Kieran Tuohy doesn’t really know why he was compelled to create a body of work that draws on and explores one of the darkest events in Irish history – the Great Famine. A psychic friend told him that it was possibly because he lived through it, but “I don’t believe in that kind of stuff”, he says firmly.
Yet, when he guides you through his beautiful, exquisitely detailed bog-oak sculptures currently being exhibited in the Irish Workhouse Centre in Portumna, it’s clear he feels an extraordinary connection with that time.
During the interview, he mentions that his great-grandmother and grandmother, then aged nine, had been inmates here later in the 19th century so the link is strong, although his grandmother, whom he remembers, never spoke of it.
Twenty–three pieces are listed in the catalogue for the show, Dark Shadows, but given that one of these – Line for the Soup – consists of 10 life-size figures of all ages and a giant cauldron, with skeletal arms reaching up the sides to the top and blighted potatoes at the base, there are nearly 40 works on show.
However, while the number of pieces is impressive, it’s the detail of the sculptures and the stories behind each one that makes Dark Shadows special.
This is a temporary exhibition at the Workhouse Centre – its run has already been extended and it will continue until late September as part of the annual Shorelines Arts Festival.
The guides at the Centre feels it’s a special addition and the perfect conclusion for tours of this place that opened in 1852 to house the poorest of the poor around the Portumna area.
The guides bring visitors through the building – to the dormitories, the laundry-rooms, the schoolrooms – explaining how husbands and wives, parents and children were separated on admission and outlining the rigid regime under which they lived. But seeing Kieran’s life-like figures or looking at a sculpture entitled Alexis Soyer’s Six-Minute Soup and reading the story behind it, gives visitors a different and profound engagement with the Great Famine.
Kieran lives in Kilcolgan, but if he happens to be in the Portumna building when people visit, he’s happy to talk to them about the work.
That’s what happens as our interview draws to a close and a Dublin couple on a tour of the Centre come into the exhibition room.
As they leave, 10 minutes later, they’re blown away by Dark Shadows and by his devotion to the topic.
When Kieran isn’t there, information is on hand about each piece in the show, because there’s a story behind all of them. All are inspired by real events and by stories that move him.
One such example is When. It’s about a mother who is trying to save her children from death by starvation. But, by engaging in an epic battle with death, she faces her own demise.
“It’s when you go a bit too deep with thoughts, thinking about your own children,” says this softly-spoken man who has a grown-up son and daughter, about the inspiration behind When.
The sculpture shows the mother reaching down to save her children from the arms of death, which is depicted by potato ridges and rotten Lumper potatoes with death faces on them.
“It’s about the mother’s choice,” he explains. “How do you abandon your children?”
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.
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‘Give even one big GAA game to Ballinasloe’
It’s the most centrally located ground in the country but Ballinasloe’s Duggan Park won’t host a single inter-county match this year – much to the annoyance of one local councillor who wants the GAA to allocate at least one big game to the venue.
Cllr Michael Connolly told a meeting of Ballinasloe Municipal Council that the ground is entitled to host major football and hurling fixtures – even though all but one of the Galway footballers’ home league games are assigned to Pearse Stadium with the other one in Tuam.
“If they gave us one match in Duggan Park, it would be something,” he said. “But at the moment, it seems as if it is being ignored.”
The Moylough councillor described it as the most accessible ground in the country and a venue in which players and supporters like to travel to – unlike, he suggested, Pearse Stadium.
He said that it was “a hateful venue” and few GAA supporters relished the prospect of travelling to the “far side of the city” to watch a football or hurling match.
A recent meeting in Gullane’s Hotel to discuss Duggan Park was attended by Deputy Denis Naughton, Senator Aisling Dolan, Cllr Evelyn Parsons and Cllr Declan Kelly among others.
But the Duggan Park Committee then issued a statement saying that the ground is owned by Galway GAA and any use of the facility needed to be authorised – and no authorisation was given to the meeting organiser, former Mayor of Ballinasloe Joe Kelly, for this purpose.
Mr Kelly has been a staunch campaigner for the redevelopment of Duggan Park and has called on the local authority to row in behind this initiative.
They went on to say that there is a plan in place for the development of Duggan Park which is multiple staged which started with the new dressing rooms, flood lights and a new entrance to the venue.
Planning permission is in place for this development and that €500,000 has already been spent in the Duggan Park over the past number of years carrying out these projects.
The work in the ground, they say, is done to an excellent standard by local contractors with the support of the previous Town Council for grants and sports capital grants.
Former tourism magnet officially on register of derelict sites
The fire-ravaged hotel that was once one of the most popular in the county is now officially considered a derelict site – and that has led a local councillor to call for it to be either redeveloped or levelled.
Portumna’s Shannon Oaks Hotel, for so long popular with anglers and golfers in particular, has been boarded up for more than a decade since it was destroyed by fire.
Local councillor, Jimmy McClearn, has called on the owners to reopen or sell the property – adding that it should either be levelled or redeveloped.
“We are a tourist town and we need a hotel. The last thing we want is for a hotel to be shut up,” he said.
“It is a fine facility and on an extensive site so there is no reason why it should be boarded up,” he added.
The Shannon Oaks saga has gone on for the past twelve years – but now the owners, the multi-millionaire Comer brothers, will be forced to pay a derelict site levy if they do not reopen or redevelop.
That amounts to a seven per cent levy based on the market value of the property, which is worth around €1 million even in its derelict state.
The Shannon Oaks was ravaged by fire in September 2011 and four years later, the site was acquired by the Comer Group who, at the time, gave an undertaking that it would be reopened.
Around two years ago, planning permission was granted by Galway County Council to Barry Comer of the Comer Group to renovate the hotel by providing 60 new bedrooms along with 40 apartments to the rear of the structure.
However, there has been little or no movement on the site since then and now the owners are being again asked to give some indication as to when the hotel will be rebuilt.
It is considered an integral part of the tourism industry for the town and that is why pressure is mounting on the owners to rebuild the hotel.
Cllr McClearn said that all he is asking for is the owners to develop the site and provide a hotel there. “It’s not much to ask in a tourist town,” he added.
More than €200,000 worth of cannabis seized in East Galway
More than €200,000 worth of cannabis was seized in during two separate search operations in East Galway on Saturday.
Gardai from the Divisional Drugs Unit conducted a search at a residence in Aughrim and seized cannabis plants with an estimated street value of €146,000 and €20,000 worth of cannabis herb which will now be sent for analysis.
Two men (both in their 30s) were arrested at the scene in connection with the investigation and are currently detained at Galway Garda station under Section 2 of the Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Act, 1996. Both men remain in custody.
A separate search was carried out at a residence in Ballinasloe yesterday afternoon and cannabis herb with an estimated street value of €35,000 was seized. Cannabis jellies and €7,510 in cash were also seized.
A man in his 40s was arrested and later released without charge and a file will be prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions.