Category Archives: Heritage

Jane W. Shackleton: Pioneering Photographer and Unsung Hero of the Gaelic Revival

 Bridget Mullins, Inis Mór, The Aran Islands, 1895.

Bridget Mullins stands proud and visibly pregnant beside an impressive example of a west of Ireland spinning wheel. Crude stone cottages, drystone walls and bare limestone flags provide a barren backdrop to an image that combines industry and motherhood. Her dress proclaims her ethnicity. This is the Aran Islands. Dun Aonghusa, the ancient fort of the Fir Bolg, is just about visible on the horizon. The year is 1895.

Jane W. Shackleton asked Mullins to pose with the spinning wheel outdoors, in front of a cottage. Apart from any technical requirements – stand cameras with slow lenses and negatives that required long exposures in bright daylight – this was an increasingly conventional way of photographing women in the west of Ireland. The encounter between these two women was, however, a rather unconventional and almost auto-ethnographic moment that produced a complex set of subjectivities: the bourgeois wife of a miller and the peasant wife of a tenant farmer, one Anglo-Irish and one Gaelic-Irish; the naturalised colonist and the colonised native, one Quaker and the other Roman Catholic.

It was also a practical and interested transaction. Mullins traded her ethnicity for access to a technology of representation that was way beyond her reach, economically speaking. She paid Shackleton for a copy of the photograph with a pair of hand-knit socks. Why? The cachet of having a photographic portrait is one reason but there is another reason why photographs were highly valued in place like Aran. Many islanders had emigrated to the United States and a photographic portrait, however framed, would have been an extraordinarily valuable and tangible token of affiliation for separated families (Daithí de Mórdha’s work on the family photographs of the Blasket Islanders is worth looking at in this context). Shackleton, for her part, was trading in antiquarian photography and needed the authentic, documentary ethnicity embodied in Bridget Mullins.

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Source: Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland

Victorians in the Field

The trade between Shackleton and Mullins was much more than some sort of “bead exchange” between a tourist and a native in an exotic location. Shackleton was not a tourist. The photograph was taken during a field trip by the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland and the Society’s documentation of the excursion – from the metropolis to the ‘wild’ west – shows the extent to which photography had become integrated into fieldwork and social documentary practices of representation. This was the height of the ‘survey’ movement, an attempt by photographic and historical societies to record the traditional aspects of society throughout the UK before they were swept aside by rapid modernisation. Special attention was paid to the ‘Celtic Fringe’ and the spectacular nature of the Aran Islands had been highlighted by Alfred Cort Haddon following his first visit to the islands in 1890. The rapid expansion of industrialised and commodified photography into the middle classes in the 1880s and 1890s was a key element in this movement. The Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland accumulated 20,000 photographic images in its search the for traces of past civilisation in Ireland, a collection that has only recently been recovered and restored (see RSAI). One of the photographs taken featured Alfred Cort Haddon lounging against the a wall in the complex of ruins known as the Seven Churches. Haddon and Shackleton were connected.

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Source: Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland

Shackleton and Haddon

Shackleton visited Aran for the first time in 1891, just as Haddon was getting the Irish Ethnographic Survey off the ground. They knew one another and both were members of the Royal Society of Antiquaries, a key part of Haddons network. Haddon promoted the involvement of women in field clubs and it a proficient photographer and antiquarian like Shackleton would hardly have escaped his attention. It raises the question, was her trip to Aran prompted by Haddon? There is an early photograph of men carrying a curragh that feature in the collections assembled by both Haddon and Shackleton. The authorship is unclear but this suggests that, at the very least, they were exchanging copies / slides of photographs taken in Aran.

Haddon was very different to Shackleton as far as motivation goes. Haddon was a ‘Headhunter,’ an ethnologist using craniometry to map the ancient migrations “of man” and their traces in contemporary populations. Shackleton was a humanist and her photography brought the people of Aran and their society into sharp focus against a background of political turbulence and contested identities.

Erin with Harp

Éire by Jerome Connor (1874 -1943) , Merrion Square, Dublin, erected 1976. Source: Greatacre

Mullins as Mother Ireland

The portrait of Bridget Mullins is a carefully composed and complex study of womanhood in the pre-literate and pre-capitalist society of white “savages” that lived in the most primitive part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in 1895. The fact that Mullins is visibly pregnant is one of the most remarkable features of this photograph and, indeed photography from tis period. I don’t know of any other Victorian photograph that represents pregnancy so explicitly. It has to be deliberate: this is Mother Ireland in the flesh. Replace the spinning wheel with a harp and you have Erin, the most enduring image produced by the Young Irelander movement of cultural nationalists that emerged after 1848, the year of revolutions in Europe. Shackleton has reified and radicalised the idea of being Irish by transforming the way women like Mullins were made visible in the metropolis.

The photograph of Bridget Mullins was copied as a slide – the heavy black border shows that this a reproduction of a glass lantern (gas powered projector) slide – and presented with supporting commentary in “magic lantern” shows in Dublin. These slideshows were hugely popular but they were more than an elitist living room entertainment for the Anglo-Irish bourgeois. This ‘technology of representation’ was transforming social, cultural and political campaigns It is hard to ignore the impact that these images of Aran must have had on the Gaelic Revival, the start of which is generally associated with Douglas Hyde’s call for the de-Anglicisation of Irish society in 1892. Shackleton’s empathy with and concern for the islanders is evident in her lecture notes. Her representation of Bridget Mullins in the performance of those slideshows must have really challenged attitudes to the recalcitrant ‘primitivism’ of the ‘native’ Irish, bringing the validity of the colonial administration of Ireland into question into the bargain. The connection between this enhanced visibility – and the visualities it created – and the increased focus on the “real’ Ireland to the West that was such a feature of the Gaelic Revival has to be more than co-incidence. It could be Shackletons legacy as a social documentary photographer.

Original glass plate negatives of photographs around Ireland by J.M. Synge. Previous reproductions were published in a book titled My Wallet, in 1971.

Nóra and Máire Nic Donnchadha, Inis Meáin, by John Millington Synge (c1899). Courtesy of the Board of Trinity College Dublin.

