Adrian McCarthy, director of the new RTÉ 1 documentary The Two Lukes, writes for Culture about the new documentary about a pair of sculptures celebrating Dublin folk legend Luke Kelly.

Watch The Two Lukes here, via RTÉ Player.

In 2017, I heard Dublin City Council had commissioned acclaimed artist, Vera Klute, to make a public sculpture of the great Luke Kelly. Her idea was a giant head, nearly three meters high, constructed out of marble with his striking red hair and beard made from over two thousand pieces of corroded metal wire. Now, that’s an exciting and brave commission! When finished, it would reside in a park, near where Kelly grew up, at the end of Sheriff Street.

The Two Lukes - watch an extract:

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

As someone with an interest in public art, I hadn’t come across anything quite like this in Ireland before. But what made this story intriguing was hearing the council was planning to unveil not just one, but two sculptures honouring the legendary Dublin singer. The second was a more conventional piece, privately funded by a man named Gerry Hunt, an admirer of Kelly’s. Hunt had asked another acclaimed sculptor John Coll, to create a life size bronze of Kelly.

Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina unveil the Northside statue of Luke

So, as the saying goes, you wait years for a statue of Luke Kelly and then two come along at once. On 30 January 2019, President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina, unveiled two separate sculptures, on either side of the Liffey, of the legendary musician, social activist and singer with The Dubliners. The unveilings coincided with the 35th anniversary of his death.

If you watch this half-hour documentary, you’ll find out how this happened and why Dublin City Council ended up bending their own rules.

The Two Lukes - watch an extract:

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

Some members of the Kelly family had reservations after seeing the initial model of one of the pieces. Although I believe their opinion did change, when both were unveiled. This raises some interesting questions about public art. When it comes to a portrait or statue commemorating a public figure no longer alive, who should be involved in the decision-making process? Should it need the stamp of approval from the family or should it just be left to the artist? It’s an interesting one. That’s the lovely thing with public art, it opens up all sorts of fascinating discussions.

The Two Lukes - watch an extract:

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

One of the great pleasures of making this documentary was getting to discover Luke Kelly music I hadn’t previously come across. His version of Schooldays Over, by Ewan McColl, is now permanently engraved in my brain. I was lucky enough to track down a rarely heard audio interview Luke did with traditional song collector Frank Harte – thanks to his family. It was priceless. It was great spending time in Sheriff Street, meeting the likes of Mark Fay and his dad, Gerry, an old school friend of Luke’s, and visiting Luke’s CBS school as the boys from 4th class gave their own rendition of Monto.

Watch an extract from The Two Lukes:

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences


There were magical moments in BA Steel, where I spent too many days with Vera and her team as she worked on Luke’s giant face, his dental work and meticulously inserted each bit of facial hair. I was fortunate to have cameraman Ronán Fox stepping in for the big days and soundman/photographer Gregory Dunn always keeping an eye. And then editor Brenda Morrissey waved her magic wand over the footage, making sense of structure and story. Thanks to Ruairí Ó Cuiv & Ray Yeates from Dublin City Arts Office and Sarah Ryder & Ann-Marie Power from RTÉ, for agreeing to support the documentary.

Here’s to Luke!

Schoolday’s over come on then John, time to begetting your pit boots on…

The Two Lukes, RTÉ 1, Monday 22nd April at 6.30pm