The three wise men – I always think that they get a raw deal here in Ireland. They arrive on the last day of Christmas, just as everyone is taking down the Christmas decorations, dumping the Christmas tree and going back to work. Not a fun time to visit Ireland, you might say.
Yes, it’s still dark and still pretty miserable here but there’s one thing that always gives me a boost – and that’s the snowdrops. Every January, they force their way out of the cold ground to greet the new year. They pop up outside our back door and they nod their little heads in the wind and rain. They’d bring a smile to the grouchiest of people. This year, the first one arrived on the 7th of January, the day after those three “wise” men.
But, having noticed the solitary snowdrop, I then started noticing that there was purple campanula in bloom all over the patio. Surely that’s not supposed to happen until June or July? So I know that it’s extremely cold across mainland Europe these days but on our little island, it has been ‘extremely’ mild this year.
Now, as you know, I don’t normally paint flowers – but I know some artists who do. There’s Yanny Petters who paints on glass (see above); there’s Nicola Lynch Morrin, Bid Flinn and Sarah Zoutewelle-Morris (see below). All of these images are on their websites which are well worth visiting (see the links below).
And then there’s photographs – another friend of mine has beautiful frosty photos on her website at:
You know of course that Irish apples are the nicest, sweetest, juiciest apples in the world. I did a series of apple paintings a while ago. I was working on a project about Moore Street at the time. But wait’ll I tell you what’s been happening on Moore Street since then.
You know that Moore Street is inextricably linked with the Easter Rising of 1916. This is where the last stand of the revolutionaries took place. Five of the signatories of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic spent their last hours of freedom here. But would you believe that there are plans now to turn this historic area into a gigantic shopping mall?
Of course there was protests. There was even a case against it in the High Court. The court ruled that the entire Moore Street battlefield site constituted a National Monument, to be protected and preserved by the state but still, believe it or not, the Irish government is challenging that decision!
Anyway, in the meantime, the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs set up a “consultative group” to consider views on the best way forward for Moore Street and, as it happens, I was there in City Hall last Friday to have my say. Now we only got the invitation on Thursday so we really didn’t get enough time to prepare but Donna Cooney, a relation of Nurse Elizabeth O’Farrell and a true stalwart of the 1916 Relatives’ Association, had a great presentation ready.
Carla Cowley, great great granddaughter of Molly O’Reilly, spoke first and then it was my turn. You can read the text of my speech below – it starts in Irish but the second half is in English.
Otherwise, just have a quick look at the black and white photo further down. This photo has had a lot of airbrushing over the years. First of all, some newspaper editor got rid of Nurse O’Farrell’s skirts and boots, airbrushed out of history, to simplify the story, I suppose. But I have a different memory of this photo. I remember my father sending it away somewhere – to get it ‘fixed’ – not to get rid of O’Farrell but to emphasise the fact the Pearse was in full military uniform (as Commander-in-chief of the rebel forces). He didn’t want people to think that Pearse was wearing a big winter overcoat. Funny what one remembers – I was only six years old at the time…
The text of my speech:
A dhaoine uaisle agus a chairde, tá cúpla nóiméad agam inniu le h-impí oraibh gan Sráid Uí Mhórdha a scriosadh. Tá sé náireach, amach is amach, go bhfuil muid fiú ag caint faoi seo inniu.
Fuair go leor daoine bás ar an sráid seo – laochra, a sheas in aghaidh Impireacht na Breataine; Laochra, a throid ar son ár saoirse; Laochra, mo mhuintir ina measc – ach i 1916, chaith muintir na cathrach seile orthu. They spat on them. Agus fós, 100 bhlian níos déanaí, tá roinnt daoine fós ag iarraidh seile a chaitheamh orthu.
Cén fáth? Sin í an cheist. Cén fáth go bhfuil drogall orainn comóradh ceart a dhéanamh ar na laochra seo? Na mná agus na fir ar sheas an fhóid agus a throid ar son a gcearta, agus cearta muintir na hÉireann ar fad. Cén fáth nach bhfuil muid lán de Bhróid? Cén fáth go bhfuil muidne, gaolta 1916, fós ag troid le go n-athnófar an fís a bhí acu, agus an misneach a bhí acu.
“I thank the goodness and the grace that on my birth has smiled, and made me in this Christian age, a happy English child”. A chairde Gael, this was the prayer on the first page of a reader that was used in every National School in Ireland, before 1916.
This was the ideology, the ideology that was rejected by the men and women of 1916. We had our own Gaelic culture, our own language, our customs and our history but this was not what the British Empire wanted to hear. Indeed, they were intent on suppressing it.
