Nestled in woodland just outside Gorey, sculptor Colm Brennan and wife Sally, a Gorey native, have settled into their new home. A bronze sculptor of national acclaim, Colm is also a sought-after sean nós singer and, indeed, runs a weekly sean nós group in Gorey Library. “It’s a tea-making workshop with a break for singing!” says the former teacher and Mayo man, who first came to Gorey in 1965 to train as a woodwork and building construction teacher at Colaiste Charman.
Since then, he has lived and worked in Dublin, teaching until 2007, as well as co-founding CAST bronze foundry in Dublin with Leo Higgins in 1986. With 10 employees, their clients include town, city and county councils, government departments, artists, designers, and architects.
So, why work in bronze? “It’s regarded as the ‘noble’ material for sculpture because it weathers so well,” says Colm. “And you can faithfully reproduce the fingerprint of an artist, it is so detailed and textured.”
His first break came with a bronze sculpture of a red squirrel to mark Dublin Zoo’s 250th anniversary. He also sculpted the figurehead for the Navy’s training ship, the Asgard, and other works and designs of his can be seen here. With showcase maquettes around his house – and a new studio beside his house – Colm’s work is instantly recognisable.
Much of his inspiration originates in the county of his birth. “I draw a lot on Mayo – both of my parents were born on subsistence farms and I spent holidays on farms, moulding turf on the bogs – it was my kindergarten of form,” says Colm, who was born in Belmullet. “Often, in a dream, I’ll see a finished piece or it will come to me when I’m out walking or playing with materials or clay.” These designs are often in response to a competition/tender for sculpture from particular organisations. “But, you have to spend time in the studio and I spend my working day there.”
Back in Gorey since 2009, his new home draws in the surrounding woodland and brightness of the sunshine. And it’s a book lover’s paradise, with shelves, nooks and crannies packed with books of poetry, short stories, and topics ranging from visual arts to the Irish language, along with notebooks of his drawings and doodles.
And, then there’s the singing, drawing on talents inherited from the singing prowess of both his maternal grandmother and father. “I’m amazed that anyone is interested in the sean nós singing!” he says. And, yet the three full classes booked in for January attest to his enduring skills as a teacher too.
Interview and photos: Deirdre O’Flynn