If you have ever visited the University of Galway you might have noticed a striking yellow sculpture outside the James Hardiman Library. This is the Cathal Ó’Fríl sculpture, also known as “The yellow thing” by some students. But who was Cathal Ó’Fríl and what does his sculpture represent?

Cathal Ó’Fríl was a renowned Irish sculptor, born in 1920 in Dublin. He studied at the National College of Art and Design and later at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He was influenced by modernist artists such as Picasso, Brancusi and Moore, and developed his own abstract style of sculpture. He worked with various materials, such as wood, stone, metal and concrete, and created many public sculptures in Ireland and abroad.

Some of his notable works include:

  • The Crucifixion (1954), a wooden relief in St. Patrick’s Church, Ringsend, Dublin
  • The Madonna and Child (1958), a bronze statue in St. Mary’s Church, Haddington Road, Dublin
  • The Family Group (1961), a concrete sculpture in Ballyfermot Civic Centre, Dublin
  • The Sunburst (1965), a steel sculpture in Shannon Airport, Co. Clare
  • The Wave (1970), a concrete sculpture in University College Dublin
  • The Flight of the Earls (1971), a bronze sculpture in Rathmullan, Co. Donegal
  • The Famine Memorial (1977), a bronze sculpture in St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin

The Cathal Ó’Fríl sculpture on the University grounds was commissioned in 1972 and unveiled in 1973. It is made of steel and painted yellow. It consists of three curved elements that form a dynamic shape that suggests movement and energy.

The sculpture has been interpreted in different ways by different viewers. Some see it as a representation of a boat or a fish, reflecting Galway’s maritime heritage. Others see it as a symbol of learning or enlightenment, echoing the university’s motto “Deo favente” (“With God’s favour”). Others see it as an abstract expression of the artist’s vision, without any specific meaning.

The sculpture has been appreciated and admired by many people who recognise its artistic value and significance. It has become a landmark and a focal point on the campus, attracting visitors and students alike. It has inspired creativity and curiosity among those who encounter it. It has also been featured in various media and publications, such as books, films and postcards.

The Cathal Ó’Fríl sculpture is more than just a “yellow thing”. It is a tribute to one of Ireland’s most influential sculptors and a reflection of Galway’s culture and identity. It is a piece of art that challenges and engages its viewers, inviting them to explore its form and meaning.


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Cathal Ó Fríl Sculpture



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