Conclusion: And What About Synge?

Whether or not Shackleton’s slideshows came to the attention of an amateur photographer called John Millington Synge is not clear. Dublin always was a small place and it is hard to imagine that John Millington Synge – whose uncle had been a pastor (and a controversial one at that) on Aran – was not aware of the interest in Aran in “learned” societies like the Antiquaries. Synge arrived in he Aran Islands from Paris in the summer of 1898 and immediately bought a second hand ‘falling plate’ camera that he used to record / document life on the islands. They were meant to illustrate his account of life on the island. His account of the time he spent living amongst the peasants was to eclipse Shackleton, Haddon and many other accounts of life in the islands. Ironically, the significance of Synge’s photographs was overlooked until the centenary of his death in 2009, when they were belatedly recognised as a turning point in the imagination of Irishness, a cultural turn on the eve of revolution. (www.curator.ie / IMMA)

Likewise Shackleton’s singular contribution to the Gaelic Revival has been seriously undervalued. According to Christiaan Corlett  Jane W. Shackleton was responsible for the most comprehensive photographic documentation of the Aran Islands at the end of the 19th century but her career as a photographer was virtually unknown until Corlett published a collection of her photographs in 2012. Why? Does the answer lie in a gendered history of photography or in the victory of the romantic primitivism of Synge over antiquarianism and all other perspectives?

In search of the ‘Starving West’: TV series on social documentary photography

Uploaded by www.curator.ie: a reproduction of a photograph of an impoverish family huddled in cabin in Connemara in 1898. It is entitled

A starving Irish family from Carraroe, County Galway during the Famine . Source: Virginia University.

About 10 years go I came across this photograph. The caption suggests that it was taken during the Famine of 1845-9 in Ireland.  It wasn’t. True, it is very similar to the scenes recorded in cabins throughout the west of Ireland and graphic illustrations of such scenes were published in illustrated newspapers at the time. There is no record, however, of any photograph of people dying of starvation in the 1845-9 famine.  Indeed a photograph like this would have been impossible in the early stages of photography – invented less than a decade before the famine. As a result he photograph has been dismissed by some people as a fake, the harsh pool of light suggesting a studio staging.

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I set out to look for the original and test its authenticity. I never found it, but I found the next best thing -the original document in which the photograph was first published.  The photograph is entitled ‘A Sick Family Carraroe’ and is one of 18 photographs that were published in a pamphlet entitled  ‘Relief of Distress in the West and South of Ireland, 1898.’ The photographs were taken in April during an inspection of conditions in Connemara by Thomas L. Esmonde, Inspector of the Manchester Committee. He was reacting to reports of famine in Conamara. He inspected a dozen houses in which he found people lying on the floor, covered with rags and old sacks and barely able to move from a combination of influenza and hunger.

12 The Starving west

The search for the photograph became the basis of an idea for a TV series on social documentary photography or, to put it another way, a social history of documentary photography in Ireland in the 19th century. I pitched the idea to a producer and a broadcaster in 2011 and funding was eventually secured from the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland in 2014 for a six part series based on my research. TG4 will begin  broadcasting Trid an Lionsa or ‘Through the Lens’ tomorrow Sunday 25 October 2015.

I haven’t been involved in in the production itself, just the research into historical social documentary photography and the people who work in this area. This material has been “translated into television” by Cathal Watters (Oíche na Gaoithe Móire) and follows the TG4 controversial format of presenter driven, on-the-road info-tainment. (http://wp.me/p56Bmf-5g).

I have no idea what to expect. Like a colleague I will be watching from behind the couch … hoping!  It’ll be interesting to see how the balance between a social history of documentary photography and ‘factual’ entertainment works out. I know some key “voices” were excluded but that is the unenviable task of a producer. Either way it promises be an intriguing televisual event and, at the very least, it should create an awareness of the rich resource that exists in photographic archives and collections around the country.

Related posts:

Jane W. Shackleton, Pioneering Photographer and Unsung Hero of the Gaelic Revival

Alfred Cort Haddon: Haddon and the Aran Islands

Famine Photography: Photographs were taken: documenting the second famine in Connemara

Fadó Fadó: Once upon a time, in Tralee, there was a folk theatre …

Jeremiah Molneaux (1883–1967) or Gerry Munnix as he was known locally was born in 1883 was a dance teacher in North Kerry who inspired the house style of the National Folk Theatre. Molyneaux’s style is often described as earthy, as the dancer performs close to the ground. He is dancing with dancing with Sheila Bowler.Source: Sharon Phelan: www.pdst.ie/sites/default/files/Dance%20manual.doc

Jeremiah Molneaux (1883–1967) or Gerry Munnix as he was known locally was a dance teacher in North Kerry who inspired the house style of the National Folk Theatre. The “Munnix” style is “often described as earthy, as the dancer performs close to the ground.”  Gerry Munnix is shown dancing with dancing with Sheila Bowler in this photograph.

SLIM PICKINGS AT THE HOME OF THE NATIONlONAL FOLK THEATRE, TRALEE.

A show celebrating 40 years of costume design in Siamsa Tíre, The National Folk Theatre of Ireland is a curious affair. There is very little to see and even less to get excited about, which suggests that all is not well in the National Folk Theatre.

What’s new? “The trouble with Siamsa is …” is one of those awful conversation openings that I became accustomed to when I worked as Visual Arts Director of the National Folk Theatre or “Siamsa” for short. I left Siamsa in 2010 but people still come up to me and say “The trouble with Siamsa is …” Two years or so ago I was stopped in Foynes – an hour up the coast from Tralee – when an artist pulled in and began to berate me about the management of the visual arts in Siamsa, even though she was well aware that I had left the place some time ago. It still goes on. A founding member recently lamented the demise of the company. A conversation in Tralee last Monday was more gentle in style but the same in focus: The trouble with Siamsa is … that it doesn’t work, it is a failed artistic enterprise. It’s hard to escape any other conclusion looking at this exhibition.