I’m not going to give you a lecture on history here but I will say this. That our language and our customs and our history is still under threat, right now in 2016. But we have a chance here to take steps to protect it. I think that the Moore Street Battlefield plan has some great ideas in it and I congratulate all those who were involved with it.
And I’ll say one more thing. My father, Piaras Mac Lochlainn was on the Kilmainham Gaol Restoration committee in the sixties. That place was derelict when they decided to restore it. They were all voluntary workers. They decided to restore it, as someone said: “to honour our glorious dead”. And that jail is now one of the most visited tourist attractions in the country. And the government at the time wanted to demolish it! Have we learned nothing?
A shopping centre is no different to shopping centres the world over. But Moore Street is the heart of Dublin. Such a special place of culture and history and I’m asking you now: Don’t delete it from the pages of history.
Shame on anyone who would even consider destroying it. Go raibh maith agaibh.
So now, it’s back to the studio for me… really, I’d prefer to stay away from these political shenanigans, and simply to paint my penny apples. But unfortunately, we just can’t leave it up to the politicians and their cronies. What do you think?
Why do I do it? Why do I paint those dusty old fireplaces when this stunning landscape is all around? It’s a good question alright, and one I never properly addressed – until now.
I was up in the hills above Lough Arrow in County Sligo recently. It was a place called Carrowkeel, an eerie assembly of cairns and passage graves from the Neolithic period, with fourteen hilltop tombs dating back to about 3400 BC.
(That’s about 800 years older than the Pyramids in Egypt).
It was an extraordinary experience to walk those hills and to visit the tombs. The day we were there, magnificent clouds were galumphing across the sky, adorning the heavens with glorious vistas (and occasionally showering their splendour on unwary wanderers). I could see stone cairns to the east and to the west, and northwards to Knocknarea in the distance. The scene was changing continually as shafts of sunlight darted across the landscape.
And as I looked on, entranced by the scene, I think I answered: “Why do I do it? – To try to remember…”
“Diaspora” – an exhibition at the Hamilton Gallery
We were up in Sligo for the opening of “Diaspora”, an exhibition of my paintings at the Hamilton Gallery for the month of October. The paintings are from a series of empty fireplaces in derelict houses in the West of Ireland.
Well, I had been thinking about how the old people used to keep fires going throughout the night and throughout the year, and how the fireplace was ‘the heart of a home’. I had been thinking about the fireplace in my mother’s kitchen long ago. The empty fireplaces seemed so sad, so poignant. I think the paintings are a sort of ‘requiem’ for those who have passed on.
“To try to remember”, I had answered. I seem to be continually trying to recapture something, or to rediscover some place, or to reach back in time and to find something that is all but lost… In Carrowkeel, I felt that I was almost there, I could almost reach it. I wonder though, what is the connection between the empty fireplaces and the empty tombs?
If you get a chance in the next month, drop into the Hamilton Gallery in Sligo and see what you think. And as usual, your comments are always welcome.
(Scroll down for a more “revealing” post, in the English language)
Fuair mé glaoch ó Joe Steve Ó Neachtain an lá cheana. Bhí sé tar éis mo scannáinín a fheiscint ag Scoil Samhraidh an Phiarsaigh agus thaistigh uaidh é a fheiscint aríst!!! “Ar theacht an tSamhraidh” a bhí i gceist aige, an gearrscannán a chruthaigh mé mar chuid den togra ealaíne “Ag Seasamh an Fhóid”. Bhuel, tá clú agus cáil ar Joe Steve mar scríobhnóir, aisteoir, drámadóir agus craoltóir agus mar sin, le barr fiosrachta, d’iarr mé air céard a bhí i gceist aige.
“Bhuel”, ar seisean, “Tá Oireachtas Chois Fharraige ar siúl an tseachtain seo chugainn agus ba mhaith linn é a chraoladh ansin”. (Bhí comóradh speisialta ar siúl acu i mbliana, ní h-amháin ar Oireachtas na Gaeilge 1976 ach ar Éirí amach na Cásca 1916 agus ar bhunú Chumann Forbartha Chois Fharraige i 1966. Agus ní comóradh amháin a bhí i gceist acu leis an bhféile, ach ceiliúradh mór ar an bpobal beo bríomhar atá ina cónaí i gCois Fharraige).
Ní ghá dom a rá go raibh mé iontach sásta gur iarradh ormsa a bheith páirteach sa bfhéile seo agus, fiú má bhí sé déanach, d’éirigh liom mé fhéin a eagrú agus – as go brách liom, siar go Conamara don deireadh seachtaine.
Oíche dé hAoine, bhí ceolchoirm álainn ar siúl ar dtús: “Caithréim”, á chur i láthair ag Síle Denvir agus a cairde. Ansin craoladh “Ar theacht an tSamhraidh” agus ansin chuir Fíbín “Mac Piarais i bPictiúir” i láthair. Níos déanaí fós, bhí seisiún ceoil ar siúl go maidin, i dTigh Mholly in Indreabháin.
