Category Archives: Comment

A nation on the march again … or just plain old déja vu?

Photo of Freddie Chute working on the restoration of the Maid of Erin, Listowel, a project managed by Ciarán Walsh of  www.cutrator.ie for artist Sean Lynch. Lynch was commissioned by Kerry County Council as part of its Public Art Funding. The photo is split, one half showing the 'Maid' stripped bare and the second half showing the 'Maid' after restoration.

Freddie Chute working on the restoration of ‘The Maid of Erin,’ Listowel, 2012.

I had something else planned for this blog but Tom Halliday’s cartoon of ‘A Nation on the March’ (Sunday Independent’s 02.11.2014) brought me back to the ‘Maid of Erin’ theme. Halliday shows ‘Liberty’ as a bare breasted ‘Maid of Erin’ leading the plain people of Ireland as they trample the political elite in a revolt over water charges. Top of the pile of the trampled is Joan Burton, leader of the Labour Party and Tanaiste or Deputy Prime Minister of Ireland.

Eugene Delacroix’s ‘Liberty Leading the People’ (painted in 1830 to commemorate the French Revolution) reworked as  'A Nation on the March' by Tom Halliday and printed in the Sunday Independent's (02.11.2014) report of the collapse in support for the Irish Government. Halliday shows Liberty as the  bare breasted 'Maid of Erin' leading the plain people of Ireland as they trample the political elite in a revolt over water charges.

‘A Nation on the March’ by Tom Halliday, Sunday Independent 02.11.2014

Less than a week later Joan Burton was indeed ‘trampled’ by the great unwashed when she was ambushed by anti-austerity demonstrators protesting against the introduction of water charges. Amateur video footage is available on Journal.ie. It is shocking at all sorts of levels. Politics aside, this looks like an assault on a woman, pure and simple. It marked the beginning of a new and seemingly more aggressive stage in the campaign against water charges.

Joan Burton Jobstown

Screengrab of Tanaiste Joan Burton in Jobstown (Journal.ie)

Within days a  bomb threat was phoned in to the Minister for the Environment’s constituency office and the Minister of Finance was forced to make a getaway through a side door at another public event. The number of events is small and focussed on a particular campaign but a line has been crossed. Peaceful protest has morphed into ‘revolt’ or ‘thuggery’ depending on whether you are an anti-austerity activist or a member of the establishment. What is not in dispute is that the introduction of water charges is the spark that has ignited the rage that has simmered under the surface since the Irish government bailed out the banks at the expense of ordinary citizens.

Is this the beginning of The Revolution? Up to now the political / economic establishment has depended on ‘Paddy’ (as the Taoiseach / Prime Minister put it) maintaining his legendary tolerance of economic mismanagement and corruption in order to push through austerity without the democratic revolution that was promised in return. Sure, the voters could always be bought off with more promises and compromises before the next election. The voters are reasonable people after all according to Alan Kelly (Lab), Minister for the Environment (17.11.2014). Then Joan Burton was attacked. Something had snapped in Irish politics. There is a sense of genuine shock at the nature of the attack on the Labour Party leader in a Labour heartland, and everything else that followed.

The anti-austerity campaigners are unapologetic. The people have had enough. They have put aside the traditional passive aggressive “I’ll get them at the election” attitude and have risen up against the political elite. Halliday’s cartoon is a reworking of Eugene Delacroix’s celebration of the power of the people as the force behind the French Revolution. The idea of the plain people of Ireland throwing bricks and smashing things may have been ironic and even witty a week or two ago, but so too was the idea of an Irish Revolution.

Eugene Delacroix, ‘Liberty Leading the People,’ 1830, Louvre, Paris. http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/july-28-liberty-leading-people. Uploaded by Ciaran Walsh, www.curator.ie, Photographs credited © RMN, Musée du Louvre / [etc.] are the property of the RMN. Non-commercial re-use is authorized, provided the source and author are acknowledged.

Eugene Delacroix, ‘Liberty Leading the People,’ 1830, Louvre, Paris.

