Tony Downey

Tony Downey, from Ballycastle Co. Antrim, trained as a wood and metalwork teacher at St. Mary’s College London. Having spent a number of years teaching he retired to devote himself full-time to sculpture. He is best known for his sculptured bog oak pieces. Tony is passionate about what he terms the majestic qualities and almost ebony like finish of bog oak. Inspiration for his work comes from the birds and animals that surround him at his country home in Co.Tipperary. The oaks have been carbon dated to a period around 4,000 years ago. Ireland is one of the few places on earth that still has a range of peat lands, better known as bogs. Peat consists of the dead remains of plant life accumulated over thousands of years. As Ireland's last glacial period came to an end about 10,000 years ago, bogs began to form in the wet conditions left behind by the ice. About 4,000 years later the climate changed, becoming drier and enabling oaks, pines, elm and birch to establish themselves. This was followed by a return to wetter conditions and the bog growth recommenced as the surface of the land became waterlogged and the trees died. As they fell they were buried, darkened and preserved in the rapidly growing sphagnum peat. The black oak has been acknowledged to varying degrees in Irish Culture since the 18th Century. It has been used in furniture, jewellery, roofing and fencing and as an enchanted medium for sculptors. Previously the wood was found by ‘spiking’, a procedure whereby a long narrow pole in driven through the surface of the bog repeatedly until it hit a trunk of wood. After working out the direction in which the trunk lay, a hole was dug down to one end and a rope tied to it. With the help of horses the trunk was then sucked from the womb of the bog. Today the wood is exposed and awoken as the peat is harvested for fuel.