Leanfaidh mé orm i mBéarla anois, mura miste leat…
Now I’m told that I don’t spill the beans when it comes to my art, that I don’t reveal much of my true self, my motivations, my raison d’etre etc. But I dunno, I thought I did – I thought that, if you were reading this blog regularly, you’d have a pretty good idea of where I’m coming from, where I stand on things. But anyway, today I’m going to tell you about a piece of art that I’ve been working on all this year.
It’s a short film that ‘still needs work’ but is a combination of a whole lot of ideas that have been running around in my head for a long time. This film is entitled: “Ar theacht an tSamhraidh” – meaning: as the summer comes. It was shown at a festival in Connemara last weekend and you can see it here below. (If you can’t see it just below here, you should click directly into the blog to see it)
The title refers to a song that was written/modified by Patrick Pearse: Óró, ’sé do bheatha abhaile. This was a song that was sung by the 1916 Volunteers on their long marches, as they trained for the the upcoming battle, and it was also a song that we all learned as kids (well, where I grew up, we all learned it). Generally speaking, I would say that the mood of the song is celebratory; the summer is coming and it’s all going to be wonderful. A more careful reading of the lyrics reveals that ‘our beautiful land has long been in the possession of robbers but, at last, we’re going to rout those pesky foreigners out of town’. Note: I didn’t call the film: Now that the summer has come, I called it: As the summer comes (will the summer ever come, I wonder?) but anyway, the film winds its way from frosty winter, through budding springtime to glorious summer, showing the flora and landscape of Connemara along the way.
But that’s just one strand. The short stories of Pearse are also woven through it. Then there’s my own connection with Pearse, through my father and grandfather. There’s also the characters in Ros Muc who worked closely with Pearse before the Easter Rising. The film explores the rapport that developed between Pearse and the locals back then. In many ways, I can relate to this relationship because in the past year, I’ve been an outsider myself, a stranger from Dublin, getting to know the lie of the land and meeting up with the locals. I heard many stories about Pearse and I felt that I got to know the man and that I could understand him… indeed, I was a bit like him myself – quiet at first but just loving to be there and listening to the old stories… I sometimes wonder if my father was like that too…
I can see now why I haven’t written at length about particular pieces of art before because, as you see, I’ve only just scratched the surface and I’m already running out of ink. There’s more about this project on a previous blog ( here ) but I reckon I’ll leave it to another day to continue with “the revelations”. Is that ok with you? I’ve one question for you – Would you prefer more or less words in the blog posts in future? Your comments are always welcome.
So we were standing there at the back of the car with the boot open. “And you tried it both ways”, I said again. He nodded pensively. “What you need”, he says… “is a Fiat Multipla”. “Shur I know”, I said, “but she won’t go for it. She says it’s like a Noddy car, with funny eyes – wouldn’t be seen dead in one, she said”. “It has a distinctive ‘quirky’ sort of style right enough”, says he, “but there’s so much more space in it, it’s like a car and a half, it could carry all your paintings and a kitchen sink as well, and it’s not one of those gas-guzzling SUVs either…”
“No, I’ll just have to make them a few inches smaller in future”, says I, and that’s how I ended up making paintings that were 42 inches wide. I’m talking about those paintings that somebody called “The Blank ones”. But of course, they’re not blank at all – there’s a sky and a shore in them, and there’s a mist rolling in… like the one above. But bigger.
And I was in the Museum of Fine Arts in Leipzig recently and – believe it or not – I saw a work similar to my own (see above). Is it the sea? or is it a misty lake? And could anyone tell me the name of this artist, I should’ve written it down. I took a photo of the label but I didn’t notice at the time that it was out of focus.
This was a big painting. It was more than 2 metres high. And beautiful. So now I think I might try a few bigger ones myself. We’ll just have to figure out a new system of transportation. What do you think? Suggestions?
Ag osnaí liom san oíche… Éire Saor. Ní h-amháin saor ach Gaelach chomh maith – sin a theastaigh uaidh an Piarsach i 1916. Agus bhí cúigear den seachtar a shínigh Forógra na Poblachta gníomhach i Chonradh na Gaeilge. Céard a thárla ó shin?
Tógadh mise le Gaeilge i mBleá Cliath. Ach d’fhás muid go ciúin agus labhair muid faoinár n-anáil – ag monabhar i nGaeilge, i bhfaitios go gcloisfí muid. Ach anois tá an saol athruithe. Is maith liom a bheith i mo chónaí i chathair ilchultúrtha agus bheith in ann aithne a chur ar dhaoine ó thíortha éagsúla agus teangacha éagsúla a chloisint. Ach is cosúil nach n-aontaíonn gach duine liom. B’fhearr le roinnt daoine go labharfaimis go léir i mBéarla!
