Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Coming Home experience

We are coming to the end of the Coming Home experience here at West Cork Arts Centre, the exhibition closes next week on October 13th. This is an exhibition that has undoubtedly resonated within the community and throughout the country. Even in the exhibition's closing week the anecdotes, awareness and autobiographical revelations continue to emerge. Claire Lambert, practicing artist and Front of House and gallery assistant here at Uillinn, is one of the latest to unearth her own personal connection to the Coming Home exhibition.

Claire is a Front of House and Gallery Assistant here at West Cork Arts Centre

Claire arrived in Ireland from London in 1989 before eventually settling in West Cork to embark on an art career. A graduate of the DIT Visual Art programme in Sherkin Island, Claire has recently joined the team here at West Cork Arts Centre. The arrival of the Coming Home exhibition in June was her first introduction to Irish Famine history. The exhibition approaches the solemnity of An Gorta Mor by discussing the socio, economic and political landscape of Ireland in the nineteenth century. Claire began actively engaging with the historical context of the exhibition  in order to interact with visitors and out of personal interest. This research coincided with the visit of a relative from New Zealand who had an interest in the family tree. Claire had a vague recollection of an Irish ancestor being mentioned somewhere in her family history. Eventually she discovered John Lehane her great-great grandfather was born in Cork in 1842 and her great-great grandmother Jane O' Connor was born in Killarney in 1840.

Coming Home caused Claire to realize that her great-great grandparents were children at the time of the Great Famine. Shocked by this revelation, she delved deeper into her family's past to discover that her family, like so many others, emigrated in the hopes of finding a better life. Their destination was not the much acknowledged Liverpool or Ellis Island, but Argentina. The South American country is today home to the fifth-largest Irish community in the world. Claire's family is among the many that settled and raised a family in these foreign environs, trading the small island nation for the immense plains, deserts, forests and tundra of Argentina . Eventually Claire's  family found themselves further South in the Falkland islands. It was Claire's grandmother who ventured back across the Atlantic Ocean to settle in South Hampton and now, remarkably it is Claire who has set down roots in Cork.
The exhibition's title Coming Home can be understood in a new personal light for Claire as she is the first generation of her family to 'come home' following the cataclysmic event that was the Great Irish Famine.

Claire's story is the story of many. Emigration is one of themes of Coming Home that has become a perspective for understanding events like the Great Irish Famine. Stories like these remind us how small the world can be and how interdependent we are as human beings. Narratives unfold in far flung corners of the world that effect and involve all of us, the world is in a constant flux and those in riches today may be in rags tomorrow. The fragile nature of the status quo has caused many visitors to consider the European emigration crisis today in relation to Ireland's emigration crisis in the nineteenth century. Unfortunately the story of Claire's family is repeating around the world today with people being forced to leave their homes in the face of war, famine or persecution.

It is this ability to address the past and analyse the present that has caused Coming Home to become poignant visitor experience. If you haven't already, experience it for yourself before the exhibition closes this Saturday!    

Representing the Unrepresentable

It is the final week of the Coming Home exhibition in Skibbereen and while everyone here at West Cork Arts Centre will be sad to see this unique experience end, we have, now, the closing event to look forward to. The event, entitled  'Representing the Unrepresentable: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Atrocity' will take place in the Town Hall on October 13th the final date of the exhibition. Peter Murray, former Director of the Crawford Art Gallery will be hosting an informative panel discussion that reviews the exhibition. Guest speakers will include musician, Bob Geldof, art historian Katherine Crouan, artist Dorothy Cross and journalist Mick Foley.

It promises to be an interesting and lively conversation that addresses the complexities and considerations involved in an exhibition of this nature. Having facilitated the public drop-in tours along with private bookings, one thing that really struck me is the desire people have to share their knowledge of the Famine and express individual stories and perspectives of this important cultural tragedy. Coming Home seems to have provided people with a space to communicate these reflections.This event  will be an opportunity to hear the unique responses of our guest speakers, who will share their individual perspectives of the exhibition in the context of their particular profession. Personally, I am looking forward to hearing artist Dorothy Cross speak at the event, her work Basking Shark Currach is a dominant feature of the exhibition. The event will also expand upon the atmosphere of consideration that the exhibition has created by providing a forum for people to discuss Coming Home in an exciting Q&A element of the evening. 

Understandably this, culmination of the significant reaction provoked by Coming Home,  is a sold-out event. Those without tickets needn't miss out, however as the event will be live-streamed via this link so everyone can catch this special event!

