In Irish mythology, the púca is a mischievous, shape-shifting spirit that can take the form of a horse and lure unwary travelers on wild rides on its back.
Aidan Hart knows what that feels like. Eighteen months ago, the sculptor was commissioned to create a 2m tall bronze statue of Puka for the town square in Ennistimont, County Clare.
What followed was a discussion about public art in Ireland Perhaps, it is only now that it is coming to an end.
Along the way, Hart found himself slammed on social media, mocked on the pulpit, embraced by celebrities, and considered the unwitting inspiration for a music video featuring mock executions.
“It’s the weirdest thing,” said Hart, 43. The story was getting stranger and stranger until I wondered if he had a little magic. “
Clare County Council decided in 2020 to spend €30,000 (£25,400) on a sculpture big enough to lure tourists to the Atlantic coast town of Ennistimont. Harte won the tender and started work on what will become Ennistymon’s Púca in his Dublin studio in early 2021.
For an artist who had studied in Florence, it was a dream job – bigger and more famous than anything he had done before.
Hart carved the head and torso of a horse on a human leg. “A lot of public art in Ireland is abstract and corporatized – no one should be upset about it. It’s a full-blood representation of one of the great forgotten figures of Irish folklore,” he said.
He said he was trying to convey ambiguity. “Fairies aren’t good or bad, they’re somewhere in between. púca are chaotic creatures. I wanted to bring that uneasy, unexpected feeling to the sculpture.”
In April 2021, Hart had an uneasy, unexpected feeling when photos of the sculpture’s clay mold leaked to the citizens of Ennistimont and quickly drew condemnation on social media. The sculpture was called ugly, scary and ugly. The committee was taken aback and told Hart to suspend work.
The Irish media seized on the story when Father Willie Cummins, the parish priest of Ennistimont, denounced the sculpture as “sinister” from his pulpit.
“The reporters found me. In a moment of weakness, I said it was ‘Father Ted stuff,'” said Hart, comparing the line to an episode of the fictional priest on the Channel 4 sitcom . “They never let it go.”
Everyone seemed to have their own take on the sculpture – “The Panic from Claire” – which sparked editorials, essays, tributes and condemnations without ever leaving the studio.
A man posted a selfie of him dressed as a druid and holding a placard that read “Down with this kind of thing”, citing Father Ted. An artist painted a mural depicting sculptures as well as howling wolves, fairies and UFOs.
Representatives of a tourist attraction in County Monaghan, 150 miles from Clare, lobbied Hart for the sculpture by writing a fictional short story called I Púca.
A songwriter named Frank Callery wrote a song praising the sculpture, but another composer, Enda Haran, wrote a counter-attack, envisioning blowing it up . “Your ugly horse can kiss my horse,” the line says.
“It’s basically kind of crazy, but no one has asked for advice,” Harlan said. “It has nothing to do with religion or local priests.”
A group calling itself the Burning Pitchfork made a video Perform the song, which includes a mock execution of a man dressed as a horse.
Beset by controversy, the committee hired connect the dotsa community engagement company based in Philadelphia and Dublin, consults with Ennistymon residents.
In a poll that drew 674 responses, 370, or 55 percent, opposed púca. The report noted that “ugly” was mentioned at least 79 times, “horrible” was mentioned 10 times, “ugly” was mentioned 11 times, and “dazzling” was mentioned eight times. Suggestions for alternative locations include “space near Pluto” and “under the sea.”
Of the 291 people who liked the sculpture, or 44 percent, people raved about how fun and imaginative it was.
“Technically stunning, incredible craftsmanship and rich in subject matter,” said one. “It perfectly encapsulates the essence of the Puka saga – he’s not supposed to be a lovable character,” said another. Celebrities such as Dara Ó Briain, Imelda May and Chris O’Dowd tweeted their support.
In January, the council decided not to bring the sculpture to Ennistymon. “Have we really reached the stage where even auld Púca has to be cancelled?” Sighing Diarmaid Ferrittera historian, in the Irish Times.
However, last week the Council announced that it had found a home At the Michael Cusack Center – named after the founder of the Gaelic Athletic Association – in Carron Village, 13 miles east of Ennistymon.
“It took a long time to get far,” Hart said. “I’m happy. The important thing is that it goes where it loves.”
A documentary maker is planning a film, and a cultural historian is working on the business, but Hart wonders if anyone can fully understand it all.
The sculpture is cast in metal and will be assembled and polished before moving to Cullen in June. Hart hopes visitors will be brave enough to stroke Puka’s toes.