Revival of Buncrana's iconic Swan Park Ceramic Trail

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Artlink, a pioneer in community-focused art initiatives, is thrilled to announce the revival of the Swan Park Ceramic Trail in Buncrana.

Artlink’s first public art project ‘Art in the Park’ was initiated in 1994 by Aileen Barr, one of Artlink’s three founding artists. She worked with a local FAS scheme to create tiles for a seat and environmental tile trail throughout the park that blended art and nature, leaving an indelible mark on the local community.

Reflecting on the original project, she said: "This was my first public art project, installed in 1995 with the support of the local council. It was pivotal in my artistic journey, allowing me to venture into the realm of public art and experiment with new ideas and techniques. Indeed, its overwhelming success was deeply rooted in community involvement."

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Aileen, who previously studied ceramics at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin, has since dedicated the past three decades to creating handmade tile projects for public spaces. She gained worldwide recognition for her remarkable tiled stairways in San Francisco where she emigrated to in 2002, created in collaboration with Colette Crutcher and the local Bay Area community.

Detail of ceramic mosaicDetail of ceramic mosaic
Detail of ceramic mosaic

The recent regeneration of Swan Park after flooding in 2017, prompted Artlink to bring back this beloved project to life. This involved creating ceramic pieces based on the original artwork and recreating the iconic circular ceramic mosaic seat, themed around the Life Cycle of the Salmon, as a focal point within the park.

During the research phase, co-ordinated by artist Grainne McMenamin, Artlink worked with Claire Moore (Thompson) from Keeper of the Ways (formerly Foraging Donegal) and Sue and John Shiels who researched and produced a Natural History Survey of the Park commissioned by Buncrana Tidy Towns in 2010-12.

Joining Aileen Barr were also two of the original ‘Art in the Park’ participants, Sinead Craig and Geraldine Timlin, and in addition Sue Goodwin, who was artist in residence with Artlink in the early years, and local artist Julie Magee.

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Artlink also engaged with local community groups in multiple workshops and presentations on the new project made possible by funding from The Arts Council and Donegal County Council - including iCare, North West Home Education Group, Sliabh Sneacht Day Centre, Gaelscoil Bhun Cranncha and The Exchange Intercultural Café.

Aileen Barr preparing new ceramic trailAileen Barr preparing new ceramic trail
Aileen Barr preparing new ceramic trail

Aileen returned home from San Francisco to collaborate with local artists, develop designs, and facilitate the community workshops. "I simply can’t put into words how delighted I’ve been to be back home in Inishowen and involved in the revitalisation of the Swan Park Ceramic Trail" she said. "Getting to work again with some of the original participants and fantastic local community groups has been brilliant, and we’ve now developed new designs and created tiles for the new bench. It has also been great to work with local artist Matthew Porter who joined me in crafting tiles for the environmental trail. Combined with the park's recent upgrades, it really is a wonderful addition to our beloved town treasure."

Matthew Porter added: "Working alongside Aileen Barr on the series of ceramic tiles forming the new environmental trail which tells the story of Swan Park’s history, habitats, flora and fauna has been an incredibly enriching experience for me personally.

“As a local artist and forager with a deep connection to Swan Park, I have been delighted to contribute to the new project which celebrates our natural heritage. Indeed, it’s not only about reviving a cherished facet of the park but also about helping to inform future generations about the abundance of natural resources within it and inspire them to cherish and preserve our local ecosystems."

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Artlink project co-ordinators Rebecca Strain and Martha McCulloch, expressed their excitement about the launch of the new project. "The revitalised Swan Park Ceramic Trail is not only a celebration of art and nature but also a testament to the power of community engagement" said Rebecca.

Matthew Porter and Aileen BarrMatthew Porter and Aileen Barr
Matthew Porter and Aileen Barr

Martha added: "We’re thrilled to see this iconic project come back to life, enriching the cultural and environmental heritage of Buncrana” she said, concluding: “The launch event for the new Swan Park Ceramic Trail will take place at 2pm on 24 May 2024, and I’d like to take this opportunity to invite the whole community to witness the unveiling of this inspiring project. After this event we’ll be retiring to the Anglers Centre in the park for some tea and cake. Everyone is welcome!”

For further information about the launch of the revitalised Swan Park Ceramic Trail or upcoming exhibitions and events at Artlink Fort Dunree during May and June 2024, visit www.artlink.ie Facebook.com/Artlinkfortdunreepage or contact a member of the Artlink team on 0838696513.

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