Thursday, 27 September 2018


Today, I had the pleasure of chatting with our Artist-in-Residence, writer, Maeve Bancroft. Maeve is currently working on her historical fiction novel, A Gift of Stone. This is Maeve’s first time delving into the world of historical fiction and she is admittedly surprised to find herself working within this genre. While discussing  her new project however, it is clear that this is an undertaking that visibly excites her as a writer.

The Famine-time, novel deals with contemporary issues of displacement and migration, themes that are also raised in the Coming Home exhibition. An interesting and unusual aspect of Maeve’s residency is her workshop engagement with our visitors here at West Cork Arts Centre. As part of the Coming Home programme, visitors are invited to write a response to any of the art works in the collection. The nature of this response is varied and is ultimately decided by the individual visitor themself. A response could be a personal account of a visitors experience of the collection, a fictional narrative that a sculpture may inspire or a piece of prose or poetic phrase roused by a particular painting. Maeve’s studio is a curious place at the moment with wonderful fragmented words and phrases swirling around the studio walls. ‘... and there’s Trevelyan with the golden egg!’ reads one, ‘we were shrunken and starved’ reads another. The prose is a particularly pleasing sight as an array of handwriting styles, long and loopy, small and squashed, printed and proud, bring an interesting character to the fragmented responses.

Maeve’s studio is open to the public on Friday and Saturdays. Visitors are welcome to view the writer’s process as it progresses throughout the residency or to participate in a workshop with Maeve to create a piece of writing and a personal response to Coming Home. Casual visitors are invited to write a response and leave it in a box at the centre’s reception. What these wonderful physical, emotional and intellectual responses to the exhibition will become is still an ongoing feature of Maeve’s residency. The writer has spoken of creating a collaborative poem or a large-scale print or poster as a culmination of this energy of engagement created by her residency. I, for one, am certainly interested  in where this process of collaboration and participation takes us.

For more information about Maeve Bancroft and her residency at Uillinn: West Cork Arts Centre click here

Tuesday, 25 September 2018


Art galleries and museums around the country are greatly indebted to the role of the hard-working invigilators. The invigilator's role is to keep an eye on the art-work and to act as a friendly-face for visitors to approach with queries as varied as 'How long is this exhibition on for?', 'What kind of response is the exhibition getting from visitors?' and 'Where is the toilet?' - all equally important questions, that invigilators can answer to help visitors to navigate a gallery comfortably and feel welcome.

We are lucky here at West Cork Arts Centre to welcome two Italian language students, Giannarita and Teresa. As two art-enthusiasts who have an interest in cultural heritage, Gianna and Teresa act as a warm support within the Coming Home exhibition. The students are here for a month and have helped ably with the invigilation of the artwork during their time here.

Giannarita an invigilator for the Coming Home in front of her favourite painting in the exhibition.

Everyone here at Uillinn is delighted to have the help of the girls in facilitating the Coming Home exhibition. The success of the exhibition is assisted by the many helping hands that support the Coming Home programme.

Teresa another invigilator on the Coming Home team

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Culture Night

The weather has definitely been signaling to us in the last few weeks that we have finally reached the end of what has undoubtedly been a glorious summer - but don't despair as this is also a sign that the annual, nationwide event, Culture Night, is fast approaching. I would recommend that whatever you do, you do not spend Friday the 21st of September indoors. Get out and enjoy the wonderful programme of events that will be happening around the country and county on this evening of free late night entertainment. Public spaces and venues open their doors for a night of celebration of arts, heritage and culture. The event, now in its thirteenth year, has progressed to become an important event in the arts calendar but is also importantly a chance for the curious to engage with cultural venues in a celebratory and welcoming environment.

Here at Uillinn, we are holding an array of events on the night. Our writer-in-residence, Maeve Bancroft will host an open studio on the night. Maeve is working on her historical fiction, novel-in-progress during her stay in West Cork Arts Centre. Period fiction will collide with fantastic fact with the launch of John Devoy's exciting new travel book Quondam: Travels in a Once World. The book details the exciting true-grit epic of a bike expedition through the heart of Africa. Dervla Murphy, the adventure travel writer will be a special guest on this evening of literary celebration.

Our Learning and Engagement: Artist-In-Residence, Charlotte Donovan will also be holding a visual art workshop on the night. The workshop will form part of her project [un] intentional moments, a series of individual and group engagement, interaction and collaboration with the people of West Cork. These encounters vary from the fortuitous, to the fixed and to the flexible. Charlotte has worked as a socially engaged and collaborative artist in the community and healthcare settings for 25 years. Her workshop on the night promises to be a very special event. The artist is responding to the Coming Home: Art and the Great Hunger exhibition by exploring the theme of immigration. Participants will be invited to create and craft boat structures as they consider questions such as ‘If I had a boat where would I go? ... Who would I take with me? What would I pack?’. The workshop will explore issues such as emmigration and migration, life and loss, hope and fear, power and dispossession autonomy and vulnerability.

