Dark Night of the Soul

Swimming for me, as for many of you my readers, provides a valuable part of my life, not least of which is the meditative and mostly non-stressful pursuit, where we swim not just in water waves, but also in alpha-waves. (Though occasionally the more dangerous the water is, the better for my mood and preference).

But as I’ve written recently I’ve been burnt out recently. After eight consecutive years I am skipping the 1700 metre Sandycove Island Challenge, the largest participation open water swim in Ireland, having swam it in the famously awful year of the washing machine in 2006, swimming while sick with ‘flu in 2009, swimming with a very injured shoulder in 2010, and setting a PB in 2013.

As you may know, the long (in Internet terms) history of this blog led to me developing my creative side both in writing and in photography. All three aspects of my life are now inextricably linked for me. I get ideas for articles while I’m swimming, see places I want to capture while travelling to and from swimming, go to photograph something and think I’d like to swim there, write an article that requires me to swim somewhere or photograph something else. It’s all circular and linked.

The sidebar always features my three most recent Flickr images (and therefore usually my best photographs). Many of those are not directly related to swimming but it is through photography that I sometimes end in places I’d never otherwise have visited, just as it is with swimming.

So when dealing with swimming burn-out combined with a life falling apart and enduring a seemingly interminable and very dark night of the soul, if I can’t even swim, I can still write or try to take photographs. Sometimes it’s just me and a camera or a keyboard. Readers and viewers never exist in the moments of swimming, writing or shooting.

It was on Flickr I recently discovered the little known Indian Sculpture Park in Roundwood in the Wicklow Mountains, (near Lough Dan, site of the Ice Mile Invitational). I thought for the first time in two years∗ I’d do a non-swimming related post in the pursuit of dealing with the aforementioned dark night

The park is also known as Victoria’s Way. The entrance fee is a mere €2.50 per adult and there’s no ticket taker. Put your money in a slot. Children free, dogs welcome. Enter through a (metaphorically appropriate) vagina, but one with teeth. (Also reminiscent of H.R. Geiger’s divisive surreal work).

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After the entrance there’s a large lawn with sculptures at each corner and the centre. The park was created by a German man, Victor Langland, who at 5 years old survived the fire-bombing of Dresden. Independently wealthy after his father died, he created the park out of his own money.

The park website is “quirky (i.e. it looks like a 90’s Geocities design from HTML 2.0 days, it’s just missing some flashing gifs). You will only find the seven main sculptures there and little other information. There is equally little information in the actual park and I had to dig around a bit online to find out more. This short Independent.ie article is probably the most informative and there’s a YouTube interview and tour here thought the sound isn’t working well for me.

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There are four Ganesha  playing instruments, including Paddy O’Ganesh on the main lawn. Ganesh is the patron of wisdom and science and the remover of obstacles. There are another two dancing Ganeshes facing these. All are about seven feet tall. One of The Musical Ganeshes aka Ganeshas (not to be confused with the horse-trading Ganeshes of Poulnamucca), Paddy O’Ganesh (its actual Park name) wears a flat cap with a shamrock and plays Uileann pipes.

Uileann pipes are the Irish bagpipes, which unlike the better known Scottish version must be played sitting down, weren’t used in warfare therefore, and have a more haunting tone. Here’s famous Irish Uileann piper Davy Spillane playing the equally famous “Caoineadh Cú Chulainn(“Lament for Cú Chulainn”, Ireland’s most famous mythological son). Normally I dislike “Oirishness” as portrayed by non-Irish people, but I really liked the honesty of this.

Indian Sculpture Park Paddy O Ganesh IMG_1194.resized

Irish monks of the fifth and sixth centuries added an Irish aspect to early Christianity and why should Hinduism be any different?