I have to declare my position here. I started in Siamsa in 1995 – fadó fadó or a long time ago. By 2010 I had built an innovative commission-based, visual arts programme with a national and international reach. In 2010 there were active collaborations with partners in London, Paris, New York, Shanghai, Melbourne and Newfoundland, all of which was underpinned by a strong policy of engagement with local arts interests. In March of that year I went to the Board and reported that “the trouble with Siamsa was that the management of the company was incapable of operating at the level required by such projects.” It wasn’t the first time I had made the point – marketing was a constant issue – but it was the last. The board meeting happened on a Thursday evening and on the following Monday I was told by the CEO that the post of Visual Arts Director was being made redundant and my employment was being terminated. I was expecting it and a reasonable redundancy settlement enabled me develop projects as a freelance curator operating as curator.ie. Life goes on.

As far as Siamsa goes, the visual arts programme of 2010 was dismantled and my work was erased from the record of the company – the visual arts archive on the website begins in June 2010, the month that I left (ironically, the last show I curated with Maurice Galway was called Wisdom, a collaboration with New York based photographer Andrew Zuckerman [Wisdom]). The breach was total it seems.  In 2014 I wasn’t invited to the formal celebration of the 40th anniversary of the founding of the company. None of that comes as a surprise. It pretty much sums up the negative management style that has, apparently, left Siamsa increasingly isolated.

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Fadó Fadó: Siamsa in its heyday: scenes from Broadway, the ‘classic’ Siamsa repertoire and a visit by President Mary Robinson. (Source: Siamsa) Martin Whelan and I are shown meeting Mary and Nicholas Robinson. Also featured are Pat Hanafin,  and the late, much beloved Seánie Mahony, performers who featured on the logo of the company for years.

Conflict was nothing unusual in Siamsa. Since 1991 – when the permanent home of the National Folk Theatre was opened in Tralee – the company has been torn between the conservatism of its folk culture founders, the mass tourism focus of its first general manager, the amateur musical theatre background of many of the company and, significantly, the dependence on Arts Council funding to maintain the company ‘out of season.’  Two things tipped these rivalries into open conflict. The first was the arrival of Riverdance in May 1994. The second was the sudden death of Martin Whelan in 2002. Martin was an inspirational General Manager who was promoted to CEO on the retirement of founding artistic director Fr. Pat Ahern.

Riverdance was an opportunity and a threat. It became the de-facto national ‘folk dance’ company which threatened Siamsa’s status, as well as its ambitions as an international touring company. On the other hand it focussed attention on Siamsa as a full-time folk dance company at a time when the idea of locality was gaining ground in response to flattening effect of globalisation in the arts.

 Jack Lyons, pictured in Teach Siamsa Finuge shortly after the building was completed.

Passing on the torch: Jack Lyons in Teach Siamsa, the first training centre established by Siamsa founder Fr. Pat Ahern. Lyons was one of Molyneaux’s finer pupils and he agreed to have the ‘Munnix” style videotaped in 1983, when he could only dance with the aid of a chair. 

To benefit from this attention Siamsa needed to develop its repertoire and professionalise its practice, especially if it was to compete with Riverdance and the performance standards that it set for the sector. At the same time it needed to maintain the highly successful tourism product that was the ‘Summer Season’ – nightly performances of the repertoire for coach tours between May and October. This was a highly lucrative business and remains the mainstay of the organisation’s output to date. The business is driven largely by commission paid to coach tour operators and depends on a particular type of folk theatre ‘product.’ Art and tourism had to be balanced in terms of the home market.

The international market was a much tougher problem. The apparent lack of discipline and amateurish standards that seemed to be a feature of all Siamsa tours were brutally exposed on a tour to the Ford Theatre in Washington in November 1999. This was intended to relaunch Siamsa on the American stage but it failed, leaving the international market to Riverdance and Riverdance-style ‘entertainments.’ Siamsa may have been “more authentic” (John Sheehan) but it couldn’t compete on an international level. This was to cost the company dearly in terms of revenue that could have been generated from international touring: in 2011, for instance, Kerry based Ceol Chiarraí Teoranta  – a Riverdance-style ‘entertainment much derided in Siamsa – recorded a profit of €5.9m on a turnover of €13m. (Irish Examiner)

Meanwhile, back in Tralee, efforts continued to develop the repertoire in-house but each new show was more dismal than the last. There were exceptions. Mary Nunan’s choreography ensured that Clann Lir (1999)  made the grade but creative disagreement, poor governance, creeping nepotism and the growing influence of Tralee Musical Society began to limit the company’s capacity to respond to the challenges it faced. As the pressure mounted Martin Whelan died of a heart attack, at the age of 52. The suddden loss of leadership quickly developed into a crisis that rolled on for years, a period of intense and damaging infighting that culminated in the disastrous production that was Moriarty.

Since 1994 the future of Siamsa had rested on its ability to re-invent itself ‘post-Riverdance’ and produce shows that could justify the claim to being the national folk theatre, a creative cultural enterprise supported by the Arts Council. Moriarty was intended to be that show. Produced by Karl Wallace, CEO, and directed by Jonathan Kelliher, Artistic Director, the show flopped, with something like 38 people attending a gala performance at the end of a week-long run in April 2009. In many ways this was the inglorious end of Siamsa Tíre as a creative enterprise and  the poor attendance seemed to signal the final break with its support base locally. Amazingly, this seemed to go unnoticed or unheeded by the board, a point which raises all sorts of question about the governance of the company.   

Moriarty has, it seems, sunk without trace and the company has done very little since – Joanne Barry’s Imigéin (2013) being a notable exception. That lack of productivity is reflected in the exhibition of costumes that finishes this week, after a five month run. It features selected costumes from five shows which are supposed illustrate the work of the company over 40 years – Moriarty doesn’t feature nor, curiously, any show directed by current Artistic Director Jonathan Kelliher

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Slim pickings: an exhibition of 40 years of costume from the National Folk Theatre, Tralee. (Photo: Ciarán Walsh)

It’s a sparse show, with a small number of costumes on show. Documentary photographs from various performance are too small to have impact and the collection of masks is a curious addition that underscores the lack of impact of the exhibition as a whole. If this is the history of the National Folk Theatre as expressed in costume, then one cannot help but think of the emperor’s new clothes.

