Below and to the east of the trees stand the five bronze sculptures by Rowan Gillespie. The principal figure of a tall man is depicted with his arms raised in exaltation at the prospect of Toronto before him. Standing beside and to the rear of this figure is a pregnant woman, whose condition speaks to the prospect of new life and new hope in a new land. In contrast to the pregnant woman, another woman is depicted collapsed to the ground in the last moments of life. Further behind these figures stands a young boy, whose clumsily gathered hands suggest his apprehension about his future and whether to go back or to go foreword. Completing the group, closest to the grain silos, stands a male figure ‘Pius Mulvey’, inspired by Joseph O’Connor’s book ‘Star of the Sea’.
A Word From the Sculptor Rowan Gillespie
It was always my intention, to compliment my famine sculpture in Dublin, that there should be a sculpture of a group of figures arriving on the other side of the Atlantic. When Toronto was suggested as a possible location, I was particularly interested because my family (on my mother’s side) had emigrated in famine times and made their home in Canada, eventually returning to Ireland when my grandfather became a judge in the newly formed Irish Free State. So I had a natural personal interest that this sculpture should be located in Canada. While working on the Famine sculpture for Dublin, of course my mind often turned to considering what would be the fate of this bedraggled group – how many of them would even survive the crossing? I became fascinated by the fact that, in spite of ill health, so many women became pregnant during the long months at sea. This concept of the new life in a new land became the initial inspiration for the Arrival series; a pregnant woman.
On visiting the magnificent site on the Toronto waterfront, with it views of the famous Toronto skyline in one direction and open lake in the other, I visualized the next figure, a survivor, weak and weary after the long journey across the Atlantic, responding to the view of Toronto, arms aloft in a gesture of sublimation, awe and hope. Beside him there would be a child looking in the same direction with wide eyes expressing a combination of fear and defiance.
Possibly the most dominant feature on the site are the huge grain silos which seem to symbolize the abundance of food in Canada, in contrast to the situation in Ireland. So there would be another figure of a man (they were mainly men who made the journey) in humble prayer and gratitude as he looks in almost disbelief at these symbols of plenty.
Seven years have passed since I made the sculpture for Dublin and first visited Toronto. During this time my thoughts and ideas have matured and I feel that this sculpture for Toronto will truly be an evolution and development, responding with sensitivity to the site. I find myself excited to continue with the project.
Rowan Gillespie www.rowangillespie.net
Thank you to the organizations and individuals who have graciously sponsored a sculpture.
Limestone Sculptural Installation
Ireland Park is a statement of confidence in the ongoing restoration of the quays and the extension of the Waterfront Trail around the edges of Eireann Quay, linking it to the rest of the city. Though access to the park is guided by lighting and signage, designating its relatively isolated location, the park forms a quiet retreat, waiting to be discovered. Ireland Park has taken a lead in the future development of the surrounding area, existing as both destination and ‘sacred space,’ expressing in a contemporary manner the history of the city.
The design of Ireland Park needed to be in harmony with the powerful emotive energy evident in the sculptures situated in the park, created by Irish artist Rowan Gillespie. The massive, craggy, sculptural rock-face of black Kilkenny limestone was obviously the right material to fill this need. A technical approach was devised to make smaller pieces of stone convey the feeling of massive rock and generate the effect of size, scale, texture and emotional energy. The names of 675 famine migrants, who died in Toronto in 1847, are located in the openings cut into the rock, evocative of the fossils in the stone, where they too can be similarly discovered. The stone material greatly influenced the design; the light-grey sawn faces of the Kilkenny limestone provide an ideal surface for the inscription of the Famine immigrants’ names, just as the roughness of the stone simultaneously evokes the battered bow of a ship, as well as the shoreline of the west of Ireland, the departure point for many emigrants in Ireland.
The stone work has set new standards in technical achievement. Without extensive structural engineering, the gravity-defying sculptural qualities of the stone columns could not have been executed. The structure is a combination of reinforced concrete and stone. After dark, the park assumes different moods as the glass cylinder is illuminated and the cuts through the wall are softly up-lit to reveal the inscribed names. Pole-mounted lighting causes the concrete silos to glow, and theatre lighting, mounted in one side of the low bench wall, highlights the gaunt immigrants, casting large shadows on the silo walls.
Author: Jonathan M. Kearns, B.ARCH, OAA, MRAIC, MRIAI, RIBA