The Children of Lir

Artist Name(s) Oisín Kelly
Artwork title The Children of Lir
Context/Background The Children of Lir was commissioned for the Garden of Remembrance on Dublin's Parnell Square. The Garden was designed by former Dublin City Architect Daithi P. Hanly, who commissioned Oisín Kelly to make a statue to commemorate Irish freedom fighters. It was unveiled on Easter Monday 1966, the golden jubilee of the Easter Rising, by then President Eamon de Valera.  The sculpture drew criticism on the grounds that it was not fitting that a subject from pagan legend, in this case the Children of Lir, should be the basis of a public monument in a Christian country. 

Kelly’s work is made of copper bronze and depicts the four figures of the children (Of Lir), and four swans: according to the legend the children were transformed into swans for 300 years. 

A plaque next to the statue carries the words:

“In the darkness of despair we saw a vision. 
We lit the light of hope and it was not 
extinguished. In the desert of discouragement 
we saw a vision. We planted the tree of 
valour and it blossomed. In the winter of 
bondage we saw a vision. We melted the 
snow of lethargy and the river of resurrection 
flowed from it. We sent our vision aswim 
like a swan on the river. The vision became a 
reality. Winter became summer. Bondage 
became freedom and this we left to you as 
our inheritance. O generations of freedom 
remember us. The generations of the vision.”


Oisín Kelly (1915-1981) was born Austin Kelly in Dublin and worked as a teacher until he became artist in residence at the Kilkenny Design Centre in 1966. He initially attended night class at the National College of Art and studied under Henry Moore from 1948–1949.

At first Kelly made small wood carvings and early commissions were mostly for Catholic churches. He became well known after he was commissioned to do a sculpture, The Children of Lir (1964), for Parnell Square's Garden of Remembrance, which opened in 1966 on the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising. More public commissions followed, including the statue of James Larkin on Dublin's O'Connell Street and the sculpture Oisín Goes to Tir Na Nóg, at the Irish Life Mall Plaza.

The Life and Work of Oisín Kelly by Dr Fergus Kelly, Irish Arts Review

Commission Type OPW
Commissioner Name Office of Public Works (OPW)
Project commission dates April 15, 1964 - April 15, 1966
Artform Visual Arts
Budget Range 0 - 10000 euro
Project commission start date 15/04/1964
Project commission end date 15/04/1966
Location Garden of Remembrance, Parnell Square, Dublin 1, Ireland.
County Dublin
Town Dublin
Street Address Garden of Remembrance, Parnell Square, Dublin 1, Ireland.
Google Map Insert View this projects location
Content contributor(s) Anne Mullee



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