Yes indeedy, Europe Day takes place on the 9th of May each year – a day to celebrate peace and unity in Europe.
How do I know this? Well, I was invited to participate in an art exhibition in Belgium some years ago – so I always remember the date. The show was part of the calendar of events to celebrate the Irish Presidency of the EU.
It was curated by Jackie Ryan in the Irish College in Leuven (formerly known as Louvain) and the other artists involved were Colin Martin RHA, Hughie O’Donoghue, Geraldine O’Reilly and Robert Russell. Dr Niamh NicGhabhann wrote a fine essay for the catalogue.
The Irish College was founded by Irish Franciscans in 1607 and was renowned as a centre of learning. In 1614 they established their own printing press and they developed a new font specifically for printing in the Irish language. (Creid nó ná chreid, the language of the college was Irish until the 18th century. For more information see: http://www.leuveninstitute.eu )
So, for the exhibition in Leuven, we were invited to explore Ireland’s historical and contemporary relationship with Europe, using the manuscripts of the Franciscans as inspiration, but I soon found myself reading about the original St. Francis.
By all accounts, he was an extraordinary character. He was born in Assisi to a wealthy merchant family but twice in his life, he gave away everything he had, everything except the clothes on his back. It was said also that he conversed with the birds and with animals…
This image above is a detail from the painting at the top entitled: Lon Doire an Chairn/ Blackbird of Doire an Chairn. Its starting point was an old Irish poem in which a warrior of the Fianna addresses a Christian monk and contrasts the song of the blackbird with the sound of the church bell. Nature and culture.
I include a version of the poem below, put to music by the Celtic acapella group Navan from their album entitled: An Cuimhin leat. If you happen to have any information about this band, I’d love to hear it by the way, there doesn’t seem to be a website for them out there.
I gave the next piece the title: “Solas na Gealaí / Sister Moon”. I wanted to evoke the quiet interior of a monastery or church, to refer to the spiritual journey and to the era when Irish monks were establishing monastic sites across mainland Europe.
I used “poor” materials in all of these works – hessian, wood and cardboard etc – to reflect the poverty of the order but also to refer to the idea of living simply and recycling and reusing stuff. I also liked the challenge of composing and “constructing” the artworks rather than merely painting them.
The final piece (see below) was entitled “Tearmann/ Sanctuary” and it referred to the situation of people who are homeless in Ireland – and how the Capuchin Franciscans support them with food and shelter. A light in the darkness.
Brother Kevin Crowley founded the Capuchin Day Centre for Homeless People more than 40 years ago. It now provides over 700 meals each day and over 1500 food parcels each Wednesday to the homeless and poor of Dublin.
And finally, on a different note, I remember the late Micheál Ó Súilleabháin played some wonderfully moving music on the grand piano at the official opening. It transported us back to the 17th century, to the era of the O’Donnells and the O’Neills, and it brought to mind the fateful “Flight of the Earls” and the lonesome beginnings of the Irish Diaspora.
So don’t forget, this coming Saturday is Europe Day. How will you be celebrating?