Saturday 24 February 2018

Jobs-slashing council to erect €70,000 statue for airport priest

Paul Melia

HE WAS laughed at for wanting to build an airport on a "foggy, boggy plateau" at Knock in the west of Ireland.

But now Mayo County Council is planning to erect a €70,000 bronze statue commemorating Monsignor James Horan, founder of the the country's fourth international airport, which opened in 1985.

The council, which plans to shed 150 staff this year, last night declined to say if the cost would be borne by the taxpayer, or by private sources.

The statue will stand on the main approach road to the airport off the N17.

A lay-by area will be constructed nearby to allow motorists to stop and have a closer look.

The council has invited artists to submit designs for a "figurative bronze sculptural work" of Msgr Horan, including a plaque and plinth, before the January 9 deadline.

A panel of arts experts, local community representatives and staff from Knock Airport will decide the winning design.

The sculpture has to be a minimum of 1.5 times lifesize and cost no more than €70,000.

The council said it retained the right not to commission a piece if the selection panel felt the entries were not of a sufficiently high standard.

Almost 600,000 people travelled through Knock last year, but there was widespread scepticism when the cleric first revealed his ambitious plans to build an airport on a bog in Co Mayo, which would bring pilgrims to the world-famous shrine.

The influential 'Time' magazine noted that a £13m airport was being built to serve a village of 400 people.

But despite having neither money nor planning permission, the resourceful priest secured political support and, crucially, funding from private donors in America to realise his dream. The first sod was turned in 1981, and the first flight to Rome left on October 24, 1985.

Two months after the official opening of the airport, Msgr Horan went on pilgrimage to Lourdes, but died unexpectedly on the trip. His body was flown from Lourdes to Knock and was the first funeral to fly into Knock airport.

Irish Independent

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