Diaspora – where the idea began

photo by Eoin Mac Lochlainn of a cottage in Donegal

What would you expect to see inside this old overgrown cottage on the side of the road in Donegal? Would you just pass by or would you try and get in to have a look?  Well, I was passing this cottage every day a few years ago until eventually, my curiosity got the better of me.

It wasn’t that difficult to enter, despite the tangle of brambles and weeds, but the door was open so I walked in. Ooooh, but it was eerie. There was a hole in the roof which let in some light from above. But I got such a fright when I saw someone peering back at me in the gloom! Hang on, it was me! I was actually staring at a dusty, cobwebby old mirror. See below.

photo of ghost in a mirror in Donegal cottage


I was on an artist’s residency in Donegal and I had met with the Gaelic poet Cathal Ó Searcaigh the previous day. He read me a wonderful poem that he’d just written about how spirits haunt the land long after the people who had lived there were gone. The poem is called: “Na Bailte Bánaithe” and here’s a short extract, with my translation below.

Tá ochlán chaointe sa ghaoth 

a shéideann aniar ó Altán

is anseo tá damhán alla

ag fí aibíd an bháis

i bhfuinneog bhearnach an tseantí

inar chonaí mo chineál fadó.


There’s a loud wailing cry on the wind

that blows eastward from Altan

and a spider weaves a shroud

in the vacant window of the house

 where my people lived long ago.


So this was the inspiration for a new body of work and I have been painting empty fireplaces in abandoned homes on the west coast of Ireland since then. I was thinking about how central the fireplace was to the home, how people used to keep the fire going throughout the night and throughout the year, and how it really was the ‘hearth’ of the home. If people were moving home, they would take a lighting sod of turf with them from the old house to begin the fire in the new house, so as not to break the cycle. Seeing these abandoned fireplaces, each with its own distinctive personality, was quite distressing and I undertook the series of paintings as a sort of requiem for those who had gone, a commemoration of the diaspora.

fireplace painting by Eoin Mac Lochlainn

Now, in a week’s time, these paintings will be presented in Olivier Cornet’s new gallery on Great Denmark Street in Dublin (beside Belvedere College). And the show is creating a bit of a buzz, I think. It is featured in the current edition of the Irish Arts Review!  – an article by Brian McAvera.

pages from the Irish arts Review

And don’t forget, your comments are always welcome.  Click on the little brown speech bubble up at the top right of this post and you can put your comment there.  Slán go fóill, eoin







  1. Reblogged this on Arran Q Henderson and commented:
    a friend of mine from the National College of Art and Design in Dublin, reflects on the origins of his latest solo show, at the Oliver Cornet’s new Gallery premises, on Denmark Street in Dublin’s North Georgian quarter. Well worth a read, and both the show, and Oliver’s new gallery, are well worth a visit too. Enjoy!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fascinating and haunting images! I am from Australia but was visiting a friend in rural Ireland when I found myself in exactly the same situation of being curious about an overgrown and neglected cottage. I battled my way in, as you did, but found nothing exceptional. It was more likely a place that housed animals, than a home. It must have been serendipity that you stumbled across such an amazing place. The fact that your acquaintance’s poem reflected your experience was wonderful. Good luck with the exhibition. I’m sure it will do very well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Katherine for your comment. I was thinking that maybe the house you went into might’ve originally been a home but was then used as an animal shelter when the owners built a new home – that sometimes happens too. Best wishes with your own blog, the photobooth journal – it’s a great idea and looks really interesting. eoin

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Jane, thanks for your comment and thanks for reblogging my post. Grandad Hughie… hmmm, Hughie is a real Donegal name. Was your grandad from Donegal, by any chance? Anyway, that cottage was near Gortahork in North West Donegal


      • He was from Inishowen and his instructions about how to find the place were a bit on the vague side. My dad never found it anyway. If it was anything like Hughie it’s probably fallen down through neglect by now.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I love the imagery of the spider weaving a shroud in your friend’s poem. Coming unexpectedly face to face with yourself in that mirror must have been quite a surreal and heart stopping moment! At least until realisation dawned. I’m not surprised the experience triggered a fresh run of creativity.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aedín dhil, an-deas a chloisint uait. Tá súil agam go bhfuil an saol go maith leatsa. Bhuel, rinne mé roinnt fiosrúcháin cheana féin faoin taispeántas seo a thabhairt go Meiriceá. Ceapaim go mbéadh sé go maith mar rud le déanamh. Níl aon rud socruithe agam fós. Má tá aon chomhairle agat dom faoi, bhéadh fáilte roimhe ar ndóigh. Slán go fóill, eoin


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