Sunday, November 13, 2011

Science in Stone

Hidden away in the courtyard of a building close to Cork's Saint Finbarre's Cathedral is a unique reminder of Cork's scientific heritage crafted by one of Ireland's greatest craftsmen.

The piece is made up of 3 individual limestones panels each measuring 74 x 94 cm. Arranged one above the other, with a chiselled limestone surround the panels are unmistakeably the work of the Cork stonecarver Seamus Murphy.

Born near Mallow, Co. Cork in 1907, Murphy went on to become an award winning sculptor and stone carver, crafting some of Ireland's most important public art - including the O'Donovan Rossa plaque and Countess Markievicz bust at St. Stephan's Green, Dublin; the bust of Michael Collins at Fitzgerald Park, Cork.

From top to bottom, the Crawford panels are:
CEIMHIOCHT A FISIC, bearing the symbols of chemistry and physics.
INNEALTÓIREACHT, bearing the symbols of engineering.
FOIRGNÍOCHT, bearing the symbols of building and construction.

The work is located at the Crawford College of Art and Design on Sharman Crawford Street, Cork and is a reminder of the former use of the building - as the Crawford Technical School (built as the then Cork Municipal Technical Institute in 1909).

The institute was built on a site donated by Mr. AF Sharman Crawford (whose grandfather was William Crawford of Lakelands who had already proven himself a great benefactor of science and art on Cork), Chairman of the Cork Technical Instruction Committee and a managing director of Beamish and Crawford, brewers.

The old Arnotts brewery that previously occupied the site was partially demolished and a new building of Little Island limestone, brick from Ballinphelic, Co. Cork, Galway granite, as well as marble from Connemara, Cork, Mitchelstown and Beaumont Quarry in Ballintemple was erected.

From November 1911, the Institute taught electrical and mechanical engineering, building construction, typography, painting and decorating, chemistry, domestic science, carpentry, plumbing, botany, tailors’ cutting, cooking, laundry, shirtmaking, dressmaking, millinery and needlework.

Seamus Murphy's stonework was installed in  1967 and now serves as a permanant link between the Crawford Technical School and the Crawford College of Art and as a tribute to the philantrophic activities of several generations of the Crawford family in art and science.

Unfortunately, while the artwork has survived well, despite being exposed to the elements for over 40 years it is now almost obscured from view by an unsympathetically positioned metal smoking  shelter. Surely such a fine piece of craftsmanship should be worthy of a little bit more respect?

As we begin Science Week 2011, the theme of which is 'Chemistry of Life' we could do worse than reflect of Murphy's interpretation of the science in stone.


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