The Irish Sky Garden
The “Irish Sky Garden” is a giant earth and stone crater embedded into the landscape of the Liss Ard Estate gardens. The place gives the viewer a totally unique opportunity to admire and enjoy the “celestial vault”.
The Sky Garden at Liss Ard Country House Estate is one of only two in the world designed by the American sculptor James Turrell. Designed and constructed under the his close observation, considered the greatest American Land Art Artist. He has turned the Crater into a massive naked-eye observatory. The artwork consists of an archway, a long megalithic-like passage, and stairs leading to an oval shaped, grass-lined crater, which measures 50 x 25 metres.
Its design allows, either in daylight or at night, for the viewer to truly experience the sky at that particular moment in time without any distractions or impediments. Against the soft green background of the grass and the closely cropped top edge of the Crater no distractions remain to draw the viewer’s eye, what is left is just the sky, the Irish Sky.
The Artist creates anticipation, wonder and joy for the viewer both in terms of the simplicity of the idea and the complexity of the construction. Each element has been carefully engineered to appear natural (but in fact not one element has been left to chance.) This attention to detail insures that each element is experienced in the way that the artist intended, almost like he was standing at your shoulder whispering in your ear what to do next.
Commissioned by a previous owner of Liss Ard it is part of a complex of such installations it cost in excess of €500,000. Inspiration was drawn from a variety of sources and traditions including, Celtic, Egyptian and Mayan archaeological concepts and buildings but primarily the original Liss Ard close by the site on the actual estate. Irish traditions and pisheógs (fairy curses) would never allow for the interference with that actual site for fear of disturbing the fairies or spirits that dwell there.
The entrance is through a henge type stone arch signifying the first transition or birth, from a gladed wood with a pond through a long womb like structural passage before a steep climb up some steps into the still and silent, oval, bowl shaped interior which measures 50 mtrs x 25. The acoustics are such that not a sound can be heard from outside and visitors are encouraged to explore in silence. In the centre there is a stone plinth (not unlike an Egyptian sarcophagus) where you can lie back to get a full view of the elliptical shape that frames the sky and ultimately your vision of the universe (and beyond).
James Turrell intended that the Crater be visited by very small groups of people and in fact two is the perfect number. The ‘Vault Purchase’ (stone plinth) is designed for two lying toe to toe, their necks resting on the ‘Neck Roll’ allowing them to view this amazing framing of the Irish Sky.
In the centre of the crater’s “bowl” is a large stone “vault purchase” or plinth (not unlike an Egyptian sarcophagus). This is where the visitor should lie back and look at the sky, which is framed by the edges of the elliptical crater.
“The most important thing is that inside turns into outside and the other way around, in the sense that relationships between the Irish landscape and the Irish sky changes” (James Turrell).