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Peace sculpture to rise out of pond where pensioner lost his life

A legacy sculpture reflecting a community’s journey towards peace will rise up high out of Bessbrook Pond, Armagh I can reveal.

A planning application for the artwork – which will also celebrate the local industry and heritage of the old mill village – has been lodged for consideration with the new Newry, Mourne and Down Council.

The application had been put together by the former Newry and Mourne District Council, which had a budget of £47,000 set aside for the works.

And it will be bedded into the pond, set into a base of pre-cast concrete, rising six metres high out of the water!

The artwork had first been mooted last year and invitations for artists to tender were sought at the time, with a deadline of September set.

It came just months after the local community was plunged into mourning when 68-year-old Oswald Bradley died after trying to swim on the pond to remove two Irish tricolour flags on an island.

The flags had been erected on trees on the island and the tragedy led to tributes from both sides of the community to the much-loved and highly-respected local man.

The timescale had been for the new artwork to be in place by June but it is currently under consideration, with anyone wishing to object given until June 5 to do so.

The Ring of Gullion LPS and the Bessbrook and Camlough Arts Project Steering Committee were at the heart of the scheme.

The artist had to demonstrate how they would work with the community to develop a sense of ownership and pride in their environment – and, most importantly, help create a shared space for all.

The brief said the project sought to develop a legacy artwork reflecting Camlough and Bessbrook’s journey toward peace.

The Building Peace through the Arts – Re-Imaging Communities Programme themes are community cohesion, regeneration through the arts, positive relations at the local level, peace and reconciliation, and connecting communities.

The local steering group agreed ‘Blending Currents: Bessbrook & Camlough’ as the theme most open to artistic interpretation.

The brief said both Bessbrook and Camlough had achieved relative peace, in part due to a shared heritage, a dependence on each other in the past and the desire of local people to accommodate differences for the sake of providing a safe environment for their children and grandchildren.

The brief, inviting expressions of interst at the time, gave the idea behind the piece.

“The artwork will look at how rivers adapt to changing environments, starting out as streams and rivulets they grow and merge focussing on an ultimate destination just like communities adapt to their changing environment.

“They adapt their form and shape according to the current climate and external factors encountered as they move towards their goal. As the landscape and environment changes, rivers evolve and move along with it – performing the functions relevant to the current situation.

“Rivers like communities respond in a different way, continuing to move towards an objective –meeting a larger body of water, whether it is a lake, a sea or ocean. They can be redirected, harnessed, channelled, reused, however a river continues to be a moving body of water that is changing, developing and growing – it remains fresh, it cleanses, it heals, it harbours no enemies, it is spiritual and it is a positive moving energy.

“The mountains and lakes around us provide sources of shared heritage and can provide the sustenance for industry; in the case of Bessbrook the flax plant.

“This theme of Blending Currents and inevitably the artwork may suggest the rich built heritage, the diverse natural heritage and the blended cultural heritage of the two communities and the river and industry that connects them.”

The artwork has now been completed and planning approval is a formality.

It will sit out in the pond, across from the play area.

The Camlough river which flowed to Bessbrook pond powered the mill which, in turn, drove the local economy, forging communities and a social scene which still exists to this day.

Of course the flax plant was key to this.

And that is why the new sculpture will take the form of a flax plant and its flower.

A single stem of flax, constructed in stainless steel, will be welded into a base below pond level and rise up six metres in the air.

The flower at its head will be mirror finished and it will have a blue PVD coating, created in this way to resemble the actual colour of the flower of the flax plant.

The plant would have been a common sight in the area when the mill was running; the pond itself has not been used to extract water from the mill since the 1960s.

The sculpture will also have a woven pattern in its structure – again to reflect the linen industry and flax which was used to create the materials produced.

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