It covered modernity in Ireland from the 1900s to the 1970s through the visual arts mainly, but with photographers, film-makers, composers, architects, designers – and writers – all featured in a major interdisciplinary collection.
I was interested in the smattering of exhibits connected to Irish writers and showing the crossover of the literary and the visual arts. These were some of my highlights:
Samuel Beckett’s ‘Film’, written in 1962 and filmed in New York in 1963. It can be viewed here on YouTube.
John Millington Synge’s Photos from Aran, Connemara, Wicklow and Kerry. Synge bought his first camera from a fellow visitor to Aran in 1898 and it became a constant on his travels along with his bicycle.
Jack Yeats’ Book Illustrations. He and Synge spent a month together in 1905 on a tour of the Congested Districts in the west, Synge writing his series of articles for the Manchester Guardian and Yeats providing the illustrations.
Robert Flaherty’s film documentary Man of Aran (1934) The work was inspired by Synge and the wheel has come full circle with Martin McDonagh’s drama The Cripple of Inishmaan – currently on tour with Druid Theatre – set against the backdrop of Flaherty’s film.
Paul and Grace Henry Paintings of the West. The couple stayed in Achill for close to a decade and most of Paul’s autobiography An Irish Portrait (1951) centred on the island.
Elinor Wiltshire’s Photo of Patrick Kavanagh picking potatoes in Inishkeen in 1963.
Pity the exhibition is over. Another visit, I feel, would have revealed many more gems. And I loved this TV commercial for the exhibition:-
I first travelled north by Ben Bulben to Letterkenny, past mile after mile of election hoardings for that day’s by-election; my destination a North West Words event at Cafe Blend, Letterkenny, that has to be one of the most welcoming poetry reading venues in the country.
Sinn Fein coasted to an easy electoral win. I made it through Omagh and Monaghan to Inishkeen with snow threatening and visitors mingling in the frosty air. We did the tour of Kavanagh places, taking in Rocksavage Fort, Cassidy’s Hanging Hill, Billy Brennan’s Barn and Shancoduff: ‘I looked and three whin bushes rode across / the horizon …’
In Carrickmacross they have their own trail of Kavanagh haunts when ‘moments big as years were mine to squander’; and frisky mares could ‘kick the stars out of the sky’.
By Sunday morning I was headed south, making my way as best I could through motorway slush listening to Emma Donoghue and her father Dennis being interviewed by Miriam O’Callaghan and he talking of his daughter’s writing that impresses ‘sentence on sentence’.
I was distracted by a dangerously filthy windscreen due to the cleaning water freezing. I vaguely heard Dennis Donoghue talk of his memoir Warrenpoint that I read almost twenty years ago, visualising the photograph of a stern RUC father on the cover.
It was time to concentrate on getting home through the snow and bracing myself for announcements from the IMF and ECB of Ireland’s austerity programme. Patrick Kavanagh would have something sharp to say about it all.