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Hannan Greg

PIETA, 2009

(Cork City, 29th of May, 2006)

Cork is Ireland’s second largest city. As a sculptor in residence there for two months in the Spring of 2006, I walked daily the breadth of City Centre, crossing bridges that spanned both forks of the River Lee as they collar the city, then opening to become a fjord that wends its way to the Atlantic, 20 or so miles on. As such, Cork harbor is the second largest harbor in the world. Often on the bridges, either upstream or downstream, I would see a government fixed-hull inflatable craft cruising slowly between the channel and quays. One morning on Saint Patrick Bridge I noticed a rapidly moving succession of bubbles going against the current. I had watched sea lions in both forks, making meals of mullet on the tide, but these bubbles looked more to me like those that sea otter would make. Upstream though, about 50 feet, the bubbles ceased to move, and suddenly a red-flagged buoy broke the surface and glowed in rare morning sunlight. Denizens of the alleys, driven by fast news, began to line the rails on both sides of the North Fork, and I stood with them. In talking I learned that two of their own had separately pitched themselves in the night before, and as we watched, the glistening heads of the divers in their wet-suits broke the surface, with three of six climbing into the inflatable to receive a new passenger.
When they hauled the man up, rigor mortis had already set in and the task of lifting could be accomplished by a hand grabbing the apex of an elbow and pants loop at the same time. The man, or the current had shed him of his shirt and shoes and white Irish skin unaccustomed to sun seemed iridescent in the light and in stark contrast to his head which had gone indigo-black down to his neck. His teeth shone in a gritting smile when hardening peeled back his lips. As the divers first broke the surface with the man, a collective spontaneous howl arose from both sides of the river, and for a few moments drowned out the traffic and sundry sounds of the city. Men and women, red-faced by drink (and this moment) shook their fists at the sky and just screamed. The sound rose to course upriver as others emerged to take up the lament. The victim of his own means was obviously a favorite son. I was quite taken by the solemnity and care with which the divers showed as they placed the man, and covered him; no comic relief as I had known under similar circumstances. I was moved as well by the rage that Cork’s indigent community expressed. In later conversation with a Garda I was told the divers pull as many as five bodies out a week. The River Lee is thought to have a curse. If so, then all Irish Rivers do.
PIETA, 2009 (Cork City, 29th of May, 2006), Acrylic on paper 22” x 44” Artist collection