If you are visiting Galway, you might notice a striking sculpture on the grounds of the University of Galway. The Twin Spires statue, made of bronze and steel, depicts two abstract figures reaching upwards. The sculpture was commissioned by the University to mark the opening of the Arts Millennium Building in 2000, and it is the work of one of Ireland’s most renowned sculptors, John Behan.

The Twin Spires statue was inspired by a poem by Patrick Kavanagh (1904-1967), one of the most influential Irish poets of the 20th century. Kavanagh was born in County Monaghan, and his poetry often reflected his rural upbringing and his love for nature. He also wrote about his experiences in Dublin, where he moved in 1939, and where he became part of a vibrant literary scene that included writers such as W.B. Yeats, Samuel Beckett, and Flann O’Brien.

The poem that inspired the Twin Spires statue is called “Sanctity”, and it was written in 1954. It is a short but powerful poem that expresses Kavanagh’s struggle with his artistic vocation and his personal life. The poem reads:

To be a poet and not know the trade,
To be a lover and repel all women.
Twin ironies by which great saints are made,
The agonising pincer-jaws of heaven.

In these four lines, Kavanagh reveals his frustration with his inability to master his craft as a poet, and his failure to find love as a man. He compares himself to a saint, who is also tormented by the contradictions between his spiritual calling and his human desires. He uses the metaphor of “the agonising pincer-jaws of heaven” to describe the pain that comes from pursuing a higher ideal, while being trapped in a mortal body.

John Behan, the sculptor of the Twin Spires statue, was also influenced by Kavanagh’s poetry. Behan was born in Dublin in 1938, and he studied at the National College of Art and Design. He is best known for his sculptures of animals, especially horses and bulls, which he often uses to symbolise Irish history and culture. He has also created sculptures of human figures, such as famine victims, emigrants, and rebels.

Behan chose to create a sculpture based on Kavanagh’s poem “Sanctity” because he felt a connection with the poet’s dilemma. He said: “I identified with Kavanagh’s predicament as an artist who felt he had not achieved recognition or success”. Behan also admired Kavanagh’s honesty and courage in expressing his feelings through his poetry.

The Twin Spires statue is Behan’s interpretation of Kavanagh’s poem. He said: “The two figures represent the twin ironies of being a poet and a lover. They are reaching up to heaven, but they are also bound by their earthly condition”. The sculpture is made of bronze and steel, which contrast each other in colour and texture. The bronze figures are smooth and shiny, while the steel spires are rough and rusty. The sculpture also has a dynamic movement, as if the figures are about to take off or collapse.

The Twin Spires statue is not only a tribute to Patrick Kavanagh, but also to Galway’s role as a centre of culture and education in Ireland. The sculpture is located on the campus of the University of Galway, which is one of Ireland’s leading universities. The university offers courses in arts, humanities, social sciences, science, engineering, medicine, law, business, and more. 

The Twin Spires statue is a symbol of Galway’s commitment to fostering creativity and excellence in its academic and artistic communities. It is also a reminder of the challenges and rewards that come with pursuing one’s passion and vision. As Patrick Kavanagh wrote in another poem:

“And I said let grief be a fallen leaf
At the dawning of the day.”


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Twin Spires Statue



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