That was before the latest polls revealed that the political centre (represented by Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Labour) is in decline. Some people are predicting that thenext general election is likely to return Sinn Féin as the largest party along with over 40 independents. If this happens, then Irish politics as we know it will be finished … until the next election at least. Is this the revolution? Sinn Féin thinks so. Two years ago republicans used another version of ‘Liberty Leading the People’ to illustrate public hostility to austerity and to predict the demise of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail. Their version of ‘Ireland / Liberty’ on the barricades was the ‘pop’ version created by Bobby Ballagh in 1973, in anticipation of another revolution in Ireland.

 

Robert Ballagh (Irish, b. 1943) Liberty on the barricades (after Delacroix)1973 lithograph Robert BallaghIn 2012 Sinn Fein used another version of Liberty Leading the People’ to illustrate public hostility to austerity and to predict the demise of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail. Their version of ‘Ireland / Liberty’ on the barricades was the ‘pop’ version created by Bobby Ballagh in 1973, in anticipation of another revolution in Ireland.  Uploaded by Ciaran Wals, www.curator.ie from An Phoblacht ((http://www.anphoblacht.com/contents/21858).

Robert Ballagh, Liberty on the barricades (after Delacroix), 1973, lithograph (uploaded from http://www.anphoblacht.com/contents/21858).

This got me thinking about Pat McAuliffe’s ‘Maid of Erin,’ a massive cartoon in plaster on the front of a pub in Listowel, County Kerry. It is a large stuccowork that was created by the eccentric builder and plasterer in 1912. He portrayed Ireland as bare breasted ‘Maid’ surrounded by nationalist and Home Rule symbols. McAulliffe created a whole series of tableaux on shopfronts in the townl. These are probably the most underrated examples of indigenous folk art in Ireland, something that is unique in a conservative arts world that was dominated by Manchester and London and was, by and large, oblivious to modernism not to mind anything that smacked of revolutionary avant-gardism.

Pat McAuliffe's 'Maid of Erin' in Listowel is a massive cartoon in plaster on the front of a pub in Listowel, County Kerry. It is a large stuccowork that was created by the eccentric builder and plasterer Pat McAulliffe in 1912. He portrayed Ireland as bare breasted 'Maid' surrounded by nationalist and Home Rule symbols.  McAulliffe created a whole series of tableau on shopfronts in Listowel, County Kerry. These are probably the most underrated examples of indigeninous folk art in Ireland, something that is unique in a conservative arts world that was dominated by Manchester and London and was, by and large, oblivious to modernism not to mind anything that smacked of revolutionary avant gardism. This photo was taken by John Pierce in the 1970s. In 2012 the "Maid' was restored in a project mangaed by Ciarán Walsh of www.curator.ie

Pat McAuliffe, ‘Maid of Erin,’ 1912, Listowel, County Kerry.

In retrospect it seems very improbable that a sculpture of a semi- naked woman would be allowed in a conservative / rural / petit bourgeoisie town under the heel of the Catholic clergy. So what was McAuliffe getting at? The imminent achievement of Home Rule and Liberty probably. McAuliffe borrowed ideas from everywhere. He took off-the-shelf commercial mouldings and transformed them with signatory mermaids (McAullife crest) and other esoteric motifs. ‘The Maid of Erin’ is obviously a synthesis of nationalist symbolism (Harp, Round Tower, Shamrock, Hound, Sunburst) but one question always arises, why the bare breasts? I have no doubt that he was thinking of Delacroix and his version of ‘Liberty’ when he created his ‘Maid of Erin,’ just over a hundred years ago on the eve of another revolution.

MacAuliffe’s ‘Maid of Erin’ was restored in 2012. Could this be a case of Déja Vu? The first brick has been thrown. Will there be many more? Can the centre hold?

 

 

A word about the restoration ‘The Maid of Erin’

In 2012 I managed the restoration of the ‘Maid of Erin.’ for artist Sean Lynch. Lynch was commissioned by Kerry County Council as part of its Public Art Funding. Sean Lynch’s work is deals with the recovery of lost or forgotten works of arts or cultural artifacts in a way that makes us question the values embedded in these objects in terms of contemporary social+political=cultural events. ‘The Maid of Erin’ is typical.

