Aos Daire Wood Symposium in Tomnafinnogue Wood

We are holding the Aos Daire Wood Symposium from June 9-19th in Tomnafinnogue Wood. We welcome applications from artists and craftspeople who would like to get involved. They can send a letter of interest / CVs to or contact me on 086 889 1688.

The Project: A wood based site specific Sculptor Symposium

Title: Aos Daire (People the Oak)

Location: Tuaim na Fuinseoige (Tomnafinnogue Wood) located between Shillelagh and Tinahely in South Co Wicklow.

Dedication: This will be an ideal opportunity to commemorate our dear friend and colleague Irene Lundgaard, a wonderful craftsperson and artist who had so much passion and love for the area. At her instigation there have been several ephemeral ‘Art in the Woods” events, during which local artists spent time in the forest making art which was eventually be subsumed back into the natural environment.

There will be a series of Workshops/Masterclass which can be held on site in the forest and/or in the nearby Courthouse Arts Centre in Tinahely.

These are envisaged as follows:

1. Wood Carving: This will be a workshop or Masterclass in Art, Technique and Craft of Woodcarving. This would be aimed at the participant who has some knowledge of the subtractive process and/or has spent at least one year in Art College.

2. Construction and Fabrication: This will involve general woodworking technique at an advanced level.

3. Land and spatial art: This workshop will be the least technical of all the workshops and would involve creating and identifying existing and new spaces within a forest context. This could also involve photography and video.

The Symposium will take place over 10 days (including preparation) from June 9-19, 2019.

The wood will be open as normal throughout the event so the public, as well as the arts community will have the wonderful and rare opportunity to engage with the artists as they create.

It is envisaged that several pieces can be left in situ afterwards, creating a sculpture trail, as has been very successful elsewhere (Devils Glen, Co Wicklow, North Mayo etc)

Alongside the actual sculpture in the woods it is envisaged to run related exhibitions in Tinahely Courthouse Arts Centre, such as an exhibition of smaller sculptural pieces, photography, filmmaking, and demonstrations by other craftspeople.

For instance, we hope to hold a demonstration of the ancient art of charcoal making which is seeing a revival in the Forest of Deane in the UK. It is now a major craft industry and employs a sizeable amount of people. It was once a notable industry in the Shillelagh area. (See History of Tomnafinnogue below).

Also we hope to cast bronze chisels and gouges for sculptors to use as tools.

There will also be opportunities for schools to visit, providing educational opportunities encompassing not only seeing artists and craftspeople in action but the wider ecology of the forest and the River Doire which flows through it.

There will be a technical crew on hand throughout in keeping with Health and Safety Regulations.

Project Aims

1. The aim of the Aos Daire Symposium is to initiate and continue the conversation on the subject of wood sculpture with particular reference to woodcarving.

2. It is hoped to revive this ancient craft, which is in some danger of being lost.

3. By holding the Symposium in one of the last remaining old oak woods in the country, we aim to provide an appropriate setting for this revival and to reach out to the local community.

4. To build on the success of previous symposia in this vein in providing an opportunity for artists and students to develop their craft in such a wonderful setting. To address the major lack of such symposia available at present to sculptors.


1. The revival of an ancient and important craft

2. The opportunity for artists to explore and develop their practice in a beautiful and historic setting

3. Educational opportunities for students of all ages

4. Spin-off opportunities of great benefit to the local community regarding tourism as there are already plans underfoot to extend the Greenway system of trails by running one from Shillelagh to Arklow. Part of this would take in the existing walk through Tomnanfinogue.

5. Other possible spin-offs could be sale of locally produced high quality craft goods

6. It is hoped that this event will be established in the Arts calendar as an annual or biennial into the future.

A brief history of Tomnafinnogue wood

Tomnafinnogue Wood was once part of the Great Forest of Shillelagh, a huge oak forest covering most of the Barony of Shillelagh. The Barony came into the possession of Thomas. Wentworth, earl of Strafford and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in the 1630s. He initiated the establishment of a forge at Ballard, which was operated using charcoal made from the local oak wood. This ironworks was destroyed during the 1641 rebellion, but subsequent ironworks, foundries, mills, furnaces and bloomaries were established throughout the county, as well as several sites for the mining of iron ore. Shillelagh iron was a highly sought after commodity being of an extremely high quality.

Over the years the timber was not only devoured by the ironworks but also exported wholesale for use in building England’s great halls such as King’s College Chapel and Westminster Hall and ships for her navy, and for making barrels, pipe staves etc Shillelagh oak can also be found in the roof beams of Trinity College and in St Patrick’s Hall in Dublin. The timber was in high demand due to its density and close grain.

The woods shrank somewhat as a result but were replanted and managed by later generations of owners. What makes Tomnafinogue stand out and retain its claim to be an ancient woodland is that it is self-regenerating. Evidence of this can clearly be seen during the Springtime in the amount of young saplings in evidence which have not been planted by any hand.

By the 1980s when the Coollattin estate was sold by the FitzWilliam family there was still a sizeable oak forest consisting of several smaller woods, still named on the OS maps of the area. When the new owners of the estate began clear felling and exporting the timber from these woods there was a vigourous and prolonged campaign involving many local and National groups to save the woods. Eventually the last remaining standing wood, Tomnafinogue was purchased by Wicklow Co. Council, and opened to the public as a much loved and well-used amenity.

The wood is managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service which is part of the Department of Culture Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

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