'Diaspora': Forsaken Hearths Evoke Those Who Have Gone

photo by Eoin Mac Lochlainn of a cottage in Donegal

What would you expect to see inside this old overgrown cottage on the side of the road in Donegal? Would you just pass by or would you try and get in to have a look?  Well, I was passing this cottage every day a few years ago until eventually, my curiosity got the better of me.

It wasn’t that difficult to enter, despite the tangle of brambles and weeds, but the door was open so I walked in. Ooooh, but it was eerie. There was a hole in the roof which let in some light from above. But I got such a fright when I saw someone peering back at me in the gloom! Hang on, it was me! I was actually staring at a dusty, cobwebby old mirror (pictured here).

photo of ghost in a mirror in Donegal cottage

I was on an artist’s residency in Donegal and I had met with Gaelic poet Cathal Ó Searcaigh the previous day. He read me a wonderful poem that he’d just written about how spirits haunt the land long after the people who had lived there were gone. The poem is called: “Na Bailte Bánaithe” and here’s a short extract, with my translation below.

Tá ochlán chaointe sa ghaoth 

a shéideann aniar ó Altán

is anseo tá damhán alla

ag fí aibíd an bháis

i bhfuinneog bhearnach an tseantí

inar chonaí mo chineál fadó.

There’s a loud wailing cry on the wind

that blows eastward from Altan

and a spider weaves a shroud

in the vacant window of the house

 where my people lived long ago.

So this was the inspiration for a new body of work, and I have been painting empty fireplaces in abandoned homes on the west coast of Ireland since then. I was thinking about how central the fireplace was to the home, how people used to keep the fire going throughout the night and throughout the year, and how it really was the ‘hearth’ of the home. If people were moving home, they would take a lighting sod of turf with them from the old house to begin the fire in the new house, so as not to break the cycle. Seeing these abandoned fireplaces, each with its own distinctive personality, was quite distressing, and I undertook the series of paintings as a sort of requiem for those who had gone, a commemoration of the diaspora.

fireplace painting by Eoin Mac Lochlainn

Now, in a week’s time, these paintings will be presented in Olivier Cornet’s new gallery on Great Denmark Street in Dublin (beside Belvedere College). And the show is creating a bit of a buzz, I think. It is featured in the current edition of the Irish Arts Review  - an article by Brian McAvera.

pages from the Irish arts Review

Your comments are always welcome. Slán go fóill, eoin




Views: 844

Tags: Arts, Living History, Poetry, Visual Arts

Comment by Eoin Mac Lochlainn on September 9, 2015 at 9:45am

Your comments are welcome of course but sorry for misleading you with the mention of a little brown speech bubble - that was on another website  :-(   eoin

Comment by Joe Gannon on September 9, 2015 at 10:05am

Every time we pass an old, abandoned cottage like this in western Ireland I wish you could walk up to the building and ask it to tell you the story of its "life." Imagine some of the stories you might hear. You can edit your text after it's posted, by the way, to fix things like that comment about the "speech bubble."

Comment by Eoin Mac Lochlainn on September 9, 2015 at 10:31am

Thanks Joe, yes I presumed that you could, I just couldn't see where to do it :-(  still learning though :-)

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Comment by That's Just How It Was on September 13, 2015 at 9:00am

Yes ; I have always wanted to go inside an derelict building ; so many stories could be told by the walls ; in every single case. 

I woudl love to be in a position to be able to buy a derelict building, trace its roots and regenerate it to its previous glory . Sadly ; money does not allow me this luxury . Lovely article . 

Comment by Claire Fullerton on September 13, 2015 at 9:54am

Congratulations on your show. I believe it will be an evocative experience for all!

Comment by Barrie Maguire on September 13, 2015 at 9:57am

Stunning paintings! And how wonderful to find a series subject matter that is so packed with emotion.

Comment by Brian Nolan on September 13, 2015 at 12:38pm

Lovely idea, that, of memorialising the abandoned hearths and fireplaces of the west of Ireland in art and in poetry. Good luck with the exhibition. Have you read John Healy's book 'Nineteen Acres'? It deals with exactly that subject in the closing chapters.

Comment by Eoin Mac Lochlainn on September 13, 2015 at 5:37pm

Thank you friends for your comments, yes I read Nineteen Acres some years ago. Sad. I hope my exhibition isn't too sad though - I hope it just brings to mind all those who have gone before us . Thanks folks, eoin  

Comment by Jane Sherry Gardner on September 14, 2015 at 11:10am

The Fireplace is a very moving and evocative portrait of us all.


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