Tag Archives: Ballymaclinton

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?

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.

Indo Master 620

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.”

Clifton Jon_PIG_QUAY_ST 72

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.

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.