Tag Archives: Maid of Erin

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.

65 RSAI Haddon 113_001_3

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?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joan Burton Jobstown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

A word about the restoration ‘The Maid of Erin’

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

Mairia Cahill

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Mary Lou Gerry Martin

 

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

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