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

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!