Tulach a’ tSolais

Published in 18th–19th - Century History, Issue 3 (Autumn 1999), News, Volume 7

The beautiful and panoramic Oulart Hill in County Wexford was the site of a stunning victory for the United Irishmen in 1798. In recent years its history and natural unspoiled beauty have been sensitively presented to the public by the locally formed Oulart Hill Co-Op. It has since become the site for a fascinating new monument to ‘98 called Tulach a’ tSolais (Mound of Light)—making it one of the foremost ‘98 sites in the country.
Officially opened by Mr. Charlie McCreevy TD, Minister for Finance, on 23 May 1999, Tulach a’ tSolais is a revolutionary design developed by sculptor Michael Warren of Gorey and architect Ronnie Tallon of Dublin. It received solid government financial support, and backed by the direct involvement of the Office of Public Works, it was built in record time in very unhelpful weather conditions by Pierse Contracting Ltd. It is ideally sited and constitutes a unique and necessary statement on 1798. It has delighted the art world in general and thousands attended the opening ceremony including two thousand pikepeople from thirteen counties. The United States, France and Australia were officially represented at the multi-faceted ceremony.
Tulach a’ tSolais commemorates 1798 in its particular context of the Age of Enlightenment whence new ideas came into Ireland from America, France and Scotland in the eighteenth century. These ideas inspired a critical segment of the Irish middle classes of all denominations to come together to elevate people from being subjects (without rights) of monarchs and aristocrats, to citizens in charge of their own state through their votes: in short, to introduce democratic government. They sought to replace the built-in inequality and privilege of the aristocratic world with a vision of inclusiveness, opportunity, and a sense of community: to provide freedom of religion to all the citizens of a new Irish Republic, and to assert the ancient and inalienable right of all the people of Ireland to govern their own land without external interference. Such among others were the ideas that powered the 1798 Rising so famously connected with Oulart Hill.
Tulach a’ tSolais is based loosely on Newgrange. The building of a tulach (mound) over graves was common in ancient Ireland and were seen as connecting the world of the living with the ‘other world’ at certain times of the year. Thus the Irish word tulach carries essential resonances which are used here to relate two worlds separated from each other by powerful social and political changes: the old world of kings and subjects and the modern world of citizens.
To represent this tremendous shift in political power, the monument is bisected by a passage and internal chamber which use the light (solas) to represent the new revolutionary ideas. The two worlds cannot rejoin: kept apart by that whole complex of revolutionary values and aspirations that still inspire and sustain the democratic world. Driven by these ideas, the victory of Oulart Hill led to the establishment of the embryonic Wexford Republic. Alas, the defeat at Vinegar Hill three weeks later marked its collapse. Thus Oulart Hill and Vinegar Hill are linked together in the first rise and fall of popular democracy in Ireland and this achievement is commemorated by focusing the passage of Tulach a’ tSolais on Vinegar Hill.
The central chamber houses two massive oak sculptures which sit on the floor. These very large sculptures curve towards the light just as our ancestors began to raise their eyes in the dawning hope of a new political and social order. These particular oaks were saplings in 1798 and like the ideas of ‘98 they have grown and strengthened over the intervening centuries. The oaks represent the people of Oulart and all similar communities everywhere where freedom is denied. Oulart Hill now ranks among the great outdoor monuments of Ireland and is quietly growing in the whole country’s awareness. Already there is a noticeable trickle of visitors.
When people go to Oulart Hill and visit Tulach a’ tSolais, they will not be met with any gadgets or gimmicks. The most important person the visitor will meet there will be himself or herself. The monument is designed to bring us face to face with ourselves; to make us reflect on the hardships and struggles of those gone before us in far off times; and to make us question ourselves about our own community and our obligations to it in our own day.
A £100,000 debt remains—a tall enough order for the Tulach a’ tSolais Committee, with the 1798 bicentenary receding. Contributions are payable to Mary Prendergast, Treasurer, Tulach a’ tSolais, Oulart, Co. Wexford. Subscribers names will be entered in the Book of Oulart, a beautiful custom-made volume for the purpose.

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