Uillinn will be a hub of creative activity come Friday the 21st, reflecting the Arts Centre position as an art locus of West Cork. We look forward to welcoming familiar and fresh faces on the night! You can find out more about Culture Night here

Friday, 7 September 2018

Artist-in-Residence Programme

Everyone here at West Cork Arts Centre is really excited by the arrival of our two newest Artists-in-Residence, writer Maeve Bancroft and visual artist, William Bock. The two artists and their very different practices will be engaging with the Coming Home programme in the coming weeks.

 The Artists' Residency Programme is one of the most noteworthy initiatives undertaken at the Uillinn, made possible only, by their move to their new premises, Uillinn in 2015. It provides an exciting opportunity for artists to research and develop their practices within the unique atmosphere of the West Cork Arts Centre. The programme offers three artist's studios, as well as a dance studio and a learning and engagement residency. A distinctive aspect of the programme is the opportunity to engage with artists working on site and the request that the artists have their studios open to the public two days a week.

The artists have the opportunity to participate in the centre's activities and both Maeve and William will be involved with Coming Home's calendar of events. This will be William's third residency at Uillinn and he will be continuing exploring the themes of immigration and migration in West Cork. William's process-led practice often takes the form of photography, performance, object-making, participatory events and site-specific installation. The diverse nature of William's practice is intriguing and I can't help but wonder what kind of medium or outcome will be the result of this particular interaction with West Cork.

Similarly, Maeve's practice also excites my curiosity as she is Uillinn's first writer-in-residence. Maeve is currently undertaking a PhD in Creative Writing in UCC and will be working on her novel-in-progress, A Gift of Stone, a work of historical fiction, during her residency. Unsurprisingly, I am really looking forward to meeting these two artists and discussing their practices with them.  I will be chatting with both artists soon so watch this space as I will be sharing more information about their upcoming work!

Day 3 Leaving Portrait - William Bock

  • Maeve will be giving an Illustrated Talk on Saturday the 29th of September at 12 noon where she will discuss her process, her research methods and the challenges involved in writing historical fiction.
  • William will be facilitating the photography and collaborative performance Workshop Excess Baggage for artists and individuals who don't identify as coming from one particular place on Saturday the 15th September at 10.30am.
  • William will also be giving an Artist Talk Acts of Leaving where he will discuss the three year project he has been working on in October the 11th at 3.30pm
  • You can book any of these free events Uillinn: West Cork Arts Centre 028 22090 or info@westcorkartscentre.com

To find out more about the special artist-in residence programme here in Uillinn
click here

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Emmigration and Coming Home

Two of our visitors today, David Sheehan and his daughter, Judy, travelled to the exhibition from Bandon. The pair have a keen interest in Irish heritage and as West Corkonians An Gorta Mor has always been a particularly emotive history. James Brenan’s painting Finishing Touch particularly affected Judy, she remarked that it is a truly ‘emotional’ scene to witness.

This painting is a moving portrayal of the realities of emmigration. Typically, emmigration scenes are painted in dramatic fashion at the docks of a sea-bound ship. Brenan’s artwork differs from this archetype as it depicts a much more intimate, interior scene. A detailed narrative is constructed through the painting’s composition and as the story unfolds so too does the pathos felt by the Sheehan family. A young girl is preparing herself for her voyage to more prosperous lands and her family struggles to cope with the sense of impending loss. The mother tends to her daughter’s needs knowing that this may be her last time with her child, while the invalid father and grandfather come to terms with the fact that they, unfortunately, do not have this option of travel. A reference to the Madonna and Child hangs over the fireplace, adding a further sense of grief to the scene.

Finishing Touch by James Brenan

The Sheehans were very moved by the uncertainty that surrounded the young girl’s future and the further uncertainty of her reuniting with her family. Judy commented that sadly, emmigration was still a factor of Irish life and while the factors contributing to modern emmigration are not as tragic as this scene’s depiction, the effects of emmigration on family life remain the same. President Higgins outlined the effects emmigration continues to have on the national psyche in his contribution to the exhibition’s catalogue. It is undoubtedly still a very contemporary feature of Irish life and is a theme that reoccurs throughout the Coming Home exhibition, particularly given the exhibition has travelled to Skibbereen from America. The Sheehans left the exhibition with a  strong sense of poignancy and with plans to visit Skibbereen Heritage Centre’s Famine Story.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Jack Yeats returns to Skibbereen

Coming Home resonates in Skibbereen because the drama of the Famine story transpired here in tragic reality. The local significance of the exhibition is heightened, however, by the inclusion of a figure of both national and local importance.

