A public sculpture entitled ‘Paper Boats’ by artist Amanda Ralph has been on quite an expedition. They began life as a fleet of seven boats that call upon the wistful desire for adventure you sometimes get when watching a boat going out to sea, and were commissioned by Offaly County Council in 2000 for the River Brosna in Clara. Two winters later, the river rose considerably after a storm and debris swirled around the chained anchors, dragging some of them under. The OPW were called to dredge the river, and Offaly County Council employee Dominic Fleming spotted the machine hauling the boats onto the riverbank. Rescuing five of the seven, he placed them in storage in Clara, waiting for someone to claim them. Around this time, the Arts Office in Offaly County Council was undergoing a change of personnel and somehow the fate of the rescued boats was overlooked.
Arts Officer, Sinéad O’Reilly says, “When I took up the post in 2005, I found a record of them having being commissioned, but nothing of what had happened to them subsequently. I had heard in conversation that the OPW removed them, but nothing further. In 2014, Amanda contacted us to ask if we knew anything about what had happed to the sculptures. We started to ask questions locally and amazingly we found them, stored in a loft in a depot in Clara. We are very grateful to Dominic Fleming for rescuing the sculptures when he did. He even managed to avoid them being turned into planters over the years! Two of them are still missing, possibly buried into the river bank from when the river was dredged.”
Amanda assessed their condition and brought them to Arklow Marine Services where they had been originally engineered, 14 years earlier. “I was worried that there would be nobody who would remember making them and we’d have difficulty in getting them restored, but Billy Tyrrell, a fifth generation boat builder, recollected them immediately. Arklow Marine are one of the leading boat builders in Ireland, so I imagine a project like this sticks in their minds”.
While being restored, a new home was found for the remaining boats at Lough Boora Discovery Park in the context of its existing Sculpture Park. The boats were placed in Lough an Dochas at the Visitor Centre just before Christmas. Sinéad says, “We are delighted with the new location and wish to thank Bord na Mona and Kilcormac Development Association for providing a ‘safe harbour’ for them. They are the first sculptures visitors encounter at the park from the centre, and their original meaning of a wistful desire for adventure and discovery retains its value here too
Paper Boats will be re-launched at the Visitor Centre at Lough Boora Discovery Park on Friday January 16th at 3.30pm by writer and documentary maker Manchán Magan, and all are welcome.