During a previous restoration of ‘The Maid of Erin’ in 1999 a row was caused when a new owner decided to “cover her dignity”  (Howard).

Photo of Freddie Chute working on the restoration of the Maid of Erin, Listowel, a project managed by Ciarán Walsh of  www.cutrator.ie for artist Sean Lynch. Lynch was commissioned by Kerry County Council as part of its Public Art Funding. The photo is split, one half showing the 'Maid' stripped bare and the second half showing the 'Maid' after restoration.

Photo of Freddie Chute working on the restoration of the Maid of Erin, Listowel, a project managed by Ciarán Walsh of http://www.cutrator.ie for artist Sean Lynch. Lynch was commissioned by Kerry County Council as part of its Public Art Funding. The photo is split, one half showing the ‘Maid’ stripped bare and the second half showing the ‘Maid’ after restoration.

 

 

 

 

 

Mairia Cahill, Mary Lou McDonald and the legacy of the ‘Colleen Bawn’

 

An illustration based on a photograph by Gerry Mooney of Mairia Cahill who is at the centre of a political row over rape by a senior IRA man. Cahill is posed in profile with long blonde hair and a red crochet top over a black dress. The image has been manipulated by Ciarán Walsh of www.curator.ie to make it look like a turn of the century photograph of 'The Colleen Bawn.'

Mairia Cahill

 

It’s funny how things go. I’ve spent most of the week working on the portrayal of ‘Mother Ireland’ as the ‘Sean Bhean Bhocht’, the ‘Maid of Erin’ and the ‘Colleen Bawn’. It would all be very historic and even ‘begorrah’ if it wasn’t for the deadly struggle that is playing out in the national media between two very modern versions of the ‘Colleen Bawn.’

First up is Mary Lou McDonald. Sinn Féin has managed to re-invent itself in the shape of Mary Lou as a 21st century ‘Colleen Bawn.’ The ‘Bawn’ bit is interesting. It’s usually taken to mean the fair headed lass but it can also mean ‘pure,’ as in not corrupted by worldly things. This suits MacDonald down to the ground. Sinn Féin’s recent electoral breakthrough was built around the construction of MacDonald and her protegées as a straight talking, honest-to-God republicans who aren’t tainted by past associations with the IRA.

Then along comes Mairia Cahill. She claimed on national radio that she had been raped by a leading Republican in 1997 when she was 16 years of age, that Gerry Adams knew all about it and that members of the IRA had subjected her to a kangaroo court, a process that victimised her all over again.

Mairia Cahill it seems has much more in common with Ellie Hanley, the woman whose tragic story was behind  the creation of the original ‘Colleen Bawn’. Almost 200 years ago Ellie Hanley was aged 15 when she murdered by John Scanlon and his manservant Stephen Sullivan. Scanlon was the son of a landowner. He was 23 and he had just finished service with the Royal Marines when he met Ellen and persuaded her to elope with him, robbing her elderly uncle and guardian of his life savings in the process.

Two weeks later she was murdered by Sullivan on Scanlon’s instructions. He was hoping to ‘disappear’ her before the marriage, sham or not, was discovered. He dumped her body in the Shannon but six weeks later it was washed up at Moneypoint. Scanlon was immediately suspected and he and O’Sullivan went on the run. The authorities were reluctant to go after Scanlon, one of their own, but public outrage at the crime meant that both were eventually caught and hanged for the murder of Ellie Hanley. She is buried in Killimer in the family grave of Peter O’Connel, the Gaelic scholar.

 

An albumen black and white print taken some time in the 1860s showing two women sitting amongst tombstones in a graveyard in Killimer Co. Clare. Of the graves is that of of Ellie Hanley, the Colleen Bawn. From the Vandeleur Albums, Clare County Library. Posted by Ciarán Walsh, www.curator.ie.