Jack Butler Yeats was one of the most important figures in Irish art in the 20th century.

One of the great titans of Irish art - and one of my own personal, favourite painters- Jack B. Yeats is on display in the Coming Home exhibition. This is a particularly special occasion as it is the first time the Romantic landscape painter, Yeats, has been exhibited in West Cork. Considering that early in the artist's career, he spent considerable time perfecting his style here in Skibbereen this makes this occasion all the more special.

I first heard of Yeat’s important connection to the town through Philip O’ Regan of Skibbereen Heritage Centre. A programme of historical walking tours was created in collaboration with the Heritage Centre to coincide with the Coming Home exhibition. It was during this animated and informative talk that the significance of Yeats’ inclusion in the exhibition was made clear to me. Additionally, Philip kindly provided West Cork Arts Centre with an article he had written about Yeats’ time in West Cork during the summer of 1919. The artist, I was surprised to find out, sketched and painted Skibbereen and Schull extensively in his early career. His sketchbook, Sketchbook 123, contains  58 sketched pages, with a further 11 manuscript pages detailing the summer of 1919. An array of paintings emerged from these sketches in the years to come, including Castle near Skibbereen, The Return from the Picnic, The Sleeping Tinker and The Bridge at Skibbereen.

Yeats was the son of the established portrait artist, John Butler Yeats. His brother William Butler Yeats is one of Ireland’s most famous poets and his sisters Susan and Elizabeth (affectionately known as Lily and Lolly) were pioneers of the Irish arts and craft movement. A truly artistic family their influence on Irish culture is still felt today.

Jack B. Yeats managed through a use of thick impasto oil paint and a unique kind of romantic expressionism to create a celebratory vision of Ireland. His colour palette seems to embody Irish rural-ness and his bold use of blue, white, red and green have become synonymous with the Irish countryside. The use of symbolism and motifs is another feature of his work, with horses appearing regularly in his paintings.

Derrynane  (1927) by J.B Yeats is on display in Uillinn: West Cork Arts Centre

Derrynane painted in 1927 forms an important part of the exhibition. Ostensibly a seascape, the use of broad brushstrokes in combination with pure colour and the materiality of the paint abstracts the scene. Yeats’ Derrynane transcends a representation of the bay and allows an air of rural romanticism to revel throughout the painting. He imbues the scene with ‘Irishness’.

The painting is included in the exhibition to remind us the effect that the Famine had on national identity. Yeats along with other Irish artists such as Sean Keating and Paul Henry (also featured in the exhibition) established a visual Irish identity within Irish life. Derrynane was also home to the Great liberator Daniel O’ Connell. O’ Connell, a giant in Irish politics, campaigned tirelessly for Catholic emancipation. However, the statesman suffered a controversy when it was reported his tenants experienced terrible conditions. The Catholic’s rights advocate’s challenged these accounts but a scandal had been created. Yeats’ painting incorporates many narratives into Coming Home’s visual exploration of the Famine story.

The Bridge at Skibbereen (1919) by J.B Yeats (Image credit: imma.ie)

The exhibition marks Yeats’s arrival in Skibbereen and is a quite seemly event given the artist celebrated the town with paint in The Bridge at Skibbereen. This particular painting, created in 1919 is a good example, when compared with Derrynane, of how much the artist's style progressed during his career. Yeats also saluted Inishbeg during his time in West Cork, with the creation of Flowing Tide, Inishbeg, Near Skibbereen. The island is located on the estuary of the Ilen river which flows through Skibbereen town. The nature of this seascape allows the artist to be more expressive in his mark-making. The painting is dominated by a body of water in its foreground.Yeats approaches the water with playful brushstrokes that bring this feature to the point of near abstraction. The looser approach found in this painting is indicative of the style that emerges in Yeats' later works such as Derrynane.

