Tripping the Light Fantastic with the Tinneys
Pete Jonno appreciates Strabane's heavy metal
Strabane may have been known for many things over the years, but in recent times, the Tyrone town has made something of a name for itself as the home of one of the most exciting and engaging pieces of public art in Northern Ireland.
‘Let The Dance Begin’ is a collection of five steel and bronze figures that stand eighteen feet tall at the busiest junction in the town. The striking figures are unmissable by any passers by and have rapidly been taken into the hearts of the people of Strabane as a provocative and positive emblem of the town.
Almost immediately after the figures were installed in December 2000, they became locally known as the ‘Tinney’s’ (because they look as if they are made from tin) and were soon celebrated as Strabane’s most famous residents.
The artist who managed to create this piece of work that is both universally loved and artistically daring was Maurice Harron, a schoolteacher from Derry who has created a series of public works across Ireland and beyond.
The challenge of the commission was to create a piece of public art which would occupy the site of a former British Army border checkpoint in the town, which had been decommissioned following the ceasefires. Following the removal of the base, speculation was rife as to what would be done with the site, in a prime public location on the border between Tyrone and Donegal. However, the final piece exceeded all expectations as to what might be achieved.
Harron crafted the five figures from rough cut steel and shaped them into a circle of five characters, with a drummer, a flautist and a fiddle player apparently performing for a young couple who look to be preparing to dance.
All of you art critics can speculate on who the soon to be dancers represent – is there a cross-community and/or a cross border message here? Is that a loyalist marching band flute and drum, with a traditional Irish fiddler? Is the offer to dance being accepted or refused? Or is just a night’s craic in the best Strabane tradition?
That is for the viewer to speculate. But what is not in doubt is that the piece has become an instant landmark and cultural identifier for the town. Already Strabane has engaged with the piece constructively, with the Tinneys being draped in Tyrone GAA shirts on the two recent occasions that the O’Neill County has won the All-Ireland football title.
So who knows what future events may mean for the Tinney’s wardrobe? What can be said for certain is that they have put a spring in the cultural step of Strabane, and reminded us all of the role that public art can play in our home towns – who will be next to crack open a few Tinney’s?