Eileen Mac Donagh


This sculpture is directly related to our rich and diverse stone heritage with particular reference to Dolmens. What inspires me most is the stone work from ancient civilisations all around the world. I marvel at the 1.500 ton stone blocks at Baalbek and the ingenuity of that civilisation to move them into place. The Pyramids we are all familiar with, I have seen every documentary on their construction. The question always is why and how did ancient civilisations build such edifices when today with our wealth and technology our aspirations seem so diminished by comparison. 

Deep down I feel an infinity with these workers in stone, this is my inheritance. To create something bigger than ourselves to leave a stone standing prominent in the landscape. The first act in our evolution was to be able to stand erect to free up our hands to make the tools necessary for survival, in my mind the standing stone symbolises that.   Mankind and stone are inextricably linked. 

I have had this stone for about 8 years tucked away in a corner of Mc Keons stoneyard. The first thing I always did when I visited the yard was check to see if the stone was still there.  I had this sculpture in mind from the outset but because of its scale I haven’t had the opportunity to realise it. Working on this scale requires the specialist equipment of quarries and the stone industry. To that extent I am ever grateful to Michael Carney without whose help I wouldn’t have been able to realise this idea.

Born in Co Sligo, Eileen studied  art at the Institute of Technology, Sligo and Limerick School of Art.  

In 1982 she attended an International Sculpture Conference in San Franscisco where she was first introduced to the idea of Sculpture Symposia. These events bring sculptors together from all over the world to work in a communal way either individually or collectively on a large scale project.  The artist receives a small remuneration for their work and the resulting sculpture is sited within the environment in which it was made. 

Since then she has participated in Symposia all over the world ; Japan, India, Austria, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Luxembourg etc. She joined The Sculptors Society of Ireland (now Visual Artists Ireland)  in 1980 and promoted the idea of the symposium organizing many around the country.  She has won many awards over her career including a Travel Award to The Scottish Sculpture Workshop and Japan were she lived and worked for a year. Since her first commission for Dublin Castle in 1989 she has completed over twenty commissions around Ireland, the most notable being a 50 ton 10m high steel sculpture at Tallaght Cross, Dublin.  She has had several solo exhibitions including an exhibition of stone work at Centre Culturel des Irelandais in Paris in 2008. She had a major mid-term retrospective show in the new galleries of VISUAL in Carlow in 2012.

It is not easy to categorize her work. For the most part she is a stone carver but she often carves to a minimal degree, preferring to interfere as little as possible with what is already there. To this extent her work is almost Cistercian in its austerity.  On the other hand her bulging shapes, such as the Star Series exude sensuality and unexpected playfulness. In all of her work there is a desire to communicate, matched with an ability to do so.  In the tradition of the best artists she uses a familiar vocabulary that references the real world in an uncomplicated way. Elected to Aosdana in 2004.

Photograph: Conor McKeown