6. Sculpture Playground


Venue: Ardnaculla, Co. Council Housing Estate. Design and Supervision: Mike Fitzpatrick. Construction and Further Design: Ten Locals on AnCO Training Scheme. Period: June 11 - August 3, 1984.


Two sites in the town had been earmarked by the committee as possibilities for the sculpture playground and both were in the hands of the Co. Council. As it happened, the larger of the two sites (and incidentally, the more daunting of the two), had originally been designates as a recreation/amenity area, being situated as it is alongside the town's largest housing scheme.

We admire the Council's sense of adventure in supporting a highly imaginative and yet totally unprecedented scheme by a voluntary organisation.

It was now April, and once this site had been granted by the Co. Council, Mike Fitzpatrick, a young sculptor from Newmarket on Fergus, was asked to quickly produce a detailed plan.

Site before sculpture playground project


The design for the playground was based on a figurative shape inside of which Mike would develop play-things and play-areas.

The site in Ardnaculla was a steep sloping area of rough ground overlooking much of the town. It fell away from the housing estate towards the road and had been used simply as a short-cut into town. Other than that its value as an 'amenity area' was practically nil.

The design took into account not only the purpose of the site, but also its natural slope, prominent location and aspect. The design was always very flexible; apart from the basic figurative shape of head, arms, legs, feet and tongue (a natural slide), all other features would be determined by the materials used, the time involved, and most importantly the creative input of the ten young men on the site.

As Mike said: "The finished project is not so much my idea of a sculpture playground but rather the efforts of many people over many months."


The next stage was to lay the detailed proposal on the desk of the local AnCO officer. Through previous dealings with this body, our co-ordinator had known that AnCO was looking for alternatives to their usual construction-type schemes. This proved to be so. And yet Mike found that his interviewer was more interested in his ability to motivate trainees then in his design or overall concept. No doubt it was around this time that our sculptor realised he would have to be more than just a designer and supervisor...; he would also have to be tutor and tea-boy, foreman and accounts clerk, security guard, medic and chief motivator!

After further discussions with more senior AnCO officials, a Training Scheme was finally sanctioned whereby AnCO agreed to employ ten young local people and the artist/foreman for a period of six weeks (later extended a further two weeks).

However, a major stumbling block still existed regarding finance (doesn't it always!). AnCO was not willing to provide funds for the necessary materials. And even by seeking out 'sponsorship in kind', and by begging, stealing and borrowing for all our worth it seemed doubtful that we could set our sights on anything more than a temporary, short-term playground structure.


Enter the Cavalry! Following further investigations by Marian Fitzgibbon, Mike brought his dog-eared plans before a Senior Executive Engineer with Clare Co. Council, who proved not only keen and encouraging but also offered the opinion that the Council might be in a position to provide some funds towards the playground project.

So, by May 21, we had acquired a site, AnCO had agreed to employ the workers, the Co. Council had sanctioned a grant for materials and plant, and suddenly despite the setbacks and community scepticism- dreams were finally becoming real.


Mike Fitzpatrick: "I began on June 11 with the JCB driver who thought I was touched, asking him to dig out arms and legs on that sloopy terrain."

The initial scraping, levelling and gouging was quickly done by the machine but after that it was all hands to the shovel. The two 'knees' became sand-pits; the 'tongue' became a cemented slide; one 'elbow' housed a simple merry-go-round; one 'foot' became a maze of wooden stakes, and so on. Materials used included concrete pipes, tubular steel, red house-bricks, forestry stakes, Lahinch sand, sea-stones, plastic piping, rubber tyres and disused cable spools.

It is important to note that none of the playground 'furniture' was bought ready-made. For the workers, the construction of the frames, walls, fences and other features became part of the overall sculpting process, as they combined welding, bricklaying, carpentry and paint- ing with their own creative ideas.

(It might be added here that 'sponsorship-in-kind' was received during the playground project in the form of lorry-loads of sand and gravel from two major quarries in the County, and also a large site-hut from a local building contractor).

Because the work was done on the site, by local men, and using common materials, it is hoped that people in the area will now better appreciate sculpture as both an aesthetic and practical feature of their everyday lives. It is also hoped that this high level of local input will help to maintain a public interest in the long-term maintenance and survival of the sculpture playground.

The Crew building and designing the playground


On July 26, 1984, the sculpture playground was officially opened by Johnny Moloney, Chairman of Clare County Council.

It was a glorious day, and the site looked well having been landscaped with topsoil and caringly manicured by the lads. It was also fascinating to see the unusual mix of people who gathered together on that day: Co. Councillors and Council Officials; AnCO people and the local press; committee members, townspeople and masses of children. But most moving was the presence of a group of local mothers who made a special presentation to Mike Fitzpatrick. Moments later, Mike was heard to say: "This project is a success..."


The main criticism which has confronted both the designer and the committee since the completion has been that there was a considerable lack of foresight with regards the continuing maintenance needs of the playground. This arose from the fact that when the idea was first muted, the durability of the playground structure was determined by the funds (or lack of) which were available at the time. With the granting of the Co. Council funds, the playground immediately developed into a more permanent type structure, but without the

necessary forward planning by either the Co. Council or the Ennistymon '84 committee. They offered financial backing without giving commitments, while we took the money without fully enquiring into the future needs such as maintenance.

During the construction of the playground, some groundwork was done by the designer in establishing an interest group in Ardnaculla, but unfortunately this wasn't built on at the time by the committee. In the meantime, the long-term survival of the sculpture playground is in doubt.


Designer and Supervisor: Mike Fitzpatrick.

The lads:

Kevin Corry J. P. Dowling

Billy O'Connor Pat MacNamara, Joe Wall

Mikey Burke

John O'Grady

Robbie Walsh

Don Dillon

Thomas Coughlan.

With assistance from:

Una McCarthy, Administrator, Ennistymon '84

Arts Office Staff.

Thanks to:


Clare County Council

Bernard McNamara

Whelan's Limestone Quarries

Ryan's Quarries

Limerick School of Art

Johnny Moloney


Maurice Quillinan

Monica O'Brien, V.S.I.

Johnny Moloney

Chairman Clare Co. Council

Regional Development Organisation

... and the people of Ardnaculla.

Ardnaculla children on the slide

subs@thecourthousegallery.com April 15, 2024
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