Each of the Ganesh statues had a companion, each of whom has some aspect of modernity (like a laptop) and Paddy O’Ganesh’s has a pint of “Genius”. This is better than the usual bloody Guinness of most lazy Irish advertising. These companions are apparently part of normal Ganesha iconography, one of the 4 incarnations of Lord Ganesha uses a mouse as a vehicle/mount, and hence he is also known by the names Mūṣakavāhana (mouse-mount) and Ākhuketana (rat-banner). This one wears one of those stupid Darby O’Gill/leprechaun top hats that have never existed in Ireland.

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In fairness to the artist, he is German and this is not representative of the place and if any of the wealthy Celtic Tiger gobshites and politicians had shown a fraction of the creativeness and honesty of this place, Ireland wouldn’t be the wasteland it’s become for the past six years with so many lives devastated and even lost to despair, while so many others just went about their business.

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Also on the lawn are other sculptures such as the Wisdom Seat (detail above, getting artsy) , which is empty and in which anyone can sit. Maybe I should have tried it.

You leave the lawn and travel though an “enchanted forest” (really, that’s the posted name) to the seven main statues.The path winds circuitously through it, most sculptures only becoming apparent in the last few metres.

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Birth From Decay

A person is born from the decay which preceded them. The first of the seven major forest sculptures representing seven stages of life according to the signs.

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Lord Krishna and the Demon – who came in the form of a woman to breastfeed him, and thereby poison and kill him. But the infant Lord Krishna kills her buy sucking all her blood out. The demon can be seen pushing him away whilst Krishna hangs on and kills her.

All the statues are large and carved in India, mostly carved from black granite based on Victor Langland’s designs, before being shipped to Ireland.

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With an alternating sunny and overcast day the dynamic range of the mostly black sculptures was a challenge, with overexposed and underexposed parts. The previous few photos are rubbish as a consequence.

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Detail from The Split Man.

“Create Or” engraved on a sword piercing the man, while his back is pierced by another in his back which says “Die Or”. The swords are held by disembodied hands, but the Split Man holds the hands which hold the swords.


More detail of The Split Man. Which do you see, the Split or the Scream?

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Each of the major statues is accompanied by explanatory text.

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Dark Night Of The Soul

This is an absolutely stunning and huge sculpture. Unlike the others, this is a black bronze statue based on an original and smaller Fasting Buddha statue in Pakistan.

Dark Night of The Soul

Dark Night of The Soul – available as large print

Above is one of the better photos I shot on the day.

The sculpture that originally caught my attention and led me to the Indian Sculpture Park was The Ferryman’s End. The Ferryman’s boat sinks and without it he dies. The boat is a person’s capacity to create “bits of difference” and anyone “who creates difference and so generates realness (i.e. new worlds) is a ferryman“.

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According to this interpretation, at least through this blog I am a Ferryman who isn’t sinking, but I don’t feel that way, and it was the visual portrayal of disconnection and hopelessness that attracted me initially when I knew nothing of the metaphor or title of the piece.


The enclosed location, the shade and the water make this sculpture appear the oldest due to lichen and moss. As with most of the sculptures the closely enclosed location surrounded by trees made photographic isolation of the subject very difficult (i.e. make it stand out and apart from the surrounds).

I could have shot more of the simple representational images but I wasn’t interested in that. Sometimes photography is not about showing the viewer simple reality, but is about showing them what or how the photographer wants them to see. Such is the approach I prefer, that I want you to see something, even if it’s not exactly how it would look “in the real world“.

It is this choice, for me anyway, that moves photography into the artistic realm, rather than photo-journalistic representation, which has its own important place.

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A plaque says the park is dedicated to the memory of mathematician Alan Turing. If you know much about computers or even World War Two’s Bletchly Park and the Enigma Project, you’ll know about Turing and his seminal place and life and subsequent tragic death.

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These stupas (there are six of seven in total) are the newest addition and while complete in place, their plinths are still unfinished and there are still assembly markings on parts. T’Interwebs says these were early Buddhist burial mounds and also represent the mind of Buddha.

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A Differential Equation m f (q)

Each stupa has some mathematical equation on it. I don’t know about any specific connections between Turing and this park. I wondered if perhaps the connection lay in Turing’s work in clarifying the difference between consciousness and artificial intelligence and the boundaries between them and the recognition thereof.