Apart from that, the exhibition has displaced visual arts activity in the gallery for almost half a year, not that there is much activity anyway. There have been three shows to date in 2015, including an exhibition of work by local amateur painters that ran for over 2 months. That level of inactivity hardly matters anymore as Siamsa is no longer subject to Arts Council oversight in terms of its programming.  In an act of apparent political patronage Jimmy Deenihan, the local Fine Gael T.D. acting as Minister for Art, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, transferred responsibility for the state funding of Siamsa from the Arts Council – a statutory agency that was designed to limit political interference in state funding of the arts – to his own Department on the basis that it is a national cultural institution; increasing its funding by around 3% in 2014 by the way. The minister was sacked shortly afterwards and it remains to be seen whether his replacement Heather Humphries can actually see the emperor’s new clothes, or whether she can tell the difference between a low grade tourism product and a national cultural  institution. Either way, the trouble with Siamsa is … that the National Folk Theatre appears to have left home Fadó Fadó.

Photographs were taken: documenting the second famine in Connemara.

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The origins of social documentary photography in Ireland: Part 2.

This photo was taken a couple of years ago. I was travelling between Rossaveel and Maam Cross, on my way to Leenane. The road travels through an upland wilderness of bogs and small lakes, a landscape that is typical of Southern Connemara. It reminded me of a shot taken by Marguierite Mespoulet in 1913, probably to the west on the coast road to the village of Carraroe.

Mespoulet Carraroe

Maison isolée, Sud du Connemara, Irlande, 31 mai 1913. Autochrome de Marguerite Mespoulet (inv.A 3 664).© Musée Albert-Kahn – Département des Hauts-de-Seine

Mespoulet had been commissioned by Albert Kahn to document ‘peasant’ life in the remote west of Ireland. She was using the newly developed autochrome process to shoot what are probably the first colour photographs taken in the west of Ireland. Mespoulet left Galway and headed for Connemara on 31 May, travelling along a well established tourist route. She never got there. She was stopped in her tracks by reports of an outbreak of typhoid that was sweeping the islands of southern Connemara. She took this shot of a thatched cottage. “A little to the north  of the place where this small house was taken” she wrote “the people are dying like flies from typhoid fever.”

Typhoid in Connemara was nothing new but in 1913 the cause of recurring outbreaks of fever was the subject of a row between the Irish Independent (nationalist) and the Irish Times (unionist) newspapers. An article published in the Irish Independent on May 26, 1913 accuses the Irish Times of publishing an editorial that was intended to minimise reports of a “plague” in Connemara. It included this quote from the editorial:

“[Typhoid] has made its appearance upon a few islands off Southern Connemara , miles removed from the tourist routes, in Gorumna, Lettermore , and Lettermullen, which have been described as ‘plague spots,’ the peasants are huddled in hovels that pass for houses, and they draw water from stagnant pools.”

The correspondent for the Irish Times claimed that poor housing and lack of clean water were to blame for renewed outbreaks of fever, but argued that talk of an “epidemic’ was not justified by the figures. In a dispensary area of almost 10,000 persons there were five fatal fever cases and 40 more cases notified. He (presumably) drew comparisons with other parts of Connemara  “where things are more favourable, or at least not quite so unpleasant,”  highlighting the fact that in the “plague centre” people shared their hovels with pigs “who were practically members of  the household.”  The peasants, it appears, were the agents of their own misfortune.

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The Irish Independent took issue with this. A correspondent had stated in an earlier article (May 15)  that “If corroboration of the case [that there was a fever plague in Connemara] and the graphic photographs reproduced in our  columns were required, it would be found abundantly in the immediate response to, and commendation of our appeal by those who know the distress and the appalling  conditions of the stricken locality.” The Irish Independent criticised the callous bureaucracy of government and sanitary authorities, accusing them of placing the islanders in imminent danger of absolute extermination through shameful neglect.

The Irish Independent  also published an eyewitness account of conditions in Connemara. It was written by a special correspondent of the Connacht “Tribune.” He had motored with the local M.P. (Wm. O’Malley) to Carraroe, where he met the parish priest (Healy). They went on  Bealdangan and picked up the local doctor (O’Kelly). They then went to the “little hut” of John Lee where they met the Chief Secretary (Birrell), who was on a tour of inspection.

A halftone reproduction of this hut was featured on The Irish Independent  Magazine Page on May 14, 1913. It was printed under the headline

A halftone reproduction of John Lee’s “hut” was featured on The Irish Independent  Magazine Page on May 14, 1913. It was printed under the headline “Peasants Appalling Plight, Fever Stricken Connemara.”

Lee’s family was one of 800 hundred families trying to subsist on patches of potato scattered across  “the wilderness of rock and bog.” His 17 year old son had died in April and another child was in the fever hospital in Oughterard:

“The house stood about seven feet high, and was without an aperture of any kind, save the small door …We entered this 11 feet by 8 apartment that constituted the entire interior, and growing accustomed to the darkness, we recognised that it was practically devoid of furniture … It was, declared Mr. Birrell, the worst dwelling he had ever seen.

Where had he been? People like John Lee and his family had been dying in a famine that had started during the “crisis of 1879” and had continued more or less for over 30 years. On December 13, 1879 The Illustrated London News published the following illustration of the “Bog-Trotters of Ballintober:”

Bogtrotters

IRISH SKETCHES: BOG-TROTTER’S CABIN, BALLINTOBER BOG, ROSCOMMON. – SEE PAGE 558, Supplement to The Illustrated London News, Dec. 13, 1879, p. 557. Collection of Ciarán Walsh.

