Warm and heartfelt tributes were paid to Sligo’s renowned national and international sculptor, the late Fred Conlon, at the official unveiling of a sculpture at Sligo IT Library on Thursday evening to mark five decades of the college.
Influenced by the landscape of his beloved Sligo, the sculpture named ‘Casadh Na Gaelai’ or ‘Moon Turning’ was generously donated to the institute by Fred’s widow, Kathleen and her poignant family on February 24 – the anniversary of his untimely death at his home in Tully, Strandhill in 2005.
The sculpture installed in a courtyard outside the institute’s library is an artist’s bronze copy of an original granite piece, located in Shekina, Co. Wicklow.
Fred Conlon was a former lecturer at IT Sligo and started the sculpture department in the fledgling art department when he joined in 1972.
Over the next 15 years, Fred would inspire the next generation of artists, generously sharing his talent, knowledge and skills.
In 1987 Fred took early retirement from college to pursue a full-time career as a sculptor.
Former minister and IT Sligo board member Ray MacSharry officially unveiled the sculpture saying it was a fitting installation as the institute goes through another transition to a technology university in April:
Sligo IT Chairman Brendan McCormack said it was a great honor to be part of the unveiling of the sculpture which was such a “strong and personal connection to the Institute, all of Fred’s work.
“Fred’s creativity and talented eye were internationally recognized and respected and we at the Institute reflect that glory.
“This sculpture is one of three works of art by Fred that were generously donated by his family, the third is in the Registrar’s office.
“Casadh na Gealaí or ‘turning of the moon’ which represents the ever-changing world around us where nothing stays the same for long, and we have seen this lately in Russia and it resonates with us as we have changed our to be an RTC, an IOT and now we are set to become Atlantic Technological University in April.
“We are all part of the changes in life and Fred has captured this so well in his work”.
Mr McCormack thanked everyone who made the day possible as well as ex-Tanaiste Ray MacSharry for “coming to officially unveil the sculpture here today”.
“Ray’s connection here dates back to the founding of this institute and he was on the original board in 1970 and served as its first president.”
He added that Fred’s former student, Eileen McDonagh, “joined us today to pay their respects”.
“Eileen is one of the many students with whom Fred has so generously shared his immense talents.”
“Fred’s life ended too soon, but he left a lasting legacy in his carving in Sligo and across the world.
“So rest assured that Fred’s spirit will be alive here with this most inspiring of his carvings and the spirits of his friends who have passed away and their spirits are with us on this day of celebration as well.”
Former Tanaiste Ray MacSharry said that before delivering his speech, he would like to congratulate the President for his tremendous work in “establishing us as the Atlantic Technological University”.
“I’ve worked on many projects over the past 50 years, but the one I’ve seen come to fruition is this university here and I’m so happy that having served on the board with them, to see that St Angela is also part of the Technological University.
“Brendan McCormack was the coordinator for Letterkenny, Dundalk, Galway and Mayo and without his patience and expertise we wouldn’t have gotten the deal we got, and you saw one of my ambitions come to fruition.
Mr MacSharry said it was a great honor to unveil the statue so kindly donated by Kathleen Conlon.
“The sculpture was influenced by the landscape of his beloved Sligo and encompasses the style and characteristics of Fred’s unique view of the world he inhabited.
“Fred Conlon was born in Killeenduff, Easkey in 1943. He went to National School in Killeenduff and Vocational School in Easkey, before going to the National College of Art and Design where he studied to become a sculptor .
“After graduating, Fred taught art for a time at Navan before becoming an assistant professor of sculpture at NCAD.
“During this time he met his wife Kathleen McGreal who was a student at Carysfort Teacher Training College.
“They married in 1972 and moved to Sligo. It was there that he became a lecturer at Sligo IT and started the sculpture department in the fledgling art department.
“Over the next 15 years, Fred would inspire the next generation of artists, generously sharing his talent, knowledge and skills.
