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Explained: What the new structure on the Abbeyleix Road in Portlaoise actually is – and what it means

Anyone driving on the Abbeyleix Road or Fr Browne Avenue bear O’Moore Park in recent weeks will have notice a significant new concrete structure being erected.

‘Protectour’ is a large permanent artwork marking the gateway to Portlaoise town by Wicklow artist James Hayes.

The artwork references the ‘footprint’ of the historic Old Fort in its layout whilst celebrating sport and participation to mark its location adjacent to O’Moore Park GAA grounds.

The artwork was commissioned by Open Competition under the Government Per Cent for Art scheme by Laois County Council.

This artwork is poured and polished concrete by local company Uniqrete.

The focal point of the artwork is a large portal that seeks to mark both past and present in reference to both the Old Fort and to the celebratory nature of sports, referencing the nearby O’Moore Park.

Its structure is inspired by the footprint of the historic Old Fort, which was essentially a square fort with a square tower on one corner.

Accompanying this portal are seven smaller forms, placed so that they sweep through in acurving and rotating composition.

The seven smaller concrete forms represent the seven septs of Laois; O’Devoy (O’Deevy), O’Doran, O’Dowling, McEvoy, O’Kelly, O’Lalor and O’Moore.

These are the original Gaelic clans that were then “transplanted” out of Laois to Munster and Connaught. The large portal and the smaller forms represent a historic transfer of power in Laois.

“The piece is large and bright enough to be easily visible from a distance by pedestrians and drivers and can be taken in ‘at a glance’,” says a statement from the arts office of Laois County Council.

“It is anticipated that the artwork will in time become a focal point, a place of interest, a landmark of both the approach and exit to Portlaoise.

It was important that this new artwork for Portlaoise reflected the time, place and space of the local community.

“James Hayes, with assistance from the Laois Arts Office engagedwith a number of local interest groups and schools during the Covid pandemic to create and gather material for a time capsule that is now hidden away inside the artwork.

“The time capsule will, when it is opened in future years, reflect the happenings in the lives of these people over the period of the creation of the artwork.

“James Hayes has created other artworks in conjunction with the Laois Arts Office; notably the Percent for Art Scheme commissioned for the Laois Arthouse in 2011 and the Emo Court Art Symposium of 2005.

”He exhibited a new work in the Laois Arthouse 10th Anniversary exhibition, In Trust. In Gratitude. In Hope. in 2011 and 2022.”

An official launch of the sculpture will take place on Culture Night, Friday, September 23.

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Steven Miller is owner and managing editor of LaoisToday.ie. From Laois, Steven studied Journalism in DCU and has 14 years experience in the media, almost 10 of those in an editorial role. Husband of Emily, father of William and Lillian, he's happiest when he's telling stories or kicking a point.