The accompanying article stated that:

The agricultural  disadvantages of Connaught are not to be denied, and we hear without surprise of the distressed condition of small farmers in that part of the island … Here [Ballintober] are still to be found some of the genuine “bog-trotters,” a class of peasants living in squalid poverty by the scanty produce of small plots of ground and wages by field labour, where no farmer has capital to give them employment. Our artist’s sketch of one of their wretched cabins, with the poor man and his children waiting for their dinner of potatoes to be boiled over a turf fire, outside the dwelling, by the comfortless care of the wife and mother, is a sorry picture of Irish rural life. There are probably a hundred thousand people in Ireland whose condition is not much better.

Some 20 years later the same conditions were documented in Connemara, and again in 1913. The tone of The Illustrated London News commentary is not all that different from the Irish Times editorial of 1913. Complacency  and official inaction was the order of the day. In an effort to shock people out of their complacency photographs were taken inside the “hovels” of the starving peasants in Gorumna in 1898. The intention was to prove that reports of a famine in Connemara were not exaggerated, that people were indeed starving to death in the west and southwest of Ireland. These photographs were published by the Mansion House Committee established by Lord Mayor Tallon. It was a remarkable event that signalled that social documentary photography had arrived in Ireland.

Next: In search of the “The Starving West.”

Information / References

Marguerite Mespoulet: http://albert-kahn.hauts-de-seine.fr/archives-de-la-planete/mappemonde/europe/irlande/

Ballintober / Cluain Bhríde in Roscommon is on the R367, a minor road heading northeast from the N60 Roscommon to Castlerea road, just before the village of Ballymoe. The river Suck meanders through extensive boglands on the Galway / Roscommon Border. The railway line runs through bogland in Cleaboy, just under two kilometres southwest of Ballintober, crossing the R367 at 53.7031629,-8.4184402

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The Aran Islands … the most remarkable islands I have come across anywhere. Alfred Cort Haddon 24th July 1890.

Michael Faherty, The Aran Islands. With permission of the Board of Trinity College Dublin.

Michael Faherty, The Aran Islands. With permission of the Board of Trinity College Dublin.

“The Aran Islands are in many respects the most remarkable islands I have as yet come across anywhere.”

Alfred Cort Haddon, 24th July 1890.

The word “many” is a guess. In the original manuscript there is a blot, where the ink spilled out of Haddon’s pen (who remembers fountain pen and ink blots?). He appears to have been ina rush to record his first impressions of the Aran Islands.  Haddon landed in Inishmore – the “big” island – for the first time at 8.30 in the morning on Thursday 24 July, 125 years ago today.

The lead up to Aran had been less than inspiring.  Haddon departed  the “truculent” inhabitants of Inishbofin 6 days before and travelled to North Connemara, which had a distinct impression of sterility, stones & starvation. He arrived in Galway on Monday 21st July and had a thorough look around. He was less than impressed, naming the “city” after Ichabod, a biblical reference alluding to the fact that all glory – except for the salmon – had departed from the “Citie of Tribes.”

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Galway as photographed by American folklorist and travel writer Clifton Johnson, reproduced from ‘The Isle of the Shamrock’ published in 1901.

After 2 days in Galway he arrived in Aran. The impact is clear from a dramatic change in his journal from that point on, ten pages (41 – 51)  that cover a week spent in the islands. The writing is smaller and obviously rushed, the pen constantly runs out of ink, punctuation is often abandoned and there are quick changes in emphasis as he struggles to describe the remarkable place that is the Aran Islands. On page 50 he concludes:

I can’t tell you all the excursions we made in Aran it wd be as tedious for you to read as for me to write suffice it to say that Dixon & I left very little unseen & what with sketches & photographs we have a good deal on paper.

Four of the ten pages are taken up with sketches of antiquities and on page 49 there is a wonderful series of small, cartoon-like sketches of men carrying a currach, a set of oars and, two sketches of currachs under sail – Haddon was on the island when the annual rasáí na gcurrach or currach races were taking place.  Haddon had a strong interest in art and had some formal training in drawing and illustration. Alison Hingston Quiggin, his devoted assistant and biographer, draws attention to “his work as an artist, and his lectures and writings about Art.” She remarks that “Sketching came as easily as note taking.” (Haddon The Head  Hunter page132). However as the ‘Fingal’ journal progresses one can see Haddon’s increased interest in photographically recording the people he encountered. On July 22nd he visited the Claddagh fishing village in Galway and noted in his journal that:

I have seen many groups which could make lovely photographs if they could be taken instantaneously & unknown to the subjects. The old women here affect a close fitting white muslin cap.

The “instantaneously & unknownbit was to prove important a few days later, when Haddon attempted to take photographs of people on the Aran islands:

In the village of Killeany – close by where Mrs. Green’s house is – I endeavoured to make friends with the people by employing my old tactics of noticing the children – but I had not much time to follow it up. I hoped to take photographs of them later on. The day before we left we took our cameras but with the exception of a few men & lads none would stay to be photographed. When we turned a camera on a group the components scattered as if we were firing upon them, girls & woman fled to their houses whipped up the  children & barred their doors. As we could not understand Irish we had to guess the nature of their remarks. At last matters got to such a pitch the we both rapidly retreated in different directions.

This anecdote is interesting for a number of reasons. First of all, it does not feature in Quiggin’s biography, which relies heavily on similar anecdotes from the ‘Fingal’ journal in order to establish the character of Haddon and describe the time he spent  in the west of Ireland. Haddon’s account of stealing skulls from Inisbofin features as does an account of the wife of the Lord Lieutenant – the Queen’s representative and effective ruler of Ireland – drinking poteen (illegally distilled alcohol) in Connemara.

This suggests that Quiggin did not have access to this part of Haddon’s  journal when she was writing his biography in 1942. I think that these pages became separated from the original manuscript sometime in 1892, when Haddon was preparing a paper on the craniology of the Aran Islands. This was read into the proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy on 12 December 1892. They were rediscovered in 2013 by Aidan Baker, the Haddon Librarian in Cambridge University, when he presented the Irish ‘Headhunter’ exhibition in the Haddon Library. The exhibition comprised photographs from the albums of Charles R. Browne. Browne worked with Haddon on the Irish Ethnographic Survey. He assembled the photographic archive of the survey in a series of six albums in or around the year 1897.