Yeats' return to Skibbereen would be celebrated in any context. However, his inclusion in, such a culturally significant exhibition as Coming Home seems apt given the extent of Jack B. Yeat's own cultural significance.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Visiting Coming Home

The MacVeigh family were one of our many groups of visitors who joined us on this rainy afternoon at West Cork Arts Centre. Some members of the family had already viewed Coming Home during its time in Dublin Castle as part of their architectural design studies and remarked how interesting it was to see it in a new format. The family felt that the historical short film that accompanies the exhibition is very important to the overall experience, observing that as an art exhibit it manages the monumental historical context of the Famine conscientiously.

Michael Farell’s Black 47 particularly engaged the MacVeighs as they felt it incorporated a lot of the different elements in Coming Home. They found the style and scale of the painting, understandably, impressive but also empathised with the artist’s attempt to recontextualise the Famine as a global human tragedy. The family identified many WW2 reference imagery in the painting. In an experience similar to my own, the MacVeighs expressed disbelief at the story of the Turkish Sultan narrated in the painting.

Black 47 is a painting of an imagined scene; the trial of Charles Treveylan. Treveylan, now infamous in the anthem the Fields of Athenry, was one of the figures in charge of Famine Relief during An Gorta Mor. His inaction at this time is a source of controversy in Anglo-Irish history and this painting addresses the complicated circumstances of the Famine. Farrell was an extremely political figure and had to leave his teaching post in New York due to his outspokenness at the time of the Vietnam war. However, Farrell was Irish born and even though he lived much of his life in England and France his paintings always engaged with Ireland and Irish history. In reality, there was no trial of Charles Treveylan, but there were trials of Nazi leaders in Nuremberg following WW2 and this painting eludes to this, along with other WW2 imagery. In the docks observing the trial is the Turkish Sultan.

I first saw the figure, like the MacVeighs as being rather bizarrely misplaced in this particular courtroom drama until I learnt of the interesting story behind his inclusion in this scene from the exhibition’s curator Dr Niamh O’ Sullivan. The Sultan of Turkey had an Irish doctor who convinced his employer to pledge £10,000 in Famine Relief aid to the Irish people. However, as Queen Victoria had only contributed £2,000, the Sultan was asked to lower his contribution to the sum of £1,000 to avoid embarrassing the Queen.

This absurd tale ignited a strong sense of poignancy amongst the MacVeighs. They left the exhibition with an idea for an interesting public venture; that Famine graveyards and villages should be opened as national parks and heritage sites in homage to the Famine victims. The exhibition arouses strong feelings and reactions among our many visitors and I look forward to sharing more of these experiences in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Interacting with Coming Home

I arrived at the gallery today and was once again overwhelmed by the interest in Coming Home. Visitor numbers reached a record-breaking 800 last Thursday and have been generally a consistent 500 a day! The exhibition engages with a broad spectrum of interests from Irish history to world history, art history to contemporary art, local interest to current social significance to everything in between. Coming Home embraces a variety of perspectives and interpretations creating an inviting atmosphere that visitors can respond  to. The tour team and invigilators are all hearing so many stories and personal accounts form visitors, I hope in the coming weeks to able to share some of these with you..
Photo credit: Zenda Williams

Thursday, 2 August 2018

110 Skibbereen Girls

The programme of events at the Uillinn this summer is extensive and an event I was unlucky to miss was 110 Skibbereen Girls by artist Toma McCullim. This event was the culmination of a year long project as part of the ongoing and comprehensive Arts for Health Partnership Programme managed by West Cork Arts Center since 2005. The artist worked at Skibbereen Hospital Campus, with the staff, service-users, residents and visitors to create this site-specific artwork.

Earl Grey's Famine Orphan Scheme, the inspiration behind the project, has been the topic of conversation among my friends and I since the event's launch. The story of how 110 orphan girls, aged between 14 and 18, left Skibbereen in 1848, in the middle of The Great Famine, for Australia has received press due to Toma’s project. These girls worked as domestic servants before being matched to a suitor when they were of a suitable age. The girls had, on average, 8 children each and it is estimated that there is 10,000 descendants of the Skibbereen girls. The disbelief amongst my friends and I that these girls, who were younger than us, left their traumatic surroundings for this fate caused this story to resonate . However the artist Toma McCullim is keen not to portray these girls as victims but intends instead to commemorate their bravery. The girls left behind a life of incredible hardship in a town ravaged by the Famine and with remarkable resilience, they sought a better life. Bravely, they left Skibbereen and all they had ever known, equipped with a bowl and spoon, with a desire for a fulfilling life.

