Tom Roche pictured in his Rhode workshop with the wooden mock-up depicting Concern founder Fr Jack Finucane
THE Offaly man who built and jointly designed a memorial to two of the key founders of Concern has spoken of how privileged he feels to be involved in the project.
Environmental campaigner and craftsman Tom Roche is putting the finishing touches to a public art piece in memory of brothers Aengus and Jack Finucane which will be installed in Limerick city on the Shannon river bank.
A native of Tullamore who lives in Rhode, Mr Roche and a former apprentice of his, Dublin-based furniture designer Knut Klimmek (pictured below), won a competition to design and build the memorial.
After a couple of years of work at his home workshop, Mr Roche says the larger than life figures of the two deceased priests will be brought to Limerick later this month.
At 2.2 metres high and weighing in at a tonne, moving the steel and stone creations from Offaly will present a significant challenge.
Luckily, a couple of businesses in the county came to Tom's rescue.
When it was mentioned to him that Tullamore-based company Palfinger could have a solution, Mr Roche met the owner Seamus Kane.
He did not know Mr Kane but recalled saying to him: “Tom Roche is my name and I was told you might be able to help me. I said I've two guys over in Rhode who need a lift to Limerick... I'd like you to pick them up with your crane.”
After being told the “two guys” weren't regular humans, Mr Kane “never blinked an eye” and rang O'Grady Crane Hire & Transport in Clonbullogue and simply said: “I have a job for you, I'll cover the diesel, you do the rest.”
With that, Tommy and Liam O'Grady agreed to move the load to Limerick free of charge.
Ground work in Limerick is scheduled to start soon and Mr Roche expects the on-site installation to take place towards the end of July.
Tom Roche is a long-time admirer of the Finucane brothers and their global aid work. Sustainable forestry has been a particular focus of the Offaly man's campaigning and Aengus Finucane officially opened one of his exhibitions, the Wood of Life in St Mary's Youth Centre, Tullamore.
The 50th anniversary of the foundation of Concern by the Finucanes, both priests, fell in 2018 and a few years ago ideas for a permanent public tribute to the brothers were sought and Mr Roche was delighted when the entry he jointly submitted with Knut Klimmek was selected.
“I find it hard to put words on this and I have to pinch myself every now and again to realise I'm doing it. It's a privilege, that's the only thing I can say,” said Mr Roche, who will be 73 in August.
“It's a lovely legacy to leave behind me in the public arena.”
A carpenter by trade, Tom grew up in Chapel Street, Tullamore and his father Jack was a boatman on the Grand Canal, moving goods like Tullamore DEW, Pullough brick and Guinness by barge to Dublin and back.
When he was running his own handcrafted furniture workshop in the Tanyard, Knut Klimmek, son of a Wexford-based German industrialist, was his trainee for two years in the 1980s.
The pair have kept in touch and were happy to collaborate on the memorial design. “Knut is a fabulous artist and between us, his artistic skills and my development education mentality, we were able to graphically convert the concept of the design brief into actual understandable shapes,” said Tom.
“Then Knut, using his technology skills, converted all our thoughts and scribbles into a 3D graphic which we submitted to the Concern selection committee as our interpretation of Concern’s design brief.”
Tom trained in welding so he could craft the steel frames which represent the two men, having first made timber mock-ups of the shapes. One of the brothers is depicted in deep thought while the other appears to be using all his force against a stone wall.
“They're only representative of a human, they're not a lookalikes, they're not meant to be,” he explained. “They're larger than life figures to reflect the two Finucanes' life. Aengus was the action man in Concern, that's why he's pushing the wall, and Jack was the thinker.”
Concern’s vision for this tribute to the Finucane brothers was that it should be a place where passers-by stop to rest, a place of quiet reflection, but also where one might be inspired to act for the poor of Africa.
While the representations of the Finucanes and the stone wall will be the most visually striking parts of the memorial (designers' impression reproduced below), it will also feature a wooden bench, shaped to mirror the bend of the river Shannon.
The memorial will be located on Barrington's Pier in the city and is sponsored by Limerick City Council and others, including a Concern supporter who wishes to remain anonymous.
Aengus and Jack Finucane were Holy Ghost missionaries based in west Africa in 1968 when Concern shipped powdered food, medicines, and batteries to aid victims of the war in Biafra.
In 1970 Concern organised help when a cyclone hit Bangladesh (then known as East Pakistan) and it grew to become a global organisation.
The Finucane brothers dedicated their lives to the work of Concern and were honoured as Freemen of Limerick City in 2005.
Fr Aengus Finucane died in 2009 at the age of 77 and Fr Jack Finucane was 80 when he passed away in 2017.
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