Pages from Report on Dixon NEGS_Page_2

One section of the Ethnographic Survey of Ireland’s representation of The Aran Islands. 2 pages from the photograph albums of Charles R. Browne. With permission of the Board of Trinity College Dublin.

On the occasion of the opening Aidan and I thought it would be a nice gesture to read from Haddon’s copy of the seminal Ethnography of the Aran Islands published by Haddon and Browne in 1893. There wasn’t a copy in the library but a search of “the locked room” turned up an envelope containing Haddon’s own copy of Studies in Irish Craniology: The Aran Islands by Professor A. C. Haddon.

Aidan Baker, Haddon Librarian, Margaret Risbeth, Granddaughter of Alfred Cort Haddon, and Ciarán Walsh, www.curator.ie, at the opening of the Irish 'Headhunter' in Cambridge in 2014.

Aidan Baker, Haddon Librarian, Margaret Risbeth, granddaughter of Alfred Cort Haddon, and Ciarán Walsh, http://www.curator.ie, at the opening of the Irish ‘Headhunter’ in Cambridge in 2013.

The envelope contained the missing pages from Haddon’s journal along with all sorts of other fascinating material – a transcript of folklore  about the “evil eye” and, what appears to be a first draft of notes to accompany a slide show based on the photographs taken by Dixon. In the latter document Haddon remarks that:

The islands are not so much frequented by tourists as they deserve to be. To a naturalist they are most interesting … The people too are a fine handsome race, upright men of good physique, ruddy complexion, fair hair and blue gray eyes, there is a large proportion of nice looking and often pretty girls. The men wear a whitish clothes made from the locally made flannel, the costume may be entirely white or the trousers  & waistcoat may be blue, coats are not often worn. The women mostly affect shirts dyed of a beautiful russet – red colour. In  the west of Ireland the men wear boots & the women go bare footed, here both sexes wear native made sandals , ‘pompooties’, which they make for themselves out of cow-skins. In almost any cottage wool carding and spinning may he seen in operation, the spinning wheel being turned by the hand. The ancient British coracle also here survives as the canvas covered canoe or “curragh.”

dixon.TC1 copy

With permission of the Board of Trinity College Dublin.

Our illustrations, which are from photographs taken by Mr. A. F. Dixon of Dublin, illustrate (1) a class from national school held in the open air, (2) a group of two men and a boy on the top of  the ancient stone fort at Inishmaan [Inis Meáin] the men are wearing pompooties and the boy the characteristic petticoat which the small boys wear as well as girls.

The illustrations continue with a series of antiquities, the whole show roughly corresponding to the sequence of photographs collected by Browne in the album dealing with the Aran Islands. It is an extraordinary document. It is no exaggeration, I believe, to claim that this is the moment that Haddon first conceived of “scientific” or modern visual ethnography which was central to his conception of fieldwork as defined during the Cambridge Expedition to the Torres Strait in 1898 – where the young photographer Anthony Wilkin slotted into Dixon’s role.

It becomes clear that writing and sketching were not up to the task of conveying the impression that the Aran Islands and their inhabitants made on Haddon. He wrote in his journal (p. 42) that When I return to Dublin I hope to have some photographs to show you which will illustrate the physical features better than I can describe them.” Haddon quickly converted Dixon’s photographs into lantern slides and the illustrated lectures that followed made the Aran Islands visible as never before. Haddon’s reach extended far beyond  his network of contacts in the RDS, the Royal society of Antiquaries of Ireland and the Royal Irish Academy however.  He was strapped for cash and undertook a lot of public speaking engagements. Most of these were illustrated with lantern slides, meeting the demand for magic lantern shows and satisfying public curiosity about life in the ‘primitive districts’ of the west of Ireland.

All of this activity  was taking place at a key point in the consolidation of the Gaelic revival as a movement. It is possible that Haddon’s magic lantern shows represent a visual turn in what had been a largely language based cultural movement. Most people think of Synge in this respect but Synge’s photography dates from 1898, 8 years after Haddon visited Aran for the first time. At that time Synge would have been reading for his “Little Go” or final freshman examinations in TCD – “poor Johnnie  got a third” his mother lamented. Synge can be ruled out at this stage. The key figure in this context – the increasing ‘visibility’ of the west of Ireland as a component of a visual turn in cultural nationalism – is a remarkable woman and photographer called Jane W. Shackleton. Her career as a photographer had been completely overlooked in the history of photography in Ireland until Christiaan Corlett published a collection of her photographs in 2012.

Jane W. Shackleton followed Haddon to Aran in 1891 and, in total, visited the islands on 12 occasions, four of those as part of field trips organised by the Royal Society of Antiquaries. She visited Inishmore/ Inis Mór for the last time in 1906. Shackleton had developed an interest in photography in the 1880s as the industrialisation of the medium brought it within the reach of middle class ‘amateurs.’ Between 1885 and 1906 – mainly – she amassed one of the largest collections of early photographs by a female photographer in Ireland (the collection is intact and curated by the Shackleton family).  Regardless of gender, Shackleton was one of the most prolific photographers at a crucial point in the imagination and representation of the Irish nation.

The people of the west of Ireland – the Aran Islands in particular – featured prominently in Shackleton’s photographs and the many illustrated lectures that she gave as a member of the Royal Society of Antiquaries. Apart from having a strong social documentary feel to it, Shackleton’s photography had to have had an influence on the Gaelic revival and must have contributed to the visual turn stimulated by Haddon in 1890. This is speculative at this stage but my research into this has only just begun.

Men Carrying a curraghDSCF1748

‘Mode of carrying curragh’ from the photograph albums of Charles R. Browne. With permission of the Board of Trinity College Dublin.

One photograph is of particular interest. It shows two men carrying a currach, an image that functions as an instantly recognisable trope of the islands. Corlett reproduces it on page 149 as Curragh being Carried by Aran Men Inis Mór, County Galway C. 1899. The same image is to be found among the first generation of prints and lantern slides in the Haddon collection and, the photograph albums of Charles R. Browne (see above). The provenance of the photograph has to be determined – how it came to be in the Haddon collection. Haddon was an avid collector and built his collection from a wide range of sources. That points to the mobility of photographic  images at this time, demonstrating that photographs and lantern slides were highly mobile meaning making technologies – to paraphrase Donna Haraway.

