receive an application, it would have to go through the usual planning permission process and would have to have the consent of the relevant landowner.”
Moreover, in a letter addressed to Mr Schmalz, and received by The Mayo News, a local man who was aware of the plan categorically states that while he is ‘no enemy of the arts … the last thing I want is for some giant Christian icon to blight my view of Cruachán Aigle, the Eagle’s Heap, also known as Cruach Phádraig, Croagh Patrick, and The Reek’.
Lecanvey resident, Michael Everson argues that the natural beauty of the environs around the spectacular mountain ‘will not be enhanced by some São-Paolo-like idol’ - a reference to the famous ‘Christ The Redeemer’ statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Mr Everson continues: “Make good art. Make great art. Sell it to people who want to display it. But please do not, sir, be so egoistic to think that one of the most beautiful places on earth – my home –  will be improved by the imposing statue of some Christian evangelist. Cruachán Aigle is the place’s real name. It has been a site of pilgrimage and gathering since the Iron Age, long before Christianity, which is no longer universally admired in Ireland, came to its shores.”
Concluding with a warning note, he says: “If you proceed with your project, be assured that there will be considerable resistance to it, and very likely organised opposition.”

Colourful history
IRELAND’S holy mountain has increasingly become a venue for a plethora of colourful events – many of which have no relationship with its rich cross-millennial story that subsumes the seasonal religious rituals of Neolithic, Celtic and Christian festivals. As a result there have been concerns highlighted about the safety of the  pathway but responsibility for its upkeep remains unclear. 
The last time a major construction occurred on the peak of the mountain was when the present oratory was built by 12 local men in 1905, at a cost of €100. Materials for the tiny church were hauled up its steep sides in creels on the back of donkeys.

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