A sparrow hawk flew down and caught a pigeon while Claire Halpin and myself were giving a talk at the Pearse Museum, the other day. Such consternation! No, we hadn’t planned it – but Claire had just been talking about the use of pigeons in war and in particular, the use of miniature drones, disguised as birds… (more about that at: https://emacl.wordpress.com/2014/09/11/nature-and-the-horrors-of-war/ ) But it brought various ideas into sharp focus for us.
Our talk was about the Palimpsest/ Rianú Project, a group exhibition that we had curated, and it proved to be a very interesting and thought provoking afternoon. Brian Crowley, director of the Pearse Museum told us how Patrick Pearse believed that it was good for his students to grow up with an appreciation of the natural world, the rhythm of the seasons, life and death, and he was reminded of the phrase from Pearse’s speech at the graveside of the Fenian O’Donovan Rossa: Life springs from death, and from the graves of patriot men and women spring living nations. Indeed, several of the artworks in the exhibition alluded to the ultimate sacrifice made by those who fought in the Easter Rising in 1916 and in the subsequent War of Independence, many of those who died, students in Pearse’s school.
Another theme that was often mentioned was Pearse’s interest in the Irish language. Nuala Ní Fhlathúin’s installation was developed around her research into Pearse’s educational texts. Aoife McGarrigle’s elusive prints referred to the gradual decline of the Irish language in her native Donegal – Tír gan teanga, tír gan anam – another quote from Pearse, which translates as: a land without a language is a land without a soul. Ian Joyce’s print (below) came about as a result of time spent teaching himself to speak and to write in the Irish language.
We also spoke about how a building can be a conduit for so much political and cultural weight – how the museum was originally the country home of a Georgian gentleman, then a school for boys and a training ground for revolutionaries – as we walked from room to room, we could almost feel the ghosts passing by.
Kate Murphy’s “Self-portraits in ritual masks” reminded us of tensions between public and private personae, and how Pearse always preferred to be photographed in profile. Whereas some of us thought that this accorded him iconic status, Brian Crowley felt that it did him a disservice because, in reality, Pearse was a multi-faceted individual with numerous interests and talents. Which brings me to my latest rant – Did anyone see that dreadful video “Ireland inspires, 2016”, produced by the Irish government to prepare us for the commemorations in 2016? It’s full of razzmatazz with shoppers in Grafton Street, revellers in Galway, fluffy clouds flying by and William Butler Yeats and Bob Geldof and Queen Elizabeth and Cameron… yes, I did actually say Queen Elizabeth and Cameron… and would you believe that there is actually no mention in it of the seven signatories of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic? No mention of those who died… tá sé deacair é a chreidiúnt, do-chreidthe, náireach… ach sin mar a thárla.
As we talked at the Pearse Museum, we could see that there was so much to remember, so much still to discover, so much to learn from the past. I felt that the artists had really started something here. They had evoked all sorts of emotions, they had broadened our horizons, made us think again. No, we’re not just shoppers and partygoers, oblivious to our history and heritage, unwilling to deal with our past. Yes, it’s complicated. But such is life. Both the hawk and the pigeon have chicks to feed.
But to reduce it to shallow consumerism? to the lowest common denominator? The first link below is to that video… go on, you’d better see it once, so that you’ll see where this “post-colonial” government stands in relation to our heritage. I’ve also put links to the artists that I’ve mentioned today. As always, I’d love to hear your own comments, let me know what you think.
More about the Palimpsest/ Rianú Project at:-