“His work has been commissioned across Ireland, probably the most famous being the eight-foot sculpture by Charles Stuart Parnell to mark the 100th anniversary of his death in 1991.
“He was commissioned overseas with carvings as far away as Japan, a testament to his talent and universal appeal.
“Fred Conlon was a very gifted artist, a perfectionist who captured a view of the world that was almost out of this world.
“Fred Conlon was a cherished husband, father and colleague, a unique talent that we are proud to have known.
“Before unveiling the sculpture, I think it’s best to leave it in the words of the creator, himself.
“Fred said the work is based on responses, over time, to the seascapes and landscapes of my home county of Sligo.
“It releases memory elements deep in the subconscious.
“It is based on what is familiar.
“It relates to the smooth, curved shapes of glacial rocks, like the Split Rock at Easkey, like the horizon, separating earth from sky and ocean from mountain, the hollow of valleys and the rolling and heaving of the tide.
“The sculpture becomes a place of contemplation inviting the viewer to travel around it by exploring its changing surfaces.
“Like the landscape, it has the elements of continuous change”.
“We hope this sculpture will inspire many new artists and be enjoyed on this campus for generations to come.”
The artist and one of Fred’s former students, Eileen McDonagh, said she probably never would have attended a third-level institution “if this college hadn’t existed” in 1974.
“I was lucky that there was an art department in the RTC at the time. Fred was my second year teacher when I chose to major in sculpture.
“Fred spoke with passion and conviction about Sculpture. Fred’s speaking style was to lead and teach, not leave us to figure out these abstract concepts on our own.
“He introduced us to the great sculptors in a cramped, smoke-filled office, but we came out energized as if we had had a spiritual experience.
“He taught us to appreciate art.
“For me it was an awakening of the soul, a kind of idealistic purity experienced through the study of art which is really a study of self, the search and the search for truth and essence things that made me think more deeply about the larger world and my place in it”.
“But his wife Kathleen gave him every encouragement and it was thanks to her support of Fred that his output is as strong as it is today.
“She continues to stand up for him and his work, as evidenced by this presentation today.
“And these beautiful sculptures here today should be a motivation for the college to create its own art collection in the future.
Finally, in a moving tribute, his widow Kathleen said that “on this important day, February 24, 2022, which is the anniversary of Fred’s passing 17 years ago,
“I want to thank you all for being here as we join in a celebration of Fred’s life and work.
“Our family is grateful to the gratitude of Dr Brendan McCormack and the Sligo IT Board for the generous reception of ‘Casadh na Gealaí’.
“It is a coincidence that the location within the college grounds at a time when this college and two other colleges are being promoted to university status is fortuitous.
“This bronze copy of the original stone now has a permanent home where it can be enjoyed by a wider audience where it can be inspirational and thought-provoking.
“Fred’s “Casadh na Gealaí” is an exceptional sculpture.
“I’ve always loved this job. Fred talked about it as he carved it, making warm references to his native Killeenduff, its people, the sky and the sea. And I’m delighted to see people from Killeenduff here today.
“To me, this sculpture represents the cyclical nature of life where everything changes, and as John McGahern reminds us, ‘precious life is everything’.
“For many years this stone sculpture resided in our garden in Tully after looking out across the bay from Rosses Point.
“Traditionally, people were fully aware of the influence of the moon in their lives.
“It reminds me of the many images and metaphors the moon has evoked in philosophers, composers and poets over the centuries.
“WB Yeats, our county colleague has frequently mentioned the moon in his poetry…” where the wave of moonlight throws dark gray sands with light on the silver apples of the moon” in his beloved Hazelwood, au wonderful “Cat and Moon”.
“At a time when an ominous moon shines over a troubled land, from Ukraine to Ethiopia and beyond, it reminds us of the cyclical nature of our lives.
“We must maintain a belief in the beautiful and in the sense of truth and in the value of life itself”