“This is an English-speaking business”, a dúirt an fear thíos i gCorcaí, “we have a ‘language code’ in this establishment…”. Creid nó ná chreid, ní ligfeadh sé do óigfhear ó Chorca Dhuibhne Gaeilge a labhairt agus é ag obair sa mbeáir…
Agus tamaillín ó shin, bhí mé ag léamh blag an tSionnaigh Fhionn agus bhí sé ag tabhairt sliocht ó alt le Bláthnaid Ní Chofaigh…
I came to Dublin when I was 15 from a small Gaeltacht in Meath, and the Irish language wasn’t cool at all. Then, crazy as it may sound, the Hothouse Flowers came on the scene, and it became cool – and then became uncool again when I was 18. When I was a teenager the reaction was, and still can be, “Stupid language: what’s the point?” Then the adult versions: “It was beaten into me”; “you’re all mad ’RA-heads”; and my favourite, “You get a grant for everything.”
My response is: I am so sorry, and that is all terrible, but guess what – I am the minority here, and, however difficult it was for you, it has been and still is a struggle just to respond to all of you. At times it’s racist. Nobody ever calls it that, but no other culture would tolerate it…
Agus sin é mo scéal inniu agus daoine eile ag smaoineamh ar an Oíche Chultúir a cheiliúradh… duitse, leatsa, fútsa; domsa nó liomsa? N’fheadar…
Is dóigh go raibh an teanga i m-aigne aríst nuair a chuir mé líníocht mhór d-eilefint san taispeántas sin i nGailearaí Olivier Cornet le déanaí. Eibhlín Eilifint. Bhí orm í a ghlanadh den bhalla nuair a tháinig deireadh leis an taispeántas… ach aisteach go leor, thainig sé ar ais an mhaidin dár gcionn! Bhí ar Olivier dhá chóta breise péint a dhathadh thairis sul a d’imigh sí as radhairc ar fad. Agus tá seans fós go dtiocfaidh sí ar ais. Ní féidir í a chloí!
I’m just back from Leipzig in Germany where I was caught up in the middle of a TERROR ALERT. – Actually it turned out to be some teenagers in Austria making prank phonecalls to hotels in Germany but the Polizei were on the case immediately. They closed down the no.12 tram (our one); they closed off the streets; more than one hundred officers from the Saxon state police special forces were deployed together with sniffer dogs, they erected security barriers around a small group of devout Protestants who were calling for Religionsfreiheit und Toleranz and… we were forced to walk into town for our supper. But other than that, it was wunderbar.
And back in Ireland, next Friday night is Culture Night. (16th of September from 5pm until 11pm). Arts and cultural organisations open their doors until late with hundreds of free events, tours, talks and performances to be enjoyed around the country. Plenty going on at the Olivier Cornet Gallery, of course.
Claire Halpin’s solo exhibition ‘The Glomar Response’ will be open by then; Pearse McGloughlin and Nocturnes will be performing songs from their new album ‘The Soft Animal’ and Jean Ryan will be conducting a storytelling event in the gallery. This year, I’ll be able to enjoy the night as part of the audience. I remember another year, I spent the night under a blanket!
That was in 2011 – I was in the National Gallery of Ireland as part of a Tondo group exhibition, sitting on a sheet of cardboard, covered by a blanket. There was a concert going on in the restaurant next door, I could hear people laughing and chatting. I felt ignored, unwanted, irrelevant… As I think of that now, I find that interesting because I imagine that it’s perhaps something of what the people who are homeless might feel. I was there for just a few short hours, of course, and it was my decision to be there. I can’t begin to imagine what it would be like for someone to be forced to sit and beg for help.
I must say that it was really nice when a few people sat down beside me and talked to me through the blanket. I realise now that it was an awkward situation. People didn’t know how to react to me. I heard some people hesitantly call my name. There was a lot of noise in the Gallery and sometimes I could hardly recognise the voice. But I appreciated people’s support. Normally at an exhibition it’s a lovely ‘party’ atmosphere, I love meeting all the guests and thanking them for coming etc. but this time, it was different. Iwas the artwork!
It was a new experience for me. Actually, I didn’t mean it to be simply about homelessness and the inequalities of contemporary society. It was a metaphor, I suppose… Something about the struggles of life, struggles that everyone encounters. Don’t we sometimes just want to curl up and hide? As me mother would’ve said: “The world has gone mad”. Sometimes, we need to step back and have a think about it…
PS: Religionsfreiheit und Toleranz translates as: Religious freedom and tolerance