I visited the studio of Lorcan Walshe recently. A few years ago he had an exhibition entitled “The Artefacts Project” in the National Museum of Ireland which was a re-examining of objects from the early medieval period - Christian treasures such as the Clonmacnoise Crozier, the Tully Lough Cross and St. Patrick’s bell. This was a really important exhibition, in my opinion, the first serious attempt by a contemporary artist to investigate and re- present elements of our indigenous visual culture and to explore how these fragments from the past could be made visible and relevant for today. (I’m afraid to say that ancient “Celtic” craftsmanship is generally scorned and dismissed by the contemporary Irish art world - a post-colonial inferiority complex, perhaps) But Walshe intuitively understands its value and its significance. To quote Mark Patrick Hederman, Abbot of Glenstal Abbey, who writes in the exhibition catalogue:
From Newgrange onwards there emerges a visible acknowledgement of the numinous or the divine which is embedded in these remaining artefacts. Such an idea is now completely out of fashion in art. The function of a poet or an artist in former times was not to give a society explanations or directions, but rather a sense of the underlying power which fuels existence.
It was a great privilege for me to visit Lorcan and to see his work-in-progress and I was delighted that he agreed to take part in “HX Perspectives”, a group show that I was curating for the Harold’s Cross Community Festival. More about that at www.HaroldsCross.org and see Lorcan’s website at: www.LorcanWalshe.com
We were having this show in a cemetery. Maybe not a normal place for an art exhibition but cemeteries have so much atmosphere, so many associations, so many ghosts… and the work was quite haunting. The artists included were Joe Hanly, Kevin McSherry, Paul O’Hare, Cora O’Brien, Lorcan Walshe and myself – all from the Harold’s Cross district of Dublin.
And Mount Jerome Cemetery is quite special. Originally the Mount Jerome Estate, the mansion was built there in the early 1700s and it became a regular meeting place for the United Irishmen, a revolutionary organisation founded by Wolfe Tone. Tone was a prominent supporter of Catholic Emancipation and is regarded as the father of Irish republicanism. He organised the ill-fated rebellion of 1798. The lands became a cemetery in 1836. There are many graves of historical importance here including the Irish patriot Thomas Davis, artists Jack B. Yeats and AE Russell, the playwright John Millington Synge and the mathematician Sir William Rowan Hamilton.
So, I hope that our work added something to the august atmosphere of the graveyard. As for myself, I installed three of my Tinteán Tréigthe/ Empty Hearth series. Elegies, in a way, for those who have gone before us.
What do you think? - Was it a strange place to exhibit our work? Would you think that the art made a difference, there? I’d love to hear your views ...
Top image: Black Bell of St.Patrick II, 168 x 122cm, oil on canvas