Larne’s £80k jaunting car public art plan sparks lively debate

Larne people are being asked to give their views on a proposed life-size sculpture of Henry McNeill.
Larne people are being asked to give their views on a proposed life-size sculpture of Henry McNeill.

Plans for an £80k public art piece celebrating Larne’s tourism’s founding father have sparked a lively debate that looks set to gather momentum this Saturday (November 16).

Sculptor Kevin Killen has been commissioned to create the piece which will acknowledge the contribution of hotelier Henry McNeill, who brought visitors to the area from Scotland in the late 1800s.

Jaunting cars lined the street outside his hotel to take them on trips along the Antrim coast and this will be reflected in a life-size sculpture of a jaunting car with horse and driver. It will be located at the junction of Pound Street and The Roddens, close to both Larne Museum & Arts Centre and Larne Town Hall.

Mid and East Antrim Council is providing £8,000 with £72,000 secured from the Department for Communities for the project. It is supported by Larne Renovation Generation, which has been rejuvenating town centre locations with art initiatives.

Since the proposal went public many people have taken to social media with alternative suggestions of where the piece should be displayed, asking if the money could have been spent in other areas or voicing their approval.

The Mayor, Councillor Maureen Morrow, said: “This fantastic sculpture, which renowned sculptor Kevin Killen has been commissioned to create, is a great way of marrying art and tourism.

“The artwork would be a striking new landmark for visitors and locals to enjoy, and a wonderful legacy to a local man who achieved so much personally and for his home town.

“As a council we are committed to investment in our town centres and tourism. This sculpture will be an excellent addition to Larne and a stunning piece of art for the local community to enjoy.”

Holidaying in Mid and East Antrim is on the rise, according to recent figures released by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, with more than £51m spent by visitors to the borough last year.

The area has seen a 17% increase in tourism revenue and an 11% increase in jobs in the sector from 2015 to 2017. The statistics show that more than 296,000 overnight trips were made in Mid and East Antrim in 2018 - a jump of more than 40,000 on the previous year.

Members of the community are asked to get involved in the jaunting car sculpture project and contribute their views at a special event this Saturday (3-4pm), at Larne Museum. Local historian Liam Kelly will speak on the history and significance of the jaunting car and tourism in the development of Larne. This will be followed by a short presentation and workshop by the artist on the proposed sculpture and offering the community an opportunity to contribute to the final stages of its design.

Spaces are limited so those interested should contact Larne Museum & Arts Centre on 028 28262443 to register their interest in advance.

Separate workshops are also planned to take place with students in secondary-level schools over the next few weeks.