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Butter Virgins

Artist Name(s) Anne Ffrench
Artwork title Butter Virgins

A series of Virgin Mary statues, cast from butter, placed in the freezer cabinets of a local shop and supermarket in Ballinspittle. The statues referenced the butter sculptures made by Buddhist monks of the East. 

A series of Virgin Mary statues, originally objects of worship and devotion, cast from butter. Butter is a transient material that is embedded in Irish culture and society in a manner recorded without parallel elsewhere in the world. The butter trade played a central role in Ireland's dairy industry. In nineteenth century Cork the internationally recognised Butter Exchange began with the traditional craft of home butter making and led to the modern success of the Kerrygold brand. ( In this way the installation recalls the commercial, social, and domestic life of Ireland.

"For many years I have had a fervent interest in the cult-like status of the Virgin Mary. What is it that draws people to her in such huge numbers, for comfort and devotion? Today Knock Shrine is an international place of pilgrimage and prayer where over one and a half million pilgrims come every year. Our Lady at the Ballinspittle grotto attracted worldwide attention in 1985 when crowds thronged to see the statue in their 1000's. I currently live in the small village of Ballinspittle, just outside kinsale and have, if you will, been on my own personal residency with the famous moving statue of the 1980's.These multiple butter Virgin Mary statues turned up in the freezer cabinets of a local shop and supermarket and also referenced the butter sculptures made by Buddhist monks of the East. The monks create ephemeral works of worship in freezing conditions with ice-cold hands done in the name of penance and devotion. In contrast these Western Virgin Mary sculptures are easily multiplied using a mould and no original hand crafted method is used. It has been said that the key to understanding a culture is not through the exotic or picturesque but through layers of memory. In my experience, the Virgin Mary and the holy cow, from which butter is a product, is embedded in the Irish culture, memory and psyche." Anne Ffrench, 2009.


Anne Ffrench was born in Wexford in 1980 and currently lives and works in Kinsale. Anne graduated with a Joint First Class Honours degree in Fine Art Sculpture and History of Art from NCAD in 2004. Recent exhibitions and performances include: Heteratopic Glitch, a collaborative performance piece with Aideen Barry for Tulca (2008/2009); City of Strangers, curated by Aideen Barry and Louise Manifold, G126 Gallery, Galway (2007); I'll Show You Mine If You Show Me Yours, invited by Aine Phillips, The National Review of Live Art, Glasgow (2006); Goat Island performer's group, Triskel Arts Centre, Cork (2006), Merchant City Arts Festival, Glasgow (2005); ACT UP, curated by Anne Seagrave, Temple Bar Galleries (2002); and GET UP at the Dublin Fringe Festival (2002).

Commission Type Other
Commissioner Name Kinsale Arts Week
Commissioning process Direct commission
Project commission dates March 31, 2008 - July 11, 2008
Public Presentation dates July 11, 2008 - July 19, 2008
Artform Visual Arts
Art Practice Arts Participation
Funded By The Arts Council,Private
Budget Range 0 - 10000 euro
Project commission start date 31/03/2008
Project commission end date 11/07/2008
Location Murphy's Grocers and Supervalu Supermarket
County Cork
Town Kinsale
Street Address Pearse Street
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Content contributor(s) Anne Ffrench
Relationship to project Artist
Public engagement

The audience was wide and varied as it encompassed both the local community, while doing their shopping unwittingly encountered the statues, along with tourists visiting Kinsale, and also an art audience as part of the Kinsale Arts Week.