By Ray O’Hanlon
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern will be in New York next week to attend the unveiling of a sculpture at the United Nations marking Famine-era Irish migration to the new world.
The bronze sculpture, which depicts a Famine era coffin ship, is entitled "Arrival" and is the work of Irish artist John Behan.
The sculpture’s unveiling will take place at the plaza fronting the East River at the UN’s Manhattan headquarters.
The sculpture is a gift of the people of Ireland to the United Nations and is designed to reflect the contributions of Irish people to other countries around the world.
"Arrival," which will be roughly 8 meters high and 7 long, was commissioned by the Irish government’s Office of Public Works.
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It is being linked in both in style and theme to Ireland’s National Famine Memorial at Murrisk, Co. Mayo.
The Murrisk work, also of a Famine-era Coffin Ship, is characterized by highly symbolic skeletal rigging.
By contrast, the "Arrival" sculpture focuses on those who survived a nightmarish transAtlantic voyage of the 1840s or ’50s.
Roughly 150 figures have been cast in bronze by Behan. Most of them stand on the ship’s deck, but some are depicted descending the gangplanks.
Behan is one of Ireland’s leading contemporary artists and his works are owned by individuals as varied as President Clinton, Placido Domingo and Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands.
"Arrival" was cast in a Dublin foundry and shipped to New York in August. It was positioned on the lawn fronting the UN building in September.
The taoiseach will formally present the sculpture to the UN’s deputy secretary general, Louise Fréchette, at a ceremony on Friday afternoon, Dec. 1.
The unveiling will be followed by a dinner at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel hosted by Minister of State Martin Cullen on behalf of the Office of Public Works. Ahern will be the special guest at the dinner.