Misneach: A Monumental Celebration of Youth

Artist Name(s) John Byrne
Artwork title Misneach: A Monumental Celebration of Youth
Context/Background Breaking Ground Art Commission Programme, Ballymun.

A large horse and rider sculpture depicting a young female bareback rider cast from the statue of Viscount Hugh Gough, which was originally sited in the Phoenix Park until it was blown up by the IRA in 1957. It was commissioned as part of Breaking Ground, the Per Cent for Art Programme for Ballymun Regeneration Limited in 2010.

John Byrne was commissioned by Breaking Ground to make a work in close consultation with the local community - the second phase of the Breaking Ground art commission programme that commissioned artists to work in a sustained and engaged way with members of the host community. At the end of a two-year research and development process, Byrne set about to create what is a spectacular, monumental equestrian sculpture for Ballymun. Misneach, the Irish word for courage, references traditional classical equestrian sculpture, while subverting the military tropes of this sculptural tradition by placing the figure of a teenage girl from Ballymun as the rider on the horse.

Referring on the one hand to historic monuments, and the strong Irish legacy of bold public sculptures, the work refers on the other hand to both the history and the future of Ballymun, its youth, and its regeneration. Turning the notion of what public monuments typically symbolise, John Byrne's new work asserts that the everyday person can be as much a hero as celebrated public figures.

As part of an auditioning process, Breaking Ground brought 20 teenage girls who has signed up to be involved, to the Kill International Equestrian Centre in Kildare in September 2007. Each had their photograph taken on a horse, taking up the posture of how the eventual rider might look. Following this, Byrne short-listed a group of the teenagers, and announced local girl Toni Marie Shields as the rider in late 2007. Tony Marie travelled to London where she was scanned by a state of the art 3D laser scanner at London Metropolitan University, enabling a computer generated mould to be made for the rider section of the sculpture. This mould and a mould carefully made (in situ) from John Henry Foley's magnificent and celebrated 1840s original The Gough Memorial which had been originally sited in the Phoenix Park and is now in the grounds of Chillingham Castle in England, were then combined and cast in bronze to create the new sculpture. This process of harnessing traditional skills and copying an original sculpture, and relying on state of the art technology to help sculpt the contemporary element of the work, the life-cast of Toni Marie was a new and original technique devised by Byrne in order to make a spectacular piece of contemporary figurative sculpture.

An exhibition documenting the selection process was held at Axis Art Centre, Ballymun, from 8 November to 3 December 2006. A second exhibition of documentary photographs of work in progress on the equestrian sculpture was held from 12–26 of June 2009 in Axis Ballymun. 

To coincide with this exhibition, a selection of photographs chosen by young people from Ballymun Regional Youth Resources (BRYR) was also on display at the RECO, Sillogue Road, for the same period.

Curator: Aisling Prior. Commission manager: Denise Reddy. Arts Project Manager: Paul McAree.

Breaking Ground, the Per Cent for Art Programme for Ballymun Regeneration Limited, was launched in Ballymun in February 2002 and completed in 2010.


An exhibition of photographic portraits made by Pat Redmond of all the candidates putting themselves forward to be the model for the girl horse rider in Axis. Breaking Ground hosted many public seminars and talks between John Byrne and the local horse keeping and riding community ad the wider public. The commission was closely followed in the national press and was featured in the RTE/Wildfire 'Whose art is it anyway?' documentary broadcast in 2012.


John Byrne was born in Belfast, attending Belfast Art College before moving to The Slade School of Art in London in the mid-eighties. It was there that he began to practice as a performer, and has since performed at venues throughout Ireland, the UK, Denmark and Poland.

Returning to Ireland in 1996 he performed A Border Worrier for the 1997 Dublin Theatre Festival. This apparent obsession with the Irish Border culminated in his Border Interpretative Centre (2000) a week long visitor centre project right on the border. It was subsequently documented in solo exhibitions at Temple Bar Gallery, Dublin, Ormeau Baths Gallery, Belfast, and Gallerie Agregat in Mitte, Berlin, within sight of the site of the old Berlin Wall.

Would you die for Ireland? a 12 minute video shot by Byrne in the Summer of 2003, involved him travelling the streets of Ireland (Dublin, Belfast, Cork) asking the above question to a wide range of people including Bertie Ahern, and members of the Orange order. In 2004 he installed his Dublin's Last Supper a large digitally manipulated photo-work in enamel, screen-printed and fired onto 9 adjoining panels, in Dublin city centre. Byrne has been the recipient of several Art's Council Awards. His work is in many private and public collections including the OPW and UCC.

He lives and works in Dublin.

Commission Type Regeneration Agency
Commissioner Name Curator - Aisling Prior for Breaking Ground
Commissioning process Curated commission
Project commission dates April 19, 2004 - August 19, 2009
Artform Visual Arts
Art Practice Arts Participation
Percent for art Yes
Budget Range 70000 - 150000 euro
Project commission start date 19/04/2004
Project commission end date 19/08/2009
Location To be eventually sited on the median of Main St in Ballymun, the sculpture is temporarily sited in the front grounds of Ballymun Senior Comprehensive, Main St , Ballymun, Dublin 9
County Dublin
Town Ballymun
Street Address Main street, Ballymun
Google Map Insert View this projects location
Public engagement

A series of exhibitions, public events, and interpretive workshops with young people from the area facilitated by artist Eilis Murphy



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