Jane W. Shackleton  died in 1909, the same year as John Millington Synge. Synge had taken about 50 photographs in the west of Ireland but these quickly became detached from his narrative of life in the Aran Islands – they were replaced by illustrations by Jack B. Yeats. Around 30 of those photographs were collected and published by Lilo Stevens in 1971 but the full impact of Synge’s photography was not realised until I exhibited them in association with the Library in TCD in 2009, marking  the centenary of his death.

The big question is why Shackleton’s career as a photographer and, in particular, her role in making the west of Ireland visible has been so overshadowed by Synge – whose own photography was neglected so thoroughly for almost a century. Add Dixon’s photography to the equation and the exception begins to look like a pattern. The Ethnography of the Aran Islands and the other surveys carried out by the Irish Ethnographic Survey have been regarded for too long as a narrow, racially inflected colonial enterprise. Dublin was, and is, a small place and the extent to which Haddon, Dixon, Shackleton and Synge were all part of the same class that engaged with the idea of Irishness  at the end of the 19th century is all too often overlooked.

And that, as they say is another story.


Sources and Credits

Corlett, Chris, 2012, Jane W. Shackleton’s Ireland, Cork: Collins Press.

De Mórdha, Dáithí and Ciarán Walsh, 2012, The Irish Headhunter, The Photograph Albums of Charles R. Browne. Dublin: Stationery Office & http://www.curator.ie.

Green, David H and Edward M. Stephens, 1959, J. M. Synge 1871-1909, New York: MacMillan.

Haraway, Donna, 1988,  Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective. Feminist Studies, Vol. 14, No.3. (Autumn, 1988)

Herle, Anita and Sandra  Rouse (eds.), 2009, Cambridge and the Torres Strait, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Johnston, Clifton, 1901, The Isle of the Shamrock, New York, London: The MacMillan Company.

Quiggins, A. Hingston, 1942/2010, Haddon the Head Hunter, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Stephens, Lilo, 1971, My Wallet of Photographs, Dublin: Dolmen Editions.

Walsh, C., 2013, Charles R. Browne, The Irish Headhunter, Irish Journal of Anthropology Vol 16. Anthropological Association of Ireland.

Walsh, C., 2012, John Millington Synge, Grianghrafadóir in: De Mórdha, M. (Ed.). Ceiliúradh an Bhlascaoid 14. Dublin: Coiscéim.

What happened on Inishbofin in July 1890? Three days that changed the history of Anthropology in Ireland and Britain.

Teampall Cholmain by Marie Coyne, The Inishbofin Heritage Museum

Teampall Cholmain by Marie Coyne, The Inishbofin Heritage Museum

St. Colman’s Abbey is a small ruin on a remote island off the West coast of Ireland. It is situated on the site of a seventh century monastery established by Colman of Lisdisfarne around 668AD. Archaeologically speaking this is a modest site  but it is the  setting for a remarkable sequence of events that were to have profound consequences for the development of anthropology in Ireland and the United Kingdom.

On Wednesday 16 July  1890 – 125 years ago to the day – the steamer  Fingal anchored in Inishbofin. The Fingal had been chartered by the Royal Dublin Society (RDS)  for survey work on the fisheries of the western seaboard. One of the scientists on board was Alfred Cort Haddon, a marine zoologist who had developed an interest in ethnology—the comparative study of races—whilst on a similar survey the year before in the Torres Strait,located between Australia and Papua New Guinea.

Haddon had  joined the remarkable and Reverend William Spottiswood Green, Inspector of Fisheries, in Killybegs in County Donegal  on 26 June and headed south three days later. Haddon  assumed responsibility for keeping a “narrative ” journal of the survey. Green’s narrative has been publish by the RDS  but Haddon’s account has never been published in full and the manuscript is held in Cambridge University.

This is Haddon’s  account of  what happened on Inishbofin in July 1890:

Page 29

Wednesday – July 16 . Dixon and I got up at 6 o’clock & photographed Cromwell’s Fort and had a bathe. The 2  Mrs Allies (who reside on the island) & Father McHugh came to breakfast at 8 o’clock & after breakfast we tried a new fishing ground for longline fishing. We had just over 400 hooks out on a line measuring about —- feet – the result was poor for we only got 1 Halibut / 5 foot long and weighing 95lbs.) 1 Turbot, 1 Cod, 13 Ling, 17 Conger, 2 Torsk, 1 Cuckoo-Gurnard, 6 Pickard dog fish, 1 Tope, 7 Nurse-Hounds (Dogfish), 1 Skate, 1 Ray. – Then Dixon and I had to measure, weigh & examine a selection of them. I will explain our particular work on another occasion.

The 2 Mr Allies are Englishmen – some time ago, 8 or 9 years I believe, their father foreclosed on a mortgage on this island & so it & several others some 7 in all – including rocks – became his property & he sent a son to look after it & he has lived here ever since. For about the last 18 mths. another brother joined this one & so these 2 middle aged men are living bachelor’s lives on this out of the way island – fishing, farming, & so forth. They have both spent several years in Australia, mainly in Queensland, sheep farming etc.

Page 30

The latter brother is more or less () an engineer. The former is the recognised landlord. I got more intimate with Edward, the engineer, & I hope I have interested him in Folklore & he has promised to collect information for the Royl. Irish Academy. He told me of an old ruined church where there were some skulls & we arranged with Dixon a plan of action. We all went ashore together that night & he provided us with a sack & later in the dark, took us close to the church. The coast being clear Dixon & I climbed over the gate & went down the enclosure which is practically a large graveyard, on our way we disturbed several cattle. We stumbled along & entered the church tumbling over the stones which are placed over the graves, in the corner we saw in the dim light the skulls in a recess in the wall. There must have been 40 or more, all broken, most useless but on (overhanding) them we found a dozen which were worth carrying away & only one however had the face bones. Whilst we were thus engaged we heard 2 men slowly walking & talking in the road & like Brer Fox – we ‘lay low’ & like the Tar Baby “kept on saying nothing.” When the coast was clear we put our  spoils in the sack & cautiously made our way back to the road, then it did not matter who saw us. We returned to the Allies’ house. Dixon kept the bag & then Poole went off to the gig with us. The 2 sailors  wanted to take the bag for Dixon but he wouldn’t let them & when asked what was in it replied “poteen.” So without any further trouble we got our skulls aboard & there we packed them in Dixon’s portmanteau & locked it, no one on the steamer, except our two selves, having any idea that there were 12 human skulls in the steamer & they shan’t know either.

