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.

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