A photograph taken some time in the 1860s showing the grave of Ellie Hanley, the ‘Colleen Bawn’,Killimer Co. Clare. From the Vandeleur Albums, Clare County Library.

In 1829 Gerald Griffin wrote a romantic melodrama built around Ellen Hanley’s murder. In 1860 Boucicault came across it and very quickly turned into a a romantic comedy called th e ‘Colleen Bawn. ‘ It was so successful that it ran for an unprecedented 330 nights in London and Queen Victoria was said to have attended it three times in a week. This is hardly surprising given that Boucicault sidestepped the real story (murder most foul) in favour of plot twists, racy comic stylings, and, of course, a happy ending according to Padraig Killeen in his review of the 2013 revival by Druid.

This llustration shows the Murder of the Colleen Bawn from an illustration posted on http://www.exclassics.com/newgate/ng584.htm. It was reblogged by Ciarán Walsh, www.curator.ie

The Murder of the Colleen Bawn from an illustration posted on http://www.exclassics.com/newgate/ng584.htm

Fictionalising history is at the core of Sinn Féin’s political tool kit. Adams’ handling of allegations that he was a member of the IRA is political theatre – maybe even farce – at the best of times. And there are more twists than Boucicault could dream of in Sinn Féin’s handling of the Boston College Tapes, Gerry Adams’ alleged role in the disappearance of Jean McConville and, his role in the handling of the allegations of the sexual abuse of Aine Tyrell by her father Liam Adams.

This week was different though. When Adams and MacDonald were confronted by Mairia Cahill the wheels came off in a spectacular fashion. Sinn Féin cracked and one of the most remarkable features of the news coverage during the week week has been the ‘touting’ by members of the party … Sinn Féin T.D.s speaking on condition of absolute anonymity. Touting is something that has gotten people ‘disappeared’ in the past

As I write the final act hasn’t happened. Voter reaction is all over the place. A Red C poll published today (26.10.2014) showed a drop in support for Sinn Fein while the B&A poll remained unchanged. Adams’ support is down amongst the people polled but Mary Lou and the party faithful are standing by their man. Support is up at 89%.

 

Mary Lou Gerry Martin

 

Cahill has played a blinder, proving particularly adept at playing Sinn Féin at their own game. She understands the importance of managing the image business. The photograph taken by Gerry Mooney and published by the Irish Independent is a classic of the ‘Colleen Bawn’ genre … in the Ellie Hanly tradition. By contrast Mary Lou is not looking so ‘Bawn’ despite her best efforts. She has stayed backstage but the time has come for her to put up or shut up, as Jody Corcoran put it in today’s Sunday Independent Newspaper.

I’m beginning to think that this version of the ‘Colleen Bawn’ may not have a happy ending.

Synge and Sander, and the Significance of the Suit

Young Farmers 1914, printed 1996 by August Sander 1876-1964

 

I came across this photo on Tumblr recently and it reminded me of an old acquaintance that I had with John Berger – in print of course. I was an undergraduate student trying to come to terms with the ‘significance’ of the ‘suit’ in this photo.

Young Farmers was taken by August Sander in 1914 using a large format, glass plate camera with a long exposure time, a legacy of earlier formalised studio portraiture and all that that implied. It was the sixth plate in Sander’s portrait photobook Face of Our Time, published in 1929. It also appears in the first volume of Sander’s People of the Twentieth Century, a photographic index of the German population based on distinct social ‘types’.

John Berger ‘the Marxist art critic’ wrote an essay about the photo in which he stated: ‘The date is 1914. The three young men belong, at the very most, to the second generation who ever wore such suits in the European countryside. Twenty or 30 years earlier, such clothes did not exist at a price which peasants could afford.’ (Berger, The Suit and the Photograph, 1980, p.30.).

Berger suggests that the tree lads are deliberately playing with the viewers expectations of the peasant ‘type’ by adopting the stance and manner of urban ‘types’, the cigarette being especially significant in this regard (adapted from text on the Tate website).