I wonder if it’s a comment on the dissolution of intelligence in a modern entertainment driven culture, where people abdicate exploratory living in favour of passive consuming entertainment? Everyone will find different interpretations and questions.  As open water swimmers most of feel that many of the people we know otherwise don’t fully physically engage with the world outside and around them as we do.

Indian Sculpture Park IMG_1245.resizedLeaving the forest, the path winds between a few small ponds. Photographically the increasingly-grey day needed more obvious early morning atmosphere. I saw an otter leave one pond and cross the path in front of me so the well-maintained ponds are not as lifeless as they appear.

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On the surface of the last pond sits Lord Shiva, representative of enlightenment which in the Hindu/Buddhist view is the goal of life.

To an atheist like myself (note, like myself, no atheist speaks for any other atheist), this is a better goal than what seems the bile and divisiveness of many other religions which apparently care mostly about condemning people for not being part of their special club and for breaking rules which are a direct contradiction to the requirements of living a compassionate and honest life.

Indian Sculpture park A Better Mona Lisa IMG_1249.resized

(Also available as a high-resolution limited edition print).

This is my other favourite image from the park.

One of the last sculptures, I was entranced by the Hindu or Buddhist Eve, which you could easily dismiss at first glance. It sits outside a simple photo gallery (in a shed) showing the creation of the Hindusculptures in India.

It is so at odds with the misogynistic Christian portraits and statues of women that I grew up with, where women could only be whores or mothers. It’s full of honest love and compassion, the word most missing from so much religion, where compassion is only given if one accepts the particular precepts of the particular religious club.

There’s a tiny shop of Hindu and Buddhist bronzes and jewellery, which all seem quite reasonably priced if you are into that kind of thing. Certainly less than equivalent knick-knacks from souvenir shops with no meaning. The shop was unattended, payment was based on your honesty.

What you take from the park is entirely up to you. Whether a nice relaxing hour’s walk in some place that welcomes dogs (the Doglet loved it), a place to mediate or think further about your life or just a chance to appreciate some stunning and unusual art. Maybe all these or more, or less.

I expect as the years pass this place will become far better known. It’s not a destination for excitement, but I thought it was all quite extraordinary. The park is open from 12.30pm to 6pm from May until September 21st. You’ve got two days left this year.

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∗ Though it’s been a long time, I have previously featured posts of places I’ve gone in lieu of swimming.

(Some of you may have seen a briefer version of this post from my Twitter/Imgur accounts, as it hit the front page of reddit. The full context was absent in the briefer tour.  It took two years for loneswimmer to reach 250,000 views. My Imgur album of this reached 400,000 in about 18 hours, viral indeed. Writing is far harder work than photography.)

9 thoughts on “Dark Night of the Soul

  1. Simply want to say your article is as amazing. The clearness in your post is simply great and i could assume you’re an expert on this subject. Well with your permission allow me to grab your feed to keep updated with forthcoming post. Thanks a million and please carry on the enjoyable work.


  2. Pingback: Two Legs and a Bit: Copper Coast Champion of Champions 2013 – Part II | LoneSwimmer

  3. Awesome Photo’s,

    Having spent some time following Maths and Yoga when not swimming I was blown apart by these photos and amazed at the Turing connection.

    Thanks for that!

    Cheers Mark O’Sullivan


    • Cheers. Certainly not my usual haunt, I don’t think I’ve ever thought about parks as a destination unless there’s something specific I want to see. Like most subjects Ireland’s population, (or maybe just my myopia) is too small to have a lot of specific parks, though Dublin’s Phoenix Park is reputedly Europe’s largest urban park with Zoological and Botanaical gardens, wild deer and more.
      As for the “fame” someone else actually posted the Imgur album, all I cared about is that so many saw my photos and seemed to approve, since I always judge my own pics very harshly. There was little if any direct connection to me or the blog. This actual longer blog post was one of the worst performing in a long time.


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