Teampall Chomain by Dixon. The niche where  the skulls were kept is visible in the lower right hand corner. The sketch  referred to by Haddon is an exact illustration of this scene suggesting that the sketch and the photograph are contemporaneous. This copy of photograph is from the photograph albums of Charles R. Browne. With permission of the Board of Trinity College Dublin.

Teampall Chomain by Dixon. The niche where the skulls were kept is visible in the lower right hand corner. The sketc h referred to by Haddon below is an exact illustration of this scene, suggesting that the sketch and the photograph are contemporaneous. This copy of the photograph is from the photograph albums of Charles R. Browne. With permission of the Board of Trinity College Dublin.

Page 31

Next afternoon we landed  & went to have a look at the place by daylight & then I made this sketch [a drawing illustrating the site of the niche and the skulls]. The whole place is a mass of graves covered with loose stones. There are no inscriptions & there is no carving anywhere. This particular building was the chapel of a monastery which was founded by St. Coleman in about 667. It is referred to by the “Venerable Bide”; but soon passed into oblivion. On the succeeding page I give a sketch of the church from a neighbouring hill, showing Inishlyon in the middle distance and the mountains of Connemara in the far distance, the group of mountains to the right is “The Twelve Pins.”  In the right hand neat corner of the churchyard is St. Colman’s will of which the accompanying is a sketch, the well itself is inside.

Teampall Cholmain, Inishbofin by Marie Coyne, Inishbofin Heritage Museum.

Teampall Cholmain, Inishbofin by Marie Coyne, Inishbofin Heritage Museum.

Haddon left Inishbofin on Friday 18 July 1890.

In November 1893 he presented a more formal report on Studies in Irish Craniology II, Inishbofin, Co. Galway to the Royal Irish Academy.

TCD 1891

Cyanotype of the Anthropometry Laboratory and Comparative Anatomy Museum in TCD in 1891. With the permission of the Board of Trinity College Dublin.

Haddon had earned the nickname “Haddon the Headhunter” as a boy because of a prank he played on his sisters. The visit to Inishbofin set in train a series of events that converted a boyish fascination with skulls into a scientific orthodoxy that was the signature of an influential player in the establishment of anthropology as a scientific discipline in Britain.

Haddon’s involvement in the Fingal fishing survey coincided with a developing interest in anthropology as a result of his experiences in the Torres Strait. He was particularly interested in folklore as a form of history used by primitive peoples. He regarded the link between folklore and anthropology as similar to the link between palaeontology and archaeology. He had heard of a tradition of proxy weddings on Inishbofin and was eager to learn more. This seemed to matter more than ‘Headhunting’ in July 1890. He had collected skulls in Torres Straits but referred to them as “curios.” Following his escapade with Dixon however he developed a more “scientific” interest in skulls or “crania.”

Dixon had been working in comparative anatomy under Professor Daniel J. Cunningham of TCD. At the time Cunningham was mapping the topography of the human brain and comparing this to the brains of anthropoid apes. Dixon was also a keen photographer. This meeting of interests was to have a major influence on Haddon’s future direction as a scientist. He became obsessed with craniology – the categorisation of skull types through the measurement of particular features  and developed a theory of racial migration based on tracking the distribution of different skull types.

On his return to Dublin Haddon and Cunningham established an Anthropometry Laboratory in TCD and in 1891 they launched the Ethnographic Survey of Ireland. This was an attempt to use laboratory methods “in the field” in an attempt to trace the origins of the Irish race; this was the origin of the term “fieldwork” which, in this case, consisted of  measuring and photographing the physical characteristics of people in the remotest districts in Ireland, starting in the Aran islands in 1892.

Charles R. Browne

Charles R. Browne “in the field” in Inishbofin in 1893. From the photograph albums of Charles R. Browne. With Permission of the Board of Trinity College Dublin.

The following year his colleague Charles R. Browne returned to St. Colman’s Abbey but the islanders prevented him form stealing more skulls. Browne, a medical doctor, was more interested in social conditions in the West and, with Cunningham, began to emphasise sociology over physical anthropology and, ethnography over measurement: a split that anticipated a major philosophical divide in the natural and social sciences in the 20th century.

That is a story that has yet to be told.

________________________________________________________________________________

Credits / Further Information:

Photography by Marie Coyne, The Inishbofin Heritage Museum.

This blog is based on a presentation made by Ciarán Walsh at the Anthropology and Photography Conference organised by the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland in the British Museum in May 2014, in association with Dr Jocelyne Dudding (Cambridge) and Dr Mark Maguire (Maynooth). This research continues as a postgraduate research project with the Anthropology Department of Maynooth University in association with the Irish Research Council. Ciarán Walsh was elected a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute in 2015.

The photographic archive of the  Irish Ethnographic Survey was published by Ciarán Walsh and Dáithí de Mórdha in 2012 in association with TCD, the OPW and the Heritage Council of Ireland. See De Mórdha, Dáithí and Ciarán Walsh, 2012, The Irish Headhunter, The Photograph Albums of Charles R. Browne. Dublin: Stationery Office & http://www.curator.ie.

This material was updated in 2013 in an article by Ciarán Walsh for the Irish Journal of Anthropology:  Walsh, C., 2013, Charles R. Browne, The Irish Headhunter, Irish Journal of Anthropology Vol 16. Anthropological Association of Ireland.

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.