The Australian Deputy Ambassador, Simon Mamouney and the Artist Toma McCullim at the unveiling of 110 Skibbereen girls artwork at Skibbereen Hospital campus. Photo credit: Carmel Winters

Toma used the symbol of the spoon to commemorate the girls. 110 spoons were sculpted in beeswax by the many participants of the project before they were cast in bronze. The spoons are now embedded in  the walls of  Skibbereen Workhouse at Skibbereen Hospital campus. Councilor Danny Collins, deputising on behalf of the Cork County Mayor, spoke about the significance of the project in Cork County and how it takes on a heightened meaning in Skibbereen. Cork Kerry Community Healthcare Chief Officer, Mr. Ger Reaney put the work into the context of the residents and spoke about the important Arts for Health Programme.

 The artist Toma Mc Cullim also spoke at the event. I was told by anyone who attended that she spoke with 'a lot of heart' as she described her process; how she connected the staff with the heritage of the site and with the creation of the artwork, before thanking all of her collaborators, management and funders. In a particular poignant tribute to the 110 girls, Judith Constable and her daughter Katriona spoke at the artwork's unveiling. These two women are descendants of Jane O' Leary, one of the 110 girls who left Skibbereen in the mid-1800s. Judith provided an emotive account of the life of her great-great grandmother and also described her own personal search for her ancestors in Ireland.

The Australian Deputy Ambassador, Simon Mamouney was the ceremony's special guest. He officially opened the event with the story of the stone that was brought over from Australia to be embedded into the wall of Skibbereen Workhouse alongside the artwork. The newly formed, Skibbereen Hospital Choir was also in attendance and led by Liz Clarke delighted the crowd with a rendition of both 'Far Away in Australia' and 'Dear Old Skibbereen'. The event was a tremendous success, the extent of which can be seen in how 110 Skibbereen girls has filtered into the conversations of people who weren't even in attendance at this special event.

More information about the amazing work of the Arts for Health Programme can be found at artsforhealthwestcork.com

Monday, 30 July 2018

Skibbereen Arts Festival

Skibbereen is alive with the sounds of music and culture as festival fever engulfs the town. Skibbereen Arts Festival, which is in its 10th year, runs from the 27th of July to the 6th of August. Its presence has made itself truly felt throughout the town as music, art and culture can be found around every corner.

I found a beautifully designed exhibition Terra Incognita in The O' Driscoll Building on The Old Quay. The exhibition curated by the Doswell Gallery's Roisin Foley, includes work by Rachel Doolin, Tom Doig, Sarah Roseingrave and Tomas Penc amongst others. Tomas Penc is currently in residency here at Studio 2 in West Cork Arts Centre. He will be giving what promises to be a very interesting talk entitled 'Present.Makes.Future' on the 2nd August as part of the Festival.The free talk will be held in Uillinn and is an open discussion on technology, science and the contemporary mind-set around this issue. Another exhibition housed in the The Old Driscoll Building is Elements: West Cork Landscapes. I found this to be a particularly celebratory feature of the festival as artists exhibit glorious explorations of the West Cork landscape. These artists include Christine Thery, Donald Teskey and William Crozier. Christine Thery's uses masses of oil paint to striking effect in what I consider to be a must-see exhibition.

The Festival was officially opened Saturday evening by the acclaimed, Irish, artist Robert Ballagh. The artist is a popular figure in both the art establishment and public life. West Cork Arts Centre facilitated a lively talk with the artist on Saturday prior to the festival’s opening. Robert’s oil painting Roimh forms part of the Coming Home exhibition and he spoke at length about the impact of the Famine on the Irish psyche.He began his talk with a lament for the recent downgrading of history as a subject in the Irish curriculum.

I still have plenty to see in the coming week and an event I’m particularly excited about is the arrival of the Domestic Godless here at Uillinn This unusual trio is made up of Stephen Brandes, Mick O' Shea and Irene Murphy and they will be in action over the Bank Holiday weekend. Although they are not chefs, they concoct interesting platters of food, occupying the unfamiliar territory between art and gastronomy! I am also eager to take one of Skibbereen Heritage Centre's Historical Walking Tours. The only complaint anyone could possibly have with Skibbereen Arts Festival is that they haven't enough time to see everything!

For the full programme of events you can visit the website http://www.skibbereenartsfestival.com/

Thursday, 26 July 2018


Photo credit: Justine Foster

I'm really enjoying giving tours of the exhibition to the public. It's great to see people's reactions and to hear people stories. There are free guided tours every Tuesday and Thursday at 1.30pm with no booking required - I hope to see you soon!

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Anáil na Beatha

Coming Home is accompanied by a programme of events, talks and tours. Anáil na Beatha, a site-specific performance  by artist Allanah O' Kelly, was a particularly special event on our calendar. The new, live  performance,which took place Saturday the 21st of July, was held on the sepulchral grounds of Schull Workhouse.

