Saturday 17 November 2018

Edward Delaney

The sculptor famed for his Wolfe Tone statue has left an indelible mark on the Irish landscape, writes Liam Collins

The sculptor Edward Delaney, whose monuments grace important public spaces in Dublin and elsewhere, died in Connemara last Tuesday.

Born in Claremorris, Co Mayo, in 1930, he is probably best known for his Wolfe Tone monument at the corner of St Stephen's Green and the Thomas Davis fountain in College Green in Dublin. But his work is to be found in many other places from Dublin to Connemara and in many private collections.

His father was a woodcutter on the estate of Lord Oranmore and Browne in Mayo and with typical Irish irony one of his Lordship's sons, Garech Browne, was a great friend and benefactor of Eddie Delaney, during their roistering days around Dublin in the Sixties and Seventies.

Among the last old friends to visit Delaney, who had been ill for some time, was the actor John Hurt, who called to see him the Saturday before he died.

Many of his large family were at his bedside when he passed away in Carraroe, Co Galway, where he had been living for over two decades.

Having little interest in formal education, Delaney left school at 14, by which time he had already applied to the Royal Hibernian Academy to see if he could gain admission to the College of Art.

When he did eventually get to Dublin he attended classes without ever formally being admitted to the college. There he came under the influence of the painter Sean Keating.

The college was then housed in the same complex as the National Library and there Delaney discovered a book about casting bronze which became his bible and gave him the style which initially made him famous.

After the College of Art he left to work in Germany and he liked to tell the story of an encounter he had in a bar in Munich with a young United States serviceman called Elvis Presley. He was also commissioned by jazz musician Louis Armstrong to make a commemorative statue for the children left behind by the servicemen after their stint in Germany.

He came back to Dublin where his patrons included architect Michael Scott, James White of the National Gallery and the writer Mervyn Wall.

He was also a familiar part of Dublin's bohemian artistic community, mixing with writers, artists and luminaries such as publican and writer John Ryan, the young government minister Charles Haughey, rugby player Karl Mullen, and sundry musicians like Seamus Ennis and members of The Chieftains and The Dubliners.

"Your father was some man," Charles Haughey once said in admiration to his son, writer Eamon Delaney, which was in itself some statement.

He married Nancy O'Brien, from Cootehill, Co Cavan, and they had five children, Eamon, Colm, Catherine, Garech, and Hugh. He lived in Dun Laoghaire where he had a foundry and where many of his major public works were completed.

These included the well-known figures of Tone and Davis and other major sculpture work for University College Dublin, banks and corporations as well as smaller works for private collections.

In 1971 his Wolfe Tone memorial opposite the Shelbourne Hotel was blown up -- it is thought in loyalist retaliation for the IRA demolition of Nelson's Pillar. Asked who was going to pay for the damage, he replied: "The country, I suppose, it's malicious damage, isn't it?"

Apart from sculpture, he designed the distinctive album covers for The Chieftains' records and he considered a Finnegan's Wake piece in Dame Street for the First National Bank of Chicago among his best works. Although he was best known for his larger works, he made a variety of sculptures of all sizes and dimensions and his family recently bought back some of his earlier work from the estate of the late Karl Mullen.

Asked to define a work of art he replied: "No one should ask what a work of art is.'' And asked why people bought his pieces, he said: "Fifty per cent because they appreciate them, 50 per cent as an investment."

Delaney had an ambivalent attitude to Dublin -- he enjoyed the social life and the access he had, but felt it was a distraction from his work.

In the mid-Eighties he decided to move to Connemara to begin a new phase of his life and he opened a sculpture park, abandoned his previous style and began a series of experimental works called 'steel trees'.

He separated from his wife and had two children, Emer and Ronan, with his new partner, Dr Anne Gillan.

His studio in Connemara became a place where writers and artists would call, but his new style was never as popular as his earlier work.

Eddie Delaney was a loving father, a colourful character and as a sculptor he has left his own indelible mark on the landscape of Ireland.

He was buried in Crossboyne Church near Claremorris, Co Galway, yesterday.

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