PORTADOWN has lost out on its highly-publicised project to erect a large bronze statue of Olympic gold medallist Dame Mary Peters.
As the legendary lady of athletics stars in a meet-and-greet role at the London Olympics, the Portadown Times has learned that the project is likely to be transferred to the Mary Peters Track in Belfast, which is undergoing a £3m upgrade.
The promotional group Portadown 2000 first mooted the idea five years ago, along with the planned £30m Olympic rowing lake at the Bann Meadows, which has since sunk without trace.
John Sherlock, the Belfast sculptor lined up for the Portadown project - a 150 per cent size statue of Dame Mary - is working on the new Belfast project, which will be a life-size image of the pentathlon hero of Munich 1972.
The Portadown Times understands that the sculpture was planned for the Pleasure Gardens, with ‘Bronze Mary’ looking across the river towards the old College at Bann House where she was head girl in 1956. She enthusiastically gave her blessing to the project, fuelled by her love for Portadown, and actually ‘sat’ for Mr Sherlock. But it was jettisoned soon afterwards through lack of funding.
Dame Mary is understood to be hurt and embarrassed by the whole affair.
Arnold Hatch, former chairman of Portadown 2000, said that the borough council refused to fund the project, but a spokeswoman for the council retorted, “The plans were never formally submitted to the Civic Centre for members’ consideration. There were verbal discussions between Portadown 2000 and council directors, but that’s as far as it got.”
The design was inspired by the iconic picture of Mary on the Munich podium, coupled with her medal and the five Olympic rings.
It is also known that Mr Sherlock prepared moulds and sketches for the work, but with the new project almost certain to come to fruition, he is preparing new designs for the life-size sculptor, with the track almost certainly the venue when the upgrade is complete for next year’s athletic season.
Mary has been unavailable for comment at the Olympics, but she was quoted in Saturday’s Daily Mail ‘Weekend Magazine’ as being thrilled and confirming, “John Sherlock is doing a life-size statue of me”, adding that he had agreed to have three copies of her medal made, “so that she could give the others to my great-nieces”. The original gold medal is on show at the Ulster Museum.
Mr Sherlock is keeping his powder dry over the Portadown fiasco, but it is known that he put in months of work into the project before it bit the dust. He has not been in touch with Portadown 2000 for some time, and is keenly preparing a new statue for Belfast. A source close to him said he wanted nothing more to do with Portadown 2000.
It is known, however, that the borough council refused to fund the £30m rowing lake project and it, too, was abandoned after a bitter row climaxed with the then Portadown 2000 chairman Brian Walker standing down. When the Portadown Times contacted him on both issues, he refused to comment.