Abuse memorial plan divides Aosdána assembly

Economic crisis shouldn’t turn us into ‘one dimensional man’, Cronin tells annual meeting

Ulick O Connor talks to Mannix Flynn at the Aosdána 
general assembly in the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, Dublin, yesterday. Photograph: David Sleator

Ulick O Connor talks to Mannix Flynn at the Aosdána G general assembly in the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, Dublin, yesterday. Photograph: David Sleator


The annual meeting of artists’ group Aosdána was staged under a European theme yesterday but a domestic matter – the State’s planned memorial for the victims of sexual abuse – stirred up the most heated debate.

A number of members, led by Mannix Flynn, urged the general assembly to object to locating the memorial at the Garden of Remembrance on the grounds that it would “undermine the dignity and integrity” of the existing historical site.

A motion on the matter was tabled but later withdrawn after some fractious debate in private session. “I withdrew it out of respect for Aosdána because it had become too divisive. But I have to say, Aosdána members let themselves down.

“For artists who are revered in society to be afraid of engaging on this issue is quite extraordinary.”

The motion, whose supporters included Ulick O’Connor and Alice Hanratty, had called on the Minister for Arts to protect the integrity of the Garden of Remembrance, which was designed in 1966 to commemorate those who died for Irish freedom and whose focal point is a statue of the Children of Lí r by Oisín Kelly.

Under plans before Dublin City Council, a passageway, lit at night and flanked by fossilised limestone walls as well as “gently cascading” waterfalls, will be inserted at the rear of the statue creating “a fluid progression” to a memorial “dedicated to the young victims of abuse”.

While he believed the monument was “inappropriate and premature as we have yet to resolve many unfolding issues about the abuse”, Flynn said the motion had focused purely on the memorial’s artistic merits. “It’s completely wrong to put this into what is already a sacred site.”

Cronin’s influences
In public session, the general assembly heard poet Anthony Cronin deliver an engaging speech on his creative influences, while also warning about the impact of the European economic crisis on contemporary debate. Watching yet “another, great European economist” being interviewed on television recently he recalled the embodiment of philosopher Herbert Marcuse’s “one-dimensional man”.

“We should resist the attempt to turn us into one dimensional people. It’s a pretty serious matter and it’s pretty urgent. The best defence against it,” Cronin argued,”is poetry”.

Also speaking to the European theme, Séamus Heaney cited Dante’s Inferno as a strong influence on his own poetry, as well as the discovery of Iron Age bodies in Danish bogs which inspired his 1970 poem The Tollund Man .

Presentations on painter Patrick Scott and visual artist Camille Souter also featured at the meeting.

In addition, three new members of Aosdána were elected, bringing the total membership of the State-sponsored body to 248, two short of the maximum permitted.

If under a certain income threshold, members are eligible to receive a “cnuas” from the Arts Council – an annuity of €17,180 for a term of five years - to assist them in concentrating full-time on their art.