For years, there were no busts or statues of folk singer Luke Kelly in Dublin. Suddenly, we’ve two on offer.
One, a design by artist Vera Klute, is the preference of the Dublin City Arts Office. The other, donated to the city by Drumcondra local Gerry Hunt, is by sculptor John Coll.
Now, councillors and officials are in a bind, trying to work out which to choose, how not to offend anybody, and whether or not to take two Kellys for the price of one.
12 Years Waiting
When Dublin City Councillor Christy Burke, who was then with Sinn Fein, put forward a motion to erect a statue of Luke Kelly in 2004 he didn’t foresee such a delay.
Burke, who is now an independent, said he thought the tribute would be placed somewhere on the north side of the city. At the time, the Dublin Docklands Development Authority was due to fund it, says Burke.
St Stephen’s Green, Sheriff Street and Merrion Row were all discussion as locations. Consultation with the Kelly family began. But then came the crash.
When Burke was elected mayor a decade after the motion, he resurrected the idea and the council finally kicked off the process to choose an artist to design a public rendering of Kelly.
“The announcement of the commissioning of the proposal by Vera Klute and associated crowd-funding campaign to contribute to the commission has been delayed as consultation with the Kelly Family continues,” said a November 2015 report to the council’s Arts Strategic Policy Committee. Nearly a year later, and there has still been no commission announcement.
Enter Luke Kelly Two, to confuse it all. In late August, Gerry Hunt, a Drumcondra local, wrote to Dublin City Council and offered them a present: a recently commissioned bronze statue of Luke Kelly by John Coll, a sculptor best-known for his statues of Patrick Kavanagh and Brendan Behan.
Hunt wrote that he wanted to offer the work “cost free to Dublin City Council for the people of Dublin city”. But sensitivity has thus far prevented the council from nabbing the bronze fresh out of the foundry.
Made of Clay
In his letter to Dublin City Council’s public arts manager, Ruairí Ó Cuív, Hunt was keen to note that his philanthropy would raise no fine-print issues.
“I hope the council will consider this offer favourably,” wrote Hunt. “I can assure you there are no hidden strings, [it’s] just something I have long wanted to do for Luke Kelly and the people of Dublin City.”
In return for the free sculpture, Hunt requested that the council locate a suitable site for Coll’s work, which has been paid for in full by Hunt himself, as well as any maintenance the work required in the years ahead.
Hunt has some ideas for location already. “Personally I would like it to be located somewhere near the city centre, but I really have an open mind on this,” Hunt wrote. “[I] would be inclined to row in with the Kelly brothers here, they being family.”
It’s a tricky situation for the council’s arts office. If they opt for the free Luke Kelly, they compromise the process and potentially dismiss artist Klute. If they press ahead with Klute’s sculpture, a free bronze of Kelly may remain in Coll’s foundry near Sheriff Street, or in Hunt’s back garden.
“Given its size I think it needs to go in a fairly contained environment, like a streetscape,” says Coll. “[Kelly] went from Sherriff Street and moved out to Kimmage. He also lived for quite a number of years in Dartmouth Square. I don’t think we’ll get it there but why not?”
Coll says in recent weeks, in consultation with Hunt, the sculpture has been tweaked for the outdoors.
“We had to change one or two things: put solid string on the banjo and things like that,” he says. “I’d be very happy to get it out into the public domain.”
The Waiting Game
For now, it’s unknown what will become of either Luke Kelly. Hunt says the Kelly family approve of the Coll work and are currently in discussions to move things forward.
Hunt is 80 years old and says he would rather the public enjoyed the sculpture, than have it sat in his back garden.
“I used to know Luke. I was folk singer myself, donkey’s years ago,” says Hunt. “At the moment I’m looking around for alternative places where [Dublin City Council] wouldn’t have control of, but I’m finding it very difficult.”
Hunt feels that the Klute-proposed two-metre bust of Kelly is better suited to the indoors, and argues that Coll’s bronze will weather far better outdoors.
In any case, says independent councillor Burke, a resolution is needed.
“I’d like to see an outcome of a resolution that suits everybody without anyone offending anybody, be it a sculptor, family or the public,” he says. “I think the time has long passed. I think it’s time now to erect the statue.”