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Ireland's new art gallery: the highway

Ann Lane photographs roadside sculptures that adorn Ireland's new highway system.

TRALEE, Ireland — One day some years ago, when traveling along a road near Killarney in County Kerry, Ann Lane came across what she described as a “magnificent sight.” On top of a rocky embankment a white horse with a unicorn helmet reared up on its hind legs, as if looking out over the soft, heather-clad mountains.

It was a life-size sculpture, known as the “Capall Mor,” or ‘Big Horse.”

Thus began Lane's fascination with the hundreds of figures and statues that have appeared along Ireland’s highways and byways during the upgrading of the country’s road network in the last two decades. The phenomenon stems from a government mandate that a fraction of road-building budgets should be devoted to the placing of art pieces along the expanding road system. A public servant based in Dublin, Lane began taking note of other such art work, much of it modernistic, on stretches of road in every county she passed through on journeys out of the capital. Last year 63-year-old Lane, who currently works as an aide in the Irish parliament to independent Senator Ivana Bacik, decided to chronicle all the worthwhile roadside art she could locate. She began making forays into the countryside on her Honda 1785 motorbike, pulling up only to photograph sculptures on the banks of newly built by-passes and motorways.

“Sometimes I would travel 700 or 800 miles in a weekend,” she said. “So far I have photographed 650 pieces and driven 13,800 miles, and probably have another thousand to go.”

Photographing the sculptures as traffic sped by at 75 miles an hour (Ireland’s motorway speed limit), or more, posed obvious problems.

“I didn't mind the climbing of banks, but running across motorways is hazardous to one's health!” Lane remarked with a laugh.

Her quest is nearing completion and the unique ccollection of road art photographs will be published in book form in 2010.

“The ‘Capall Mor’ is the piece that got me hooked in the beginning,” she said. “I thought it was absolutely magnificent and I wanted to see more.”