9th October 2015

Breathtaking New Sculpture for Bessbrook

“know ye the fame of the bright little river, Which floweth through Bessbrook from moorland and lea, Between blue waving flax-flowers and rushes which quiver, He runs his short course from the lake to the sea.”

This is the opening verse of “The Ballad of Camlough River”, by James N Richardson, which was used as inspiration when designing the sculpture for the mill pond. Today saw the launch of Bessbrook s Flax Flower sculpture by artist Alan Burke.

This opening verse sets the scene of the origins of Camlough river. The river that flows from Camlough lake, born of fire and ice, to be harnessed at Bessbrook pond to power the mill in Bessbrook, which in turn drove the local economy, forging communities and a social scene that survives to this day.

Key to this all is the flax plant. Without it, the river may have ran its course to the sea largely unmentioned. The production, processing and eventual weaving of the fibre from this plant is why the river rose to fame. The geography of the area, the quality of the water and the ability to grow flax locally, conspired to grow the linen industry in the locality of Bessbrook.

The artwork also has a woven pattern fabricated into its structure representative of the linen industry which used the flax as its raw material. This was also used to form the basis of a community project with local schools that highlights the woven and intertwined nature of different communities within the area. Reminding each other of the common ground of a shared history and heritage.

At the launch Chairperson Councillor Naomi Bailie said, “It’s said that Art has the ability to reach across boundaries, inspiring, teaching and bringing people together, this project has shown that is true with people from all ages and backgrounds coming together for these two pieces of art in Bessbrook and Camlough. We know that art makes a positive difference to communities and I am very happy to be here today to launch the latest, and hopefully not the last, public art for Newry, Mourne and Down District Council.”

The public art is part of The Ring of Gullion Landscape Partnership, a Heritage Lottery Fund programme to conserve and enhance some of the region’s most treasured landscapes. Newry, Mourne and Down District Council are managing the £1.4 million programme. The scheme aims to engage people with the Ring of Gullion Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and surrounding landscape.

Rosemary Mulholland, Chairperson of the Bessbrook Heritage Group said, “With the demise of linen production in the mid 1900s, fields of blue-flowered flax no longer appear in our countryside.  Most people have never seen the one plant which was essential to the creation of villages like Bessbrook.  This amazing sculpture will be a constant reminder and celebration of the flax which was grown throughout the Bessbrook and Camlough areas, spun and woven here in the Mill and exported all over the world.”

Attendees at the launch were given a special preview of short films by local company Slack Press about the two pieces of public art. They are available at

This project was part-financed by the European Union’s PEACE III Programme managed by the SEUPB; the Arts Council of Northern Ireland; and the International Fund for Ireland’


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