Allanah O' Kelly is one of Ireland's internationally renowned multi-media artists. Her powerful multi-media piece, No Colouring Can Deepen the Darkness of Truth, along with her photographic panels of the landscape, A Kind of Quietism, both form an important part of the Coming Home  exhibition. O' Kelly is known for incorporating sound and image, praying and keening with photography and a kaleidoscope of scarred landscapes.

West Cork Arts Centre commissioned Allanah to create an event embedded in the community. Anáil na Beatha compromised of a sequence of performances, fragmented and presented on this highly-charged site. As someone who had previously never visited the Schull Workhouse, the atmosphere on the grounds was immediately striking. I am struggling to describe it as anything other than uaigneach, which is Irish for lonely or sad. This mood was intensified by the night-time setting of the performance. The event began in the late hours of the evening and continued on into darkness. The attendees were divided into groups and guided around the grounds to different performances. Some performances were brief while others seemed to narrate a particular story. All of the performances evoked a sense of cultural memory.

The ruins of the workhouse itself was central to the event. The building was strikingly lit against the night sky, which gave the effect of both beauty and melancholy. The audience sat, vigil-like, while the performers utilized the tradition of keening to lament and mourn those lost to this tragedy.

However, the artist emphasised throughout the event the sad fact that tragedies like these are happening today, albeit not in Ireland, but in the war-torn countries of the world. I left the performance thinking how shameful it is to see other people experience a similar plight to that  experienced by the Irish people nearly a hundred and seventy five years ago. Anáil na Beatha expanded on many of the themes and issues raised by the Coming Home exhibition and left the audience with plenty to think about.

Opening Night

A huge thank you to everyone who joined us for our Opening Night. There was a palpable buzz around the galleries as visitors experienced this significant and thought-provoking exhibition for the first time. Curator Niamh O’ Sullivan spoke passionately on the night about finally seeing this exhibition realized in Skibbereen. West Cork Art Centre’s chairperson Cyril Thornton and Mayor of County Cork, Patrick Gerard Murphy shared similar sentiments, remarking that it was a momentous occasion for the town considering its synonymity with the Famine and its reputation as a cultural hub of West Cork.

 Dee Forbes, Director general of RTE, officially opened the event. Her remarks in regards to the significance of  Famine illustration journalism, referenced in the exhibition, adds another lens to experience Coming Home through. As Forbes noted, we only know of events through media coverage and how the media presents information to us. It is an interesting idea and one that is particularly significant in the world today.

A common reaction to the exhibition is the realization of the Irish Famine’s similarities to other humanitarian crises that have occurred throughout history and continue to happen today. The contemporary artwork of West Cork artist William Crozier, Dorothy Cross, Rowan Gillespie and Hughie O’ Donoghue, amongst others, located in Gallery II, are significant contributing factors to this realization. Gillespie’s  bronze sculpture, Statistic 1/Statistic 11, seems to have caught the imagination of visitors, which are between four and five hundred a day. Whilst invigilating the exhibition and talking among visitors, I have witnessed many search amongst the Famine victims names inscribed on the sculpture for a shared surname.

Basking Shark Currach by Dorothy Cross is another artwork that immediately demands the viewers attention and retains it through the sculpture’s many layers of narrative. Another reaction that seems to be almost universal amongst the visitors on opening night is the disbelief that the Famine happened not so long ago! The effects of the Famine are still being felt on the Irish psyche as a result. President Michael D. Higgins, who opened the exhibition in Dublin Castle addressed in particular, how the effects of An Gorta Mor can be seen in the Irish mentality towards emigration. Many Irish diaspora are visiting Coming Home already, with visitors from America and England drawn to exhibition’s themes.

An element of theatre was incorporated into the night, adding a further sense of reality to an event that can sometimes feel confined to the pages of history book. The speakers were joined by local Historian Gerald O’Brien, Philip O’ Regan of Skibbereen Heritage Centre and Carmel O’Driscoll from Skibbereen Theatre Society, who embodied characters from Famine times and read accounts of their daily realities.

The response on the night was wonderful, with the artwork helping people to recall different stories of the Famine they had heard from family members, schools and Irish life. Everyone here at Uillinn was  thrilled with the success of the event. The interest that was aroused by Coming Home’s arrival has not subsided. The Uillinn is being kept busy with visitor numbers daily since the opening. I’m looking forward to meeting new visitors with new stories in coming weeks!

