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Finding the life in logs

Living

NATURAL HABITAT Tommy Kerrigan with one of his chainsaw carvings in Moorehall Woods.  Pic: Michael McLaughlin

Oisín McGovern

If you go down to Moorehall Woods today you’ll see the restoration works that have made the historic estate a popular family destination in recent times.
In addition to the new footpaths, seating, and restoration of the walled garden, the estate is now home to a badger, a beaver, a fox, and a variety of other creatures.
Recent visitors to the Moore family’s old domain have stopped to observe the variety of animals that now sit in suspended animation throughout the grounds. Crafted by Tommy Kerrigan of Tommy K Chainsaw Carvings, the wooden carvings have caught the eye of many a visitor since they were installed in the summer.
A native of Clonbur, Tommy is responsible for eight animal carvings, as well as four other pieces at Moorehall, including signs and log benches.
Juxtaposed with the formidable trees surrounding the Moore’s manor, one can’t help but marvel at the skill required to carve such critters out of logs.
Tommy is one of only a handful of people practising this unique craft in Ireland – and recognising the natural fit between his work and Moorehall’s forest surroundings, the contractors that carried out the Moorehall restoration work, Cunningham Civil and Marine,  commissioned him to do the pieces.

Branching out
A carpenter by trade, Tommy told The Mayo News about how he branched out from fitting cabinets to making foxes of out tree trunks.
“I finished my apprenticeship around 2001, and in early 2002 I moved to Australia with my girlfriend and worked as a carpenter there for 15 years.
“A couple of years before I moved home, myself and my neighbour got into chainsaw carving. We used to be sitting out watching the kids play and we didn’t have a bench, so I just Googled ‘log bench’ and chainsaw carving came up.
“So I just got a log and I made a seat into it. That’s where the chainsaw craic started,” he says
With no training in chainsaw carving apart from watching a few videos, Tommy began to get creative shortly after he moved back from Australia with his wife and children in 2017.
“I got a load of timbre for firewood and I just started messing around making a few small bits, and it just took off from there,” he says.
Three years after returning from Australia, Tommy’s profile grew to the point where he was approached by Robert Coyne from Mayo County Council and Peter Conway from Cunningham Engineering to work on the Moorehall project.
“They’d already commissioned some carvings from England and then there were too many to get from England, so they just went looking and my name popped up and I priced the job,” Tommy explains.
After spending weeks on the Moorehall project, Tommy has been getting more requests for carvings than the usual bread-and-butter carpentry work. Orders have recently started coming in for Christmas presents, ranging from stools to benches, to personalised animal carvings.
“At the moment, I’m pretty busy – I’ve definitely a couple of months ahead of me,” he says. “It’s a good complaint. I seem to be getting orders in for Christmas now. It’s good that people are shopping locally.”
Since finishing his biggest project to date in Moorehall, Tommy will soon commence work on carvings to be placed on a walking track around Ballycroy National Park – a dragonfly and a herring are among the creatures currently in the works.
He says: “There seems to be an interest in it, and it’s expanding at the moment, so it’s good. I’m getting into projects with the Tidy Towns and the OPW and I’m doing another project in Ballycroy National Park, where they’re doing a boardwalk that’s going to have sculptures along the path.”

Eye on the prize
After three years of practise, Tommy says a piece that used to take him four or five days can now be completed one or two. Seeing a fox, badger or a dragonfly begin to come to life from an formless lump of wood is the best part of the process for Tommy.
“Sometimes you have to move away from a piece and come back to it again but I stick at them as much as I can. Once you get the process going it’s not too bad,” he says.
“Sometimes you’d be cutting away and you can’t see the animal you’re trying to carve and next thing you do one or two cuts and there he is. Once you can visualise and keep the momentum up, you’ll get it.
“I enjoy when you can see something coming alive out of the log. A lot of people just look at a log and say ‘How can you see an animal in that?’ When you can see the finished product, or even halfway through as it’s starting to come alive, I enjoy that.”