Northern Ireland

Giant seahorse statue unveiled in Belfast docks

Seahorse Statue
Image caption The eight metre tall 'Belfast Seahorse' is the latest piece of public artwork to be unveiled in Belfast.

A 26 foot (8m) tall seahorse sculpture has been unveiled at the entrance to Belfast's port.

The Belfast Seahorse is the work of acclaimed sculptor and University of Ulster reader Ralf Sander.

The stainless steel sculpture has been installed on Dargan Road on the north side of Belfast Lough.

The sculpture was four years in the making and was commissioned by Belfast Harbour as part of its 400th anniversary celebrations.

The seahorse has strong connections to Belfast's origins and maritime history, with the city's first merchants printing the creature on their coins throughout the 17th Century.

The seahorse also forms part of Belfast's official crest, with further links visible at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution (Inst). The school was founded by Belfast merchants and retains numerous references to the seahorse in its sports teams.

Due to the unusual techniques that the team used to shape and cast the stainless steel Seahorse, much of the construction work was carried out in an advanced foundry in South Korea.

'Mascot for Belfast'

Sculptor Ralf Sander said he was feeling "relaxed" now the sculpture was finished.

Image caption The Belfast Seahorse at night in Belfast's port.

"I like to play with double meanings. The Belfast Seahorse has the clarity of icons but its outlines make the familiar seem strange through unlikely shifts in form.

"I think the concept is not following clichés of taste and style but there might be a little Postmodernist spirit embedded in the concept. Casting stainless steel is still uncommon in large scale sculpture and we improved the technique.

"Dancing on an enlarged shipping bollard, the body of the Seahorse is the powerful spiral shape of a small twister. It also has the quality of a mirage as it is possible to recognise human profiles in the body if you look close enough.

"Given the myths and legends surrounding the seahorse, I believe that the new sculpture has the potential to become a symbolic unifying 'mascot' for the people of Belfast."

Belfast Harbour chairman, Len O'Hagan said: "This landmark project represents a major investment in the cultural infrastructure of Belfast.

"We are extremely proud of the harbour's contribution to the arts and we believe the Belfast Seahorse will very soon become one of the city's most iconic images," he said.

Public art

"As well as the many close historical links to the city of Belfast and its emerging port, there are a number of myths and legends surrounding the seahorse which add to the mystique of the sculpture.

Image caption Two seahorses are featured in the crest of the city of Belfast.

"Mr Sanders and his team at the University of Ulster have invested a great deal of creative and physical energy in this project and I commend them on what is an inspirational piece of public art."

Lord Mayor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir said Belfast was "developing an impressive array of world-class public artworks."

"The choice of a seahorse is particularly poignant, given the presence of two seahorses in the city's coat of arms to signify the maritime importance of Belfast," he said.

"In myth and legend the seahorse stands for protection, recovery and health - traits which are welcome in our city as much as any other."

Belfast's coat of arms, dating back to 1890 with its depiction of two seahorses, a ship and a ship's bell reflects the city's strong relationship with its harbour.

More on this story