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Opening Night is here

It is here, opening night is here. Coming home: Art & the Great Hunger has come home to Skibbereen. It is two hours until our official opening at 6 o' clock and the Uillinn is alive with the sounds of excitement - and cleaning!

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

The River Ilen Drainage Scheme

With all the work and preparation going on inside the Uillinn for the upcoming Coming home: Art & The Great Hunger exhibition, it is easy to forget about all the work that is going on outside of the building in preparation for our opening night.

Photo Courtesy of Jons Civil Engineering Limited on behalf of Cork City Council

The River Ilen Drainage Scheme is one of a number of major flood relief schemes undertaken in Cork county following a decision by the OPW in 2015. The West Cork Arts Centre is located in the Uillinn, at the meeting (or elbow) of the Caol Stream and the Ilen River, so we very much welcome these works!

The 15.8m scheme is a response to two destructive floods in 2009 and a total of 21 significant floods since 1943. Construction formally commenced with Jons Civil Engineering in June 2016 and I recently had a chance to talk with Simon, a foreman on the team. 

He explained that the entire town's flood defences would be raised 4 meters to protect from high water levels. For the work being done outside WCAC, this means that the Caol Stream has to be diverted to provide the workers with a dry working site. Sections of reinforced concrete are installed near the building. 

By design, the walls that have been created around the Uillinn have been finished with Corten steel echoing the aesthetic of the building and the vision of its architects, Donaghy and Dimond. Corten steel is an unusual material as it eliminates the need for painting and rusts and weathers over time adding character to a building. Architect, Will Dimond had said the use of the material was inspired by the red-oxide painted, corrugated steel roofs of traditional West Cork barns. 

Photo courtesy of Jons Civil Engineering Limited on behalf of Cork City Council

Aerial view of the flood relief work outside the Uillinn.

Internal view of the work being done inside the Uillinn.

All in all, WCAC is definitely a busy spot right now!

Friday, 13 July 2018


With the arrival of the Coming Home exhibition comes the time to say goodbye to  'Bealtaine' for another year.

'Bealtaine' is an annual and nationwide event that celebrates arts and creativity as we age. WCAC Arts for an Active Mind programme exhibited alongside the Arts for Health programme in a spirited and colourful showcase of work. The event, held every May (Bealtaine), is always a great opportunity to see the Uillinn's impressive community programme.

Shadow of a bright day was created through the use of plants and hedgerow on cyanotype treated fabric by the residents of Skibbereen Community Hospital in collaboration with artist Toma McCullim.

 The Arts for Health partnership programme is the product of an innovative collaboration between the WCAC, Cork Education and Training Board, Cork County Council and the HSE. Activities, classes and events are held in community hospitals and day-centres across West Cork. The programme, which has been running since 2005, has inspired the outpouring of creativity that is evident in 'Bealtaine'.

The multi-disciplinary exhibition included sound art, poetry and visual art in a variety of forms; including painting, sculpture and print.

Similarly, the Arts for an Active Mind programme has created a positive environment for the local over-50's community to engage with visual art. Currently, there are 14 participants who meet weekly with artist Paul Cialis. The participants are given the opportunity to express, hone and investigate their creative skills. 

This is a special and celebratory event in the WCAC calendar - so if you missed this year's exhibition, save the date for next year's event!

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Arrival of Work

The work has arrived, everyone!

Today was an exciting day at the Uillinn with the arrival of the Coming home exhibition.

The exhibition's themes will take on a heightened meaning now that it is situated within the context of Skibbereen, a town that has become almost synonymous with the Famine.

The work is now onsite and awaiting install, we have a busy week ahead in preparation for Opening Night on July 19th!

Wednesday, 4 July 2018


The walls are painted and we are ready for the work to arrive tomorrow.

Preparations for Coming Home: Art and the Great Hunger

Preparation for Coming home: Art and the Great Hunger is well and truly under way here at the West Cork Arts Centre. The work will be arriving tomorrow along with the curator, Professor Niamh O' Sullivan and the excitement is building daily for the exhibition's opening on July 19th. I'm Sarah Long, the project intern and recent Fine Art graduate and I will be supplying you with all the behind-the-scenes access to this impressive programme of events. 

The Coming Home exhibition is a visual interpretation of one of the most pivotal events in Irish history, the Famine.Through an interesting relationship between historical and contemporary art, this collection of work raises thematic issues such as loss, emigration and economic upheaval which gives the exhibition contemporary and universal significance. 

This blog will act as an insight into the the exhibition's time here in Skibbereen, so watch this space!