 

My wallet of photographs ; the collected photographs of J.M. Synge

 

Berger may have overstated it a little, in an Irish context anyhow. John Millington Synge took this photograph of Mairtín Mac Donnchadha in 1898, a mere 16 years before Young Farmers. Mac Donnchadha features prominently in ‘The Aran Islands’ (1907),  Synges account of life on the islands. In the book Mac Donnchadha is called  ‘Michael’ and is portrayed as a model of the primitive peasant ‘type’ found in Aran.

Justin Carville (Photography and Ireland), in a reprise of Berger’s earlier article, wrote in the(Irish Journal of Anthropology (reference below) about Synge’s account of taking the photograph.  Mairtín / Michael wanted to wear his suit, his Sunday clothes from Galway rather than the homespuns that he was photographed in. He wanted to distance himself from the ‘primitive life of the islands.’ This was evidence, according to Carville, that the islanders were ‘becoming increasingly aware of the production of their identity through the photographic image.’ In other words they understood the significance of the suit.

It seems they weren’t alone, judging by the studio portraits used by Synge (right) and Sander. At the time Synge was living in Paris on an annual allowance of £40 plus a new suit, courtesy of his landowning family. Synge, and others like, him were known to the islanders as ‘lucht na cultacha deasa,’  the people with the nice suits.

 

August Sander 1906, printed 1990 by August Sander 1876-1964

 

 

 

Ref: “My Wallet of Photographs”: Photography, Ethnography and Visual Culture in J.M. Synge’s Aran Islands” Irish Journal of Anthropology Vol. 10 no. 1. (2007): 5-11.

Going, going …. Gone? Enda ‘Krony’ Kenny in the stocks.

This image, a photomontage by Ciarán Walsh (Ballymaclinton.wordpress.com / www.curator.ie)   shows the main square of Ballymacclinto where Enda 'Krony' Kenny and his partner in crime Brendan 'I Can Explain' Howlin have been placed in the stocks because of the cronyism scandal, placing political cronies on state board as payback for political loyalty.

Enda ‘Krony’ Kenny and his partner in crime Brendan ‘I Can Explain’ Howlin.

Ballymaclinton is in uproar. McNulty and Quinlan are gone and Enda ‘Krony’ Kenny has acted emphatically to end the practice of rewarding political loyalty with appointments to state boards and other positions with attractive expenses arrangements.

Kenny has ended up in the stocks for a lapse in standards, regretting that the reforms he promised during the election campaign have not happened … yet. Since they were elected Enda Kenny and Brendan ‘I Can Explain’ Howlin have struggled with the practicalities of balancing cronyism with promises of reform and, in each case, the reality of party politics has prevailed.

Like Augustine of Hippo (Confessions, 8:7) Kenny and Howlin thought that purging the body politic of stroke politics and the evil of cronyism was something that could be put on the long finger. There was always a good reason to appoint a crony to a board or breach the public service pay guidelines for ministerial advisers.

This week the long finger got too short and Kenny took the hit for his party and its complicit and oh-so-compliant partners in crime, the Labour Party. Oh dear, what could one say about the erstwhile radical reformers in Labour as we witnessed one member after another defending the indefensible, whilst hinting at a radical shake up of the system of payback or remuneration for party loyalists.

Make no mistake about it. This is about remuneration … money.

I served on a number of boards some time ago and I witnessed first hand how the expenses regime works. On one board a senator who was a member of a government party always turned up late, had his presence recorded by proposing a motion and promptly departed, having had his entitlement to claim expenses established.

Nothing wrong was done but it wasn’t right either. This system typified all that was wrong with the party political culture in Ireland. Labour was on a hook over McNulty and BIG CHANGES were hinted at as Labour deputies explained why they were voting for him. They were letting this one go but this would never happen again we were told! Weren’t we promised that during the election three years ago?

Like a government that realises that the end is nigh, Kenny and Howlin have repented and rushed through new procedures for appointments to state bodies. Like most deathbed reformations, it looks like too little too late. The promise of reform is beyond resuscitation and Kenny’s credibility with it.

Get the rotten veggies ready oh ye voters.