The project traces the place lore of pathways that criss-cross the landscape where I grew up and rambled in the East Mayo Parish of Bekan. A wonderful achievement in public art where a community is engaged in reliving its history.
In a recent interview in the Financial Times, Irish novelist and film director Neil Jordan was asked what his current favourite word was. He gave a surprising answer. ‘Dinnsheanchas,’ he said. ‘An Irish word, meaning “the lore of place”.’ On the day this interview was published, the output from an innovative Dinnsheanchas initiative was presented in Claremorris, County Mayo. En Route – A Public Art Project, commissioned by Mayo County Council, produced by Aileen Lambert and comprising a book, two CDs and on online version http://www.enroute.ie , was launched.
The project is supported under the Percent Art Programme by Mayo County Council whose public art programme has to be one of the most innovative in the country. (The North Mayo Sculpture Trail, comprising fourteen individual pieces of sculpture across the North Mayo coastline is their most high profile effort.) The concept behind En Route was to explore old landscape routes in the hinterland of Bekan, Southeast Mayo. It became, not just a collection of maps and a pulling-together of historical information, but a creative gathering of personal and community stories about the disused and forgotten pathways. While some of the routes such as the disused Ballindine railway had a documented history, many had a life only in local memory and oral tradition.
The thrust of Aileen Lambert’s artistic practice is tracing the ‘body’s presence on the landscape’. In En Route she sets out to examine how a community leaves its mark on the environment in the form of old routes and pathways. In the first project phase, she did her research of the locality in libraries, on the internet and through the Ordnance Survey. There then followed the innovative phase where locals were invited to walk the network of shortcuts and rights of way while their stories and memories were documented. ‘In the rural landscape there are names for every lane, gap, stream, wall and bend in the road.’
En Route brings to life the oral history and place lore of the area I grew up in: the Lisheen burial ground at Reask for unbaptized infants; leaba Dhiarmada agus Ghrάinne near the ‘high crossroads’; Johnston’s route from Erriff to Greenwood by the ‘fόidin mearaí’; the house of the Burke landowners near Bekan Cemetery; the ‘pόirse’ down to Lios Bawn fields and Cathairín Hill. As the psycho geographer writer Iain Sinclair wrote, in tracing the Essex journey of poet John Clare: ‘We re-lived their history and remade our own.’
A quarter of a century ago a ground-breaking local history study, Béacάn/Bekan: Portrait of an East Mayo Parish (1986), edited by Father Michael Comer and Nollaig Ō Muraile, covered a largely similar physical territory to this project in a scholarly series of essays. In En Route we witness the community of Bekan re-living and remaking that history as they walk the network of paths and routes that criss-cross their local landscape. Perhaps we have in En Route a model for others in bringing dinnsheanchas and oral history alive for the enrichment of communities.
1) Cover: En Route – A Public Art Project by Aileen Lambert
2) Map: Bekan, County Mayo
3) Entrance to Castlemagarret Estate
Photos by permission of En Route project.
I was back in my childhood places – the village of Greenwood and the parish of Bekan – in East Mayo at the week-end and heard talk of a strange walk the previous Sunday when about 60 people gathered, I’m told, and made their way through fields and paths in Larganboy, Lassany and Lissaniska. It’s part of the En Route public art project coordinated by Aileen Lambert and supported by Mayo County Council. They walked and told stories of personal memories and associations with these local tracks and ended the trip on the old school route from Lassany to Bekan.
It all got me thinking of my own walks to Bekan School – on roads, not tracks – in the month of September when we started back, lucky if we had pristine new school books to be carefully covered with wallpaper left-overs; but more often than not it was hand-me-downs with the finger-prints of older brothers and sisters on the pages. We gathered in Greenwood and set off for the first meeting point at the end of the road where we met the scholars from Riasc near the lake where we fished for perch with bamboo sticks and wriggling worms; then on to the low crossroads to be joined by the strollers from Cullintra on the Knock Road where we had gathered in the summer to watch the cars speeding on their way to Knock Shrine; then up ‘the hill of the wood’ to the high crossroads and a convergence with the meanderers from Erriff and Knocknafola before the final run-in to Bekan, feeling resentful that our classmates in Spotfield had such a short distance to walk from home.
After school in those early weeks of September it was a quick change of clothes and down the lane at the side of our house that connected Greenwood to Riasc and Larganboy; the fields all had their names – our’s were Ait Abhaile, Craggach and Lios Ban – and it was at the end of the road that we gathered fists of blackberries for the jam-making before setting off for home, mouths stained with purple berry juice and the marks of indigo school ink still on our fingers.
Thanks to En route for getting my memory juices flowing.