Official Launch of ‘Under Darkening Skies’ – a permanent artwork for the Ballycroy Visitor Centre

Date Released: Thursday, June 23, 2022

The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage are delighted to announce the official launch of ‘Under Darkening Skies’ a public art commission by the visual artist Susan Mannion at the Ballycroy Visitor Centre at Wild Nephin National Park. The artwork was commissioned by the Office of Public Works (OPW) under the Percent for Art Scheme, in collaboration with the NPWS and Mayo County Council Arts Service, to mark the tenth anniversary of the Ballycroy Visitor Centre. 

The artwork was officially launched by Sean Lysaght on June 21st, an auspicious day in the astronomical calendar, being the Summer solstice, the longest day of the year. A day fitting to acknowledge the special connection that Mayo has to the skies above and Wild Nephin’s reputation as a heavenly place (Nephin or Néifinn when translated means sanctuary or heavenly place).  

Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform Malcolm Noonan T.D., has also welcomed the installation of the artwork: “I want to acknowledge this fantastic collaborative project between my staff in the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Arts Service in Mayo County Council and OPW’s Art Management Office.  This inspiring artwork by Susan Mannion will give pause for thought on the importance and beauty of our all-encompassing natural world.  The designation of the Dark Sky Park on the western seaboard of Ireland introduces the next chapter in the evolution of Wild Nephin National Park and the unique opportunities it will bring to the local community and to the wider region.”

Denis Strong, NPWS Divisional Manager said: “The National Parks and Wildlife Service welcome the installation of this stunning art piece ‘Under Darkening Skies’ by Susan Mannion.  It represents the wonder and beauty of our natural world and the importance of environmental education in its protection.  This art will add to the immersive experience at the Visitor Centre and encourage visitors to look up and enjoy our ever-changing skies”’.

The two-stage open competition which saw Susan Mannion’s proposal selected was coordinated by Mayo County Council’s Arts Service in partnership with the OPW. Susan is a visual artist based in Boyle specialising in copper enamel work, a technique that has been used since the 13th century BC.

Susan Mannion

Susan Mannion – Artist of Under Darkening Skies at the Ballycroy Visitor Centre in Wild Nephin National Park (Photo: Sean Molloy)

Aoife O’Toole Acting Public Art Coordinator, Mayo County Council said: “During the selection process the panel were greatly impressed with the artist’s approach to the commission and her proposed artwork inspired by the dark skies and the landscape. Mayo County Council are delighted to have worked with the OPW and NPWS on this commission.”  

Ms Mannion was “spellbound by the majesty and beauty of the night sky” on first viewing the Milky Way while holidaying in Mayo in 2013. Subsequent visits to the National Park followed with Mayo’s naturally dark skies continuing to inspire her with her recounting a feeling of “emotional and protective connection… I loved having the opportunity to create a wall-mounted sculpture combining imagery of the night time skies of this unique site, created in the jewel like qualities and amazing colour range of enamel. I designed a sculpture that would not interfere with, obscure or damage this unique and distinctive setting.”

The artwork was created from enamelled steel and is comprised of seven panels that when combined measures 7 metres in width and 4 metres in height. The steel panels were coated in base coats of black and then white enamel and fired to create a blank canvas onto which colour enamel powder was sifted. Twelve different colours of enamel were applied and then the panels were fired at 810 degrees in huge kilns. ‘Under Darkening Skies’ can be seen on the exterior wall on the Ballycroy Visitor Centre, which is open to the public daily from 10.00 – 17.30 from mid-March to early November. 

Wild Nephin National Park was accredited Gold Tier dark sky place status by the International Dark Sky Association in 2016, with the Mayo Dark Sky Park being Ireland’s first Dark Sky Park. 

The Per Cent for Art scheme is a government initiative that was first introduced in 1978, which allocates 1% of the cost of any publicly funded capital, infrastructural and building development to the commissioning of a work of art. Since 1997 this scheme has been made available to all capital projects across all government departments. 

Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Patrick O’Donovan, T.D., welcomed the completion of the sculpture commissioned for the Ballycroy Visitor Centre: “I would like to congratulate the artist Susan Mannion on creating this work of art which captures the beauty of the night sky over Wild Nephin National Park in such an exciting way. We are very proud to see this sculpture join the OPW State Art Collection. Works from this collection are currently displayed in over 400 locations across Ireland, showcasing Irish art in such varied settings as civil service Departments and public parks, in courts and Garda stations, on paved forecourts and in courtyards. This makes the OPW State Art Collection ‘a museum without walls’ and the most widely distributed art collection in State ownership with the highest percentage of artworks on display –over 90per cent–at any given time.” 

Claire Anderson, managing the project on behalf of the OPW’s Art Management Office stated: “The Office of Public Works is delighted to hear that this Percent For Art Scheme project has come to fruition and that the artwork has been installed for visitors and the local community alike to appreciate and enjoy. The OPW is pleased to have co-operated with NPWS in the development of this visual arts project which will greatly enhance the environment of the Ballycroy Visitor Centre.’

Under Dark Skies Launch Group

From left to right: Ann Marie Mc Ging (Acting Arts Officer, Mayo County Council), Sean Lysaght, Denis Strong (Divisional Manager, NPWS), Susan Callaghan (Wild Nephin Conversion Project Manager, NPWS). Margaret Flaherty (Supervisor Guide, NPWS), Susan Mannion (Artist), Georgia MacMillan (Mayo Dark Sky Park Development Officer, NPWS), Aoife O’Toole (Acting Public Arts Co-ordinator, Mayo County Council). (Photo: Sean Molloy)