Téarnamh | emergance

Téarnamh is an installation by Deirdre McKenna at An Díseart, Dingle, Co Kerry, exhibited as part of Féile na Bealtaine 2022. The installation brings together over 1300 flags collected as part of Deirdre’s community arts project Ar Scáth a Chéile in 2021.

Féile na Bealtaine springs to life each year on the Dingle Peninsula as a celebration of art, ideas, words, music, theatre, performance and the shared creativity of the human spirit. The festival is community-led and brings together creative practitioners and audiences from the local area, with connections reaching around the globe through its participants. Féile na Bealtaine is also a springboard for local cultural practitioners to present their work to audiences for the first time, often returning each year to share developments in their practice, new ideas, performances and exhibitions with a supportive and open community brought together by a love of creativity.

Deirdre McKenna initiated Ar Scáth a Chéile as a way to bring the community together for Féile na Bealtaine in 2021 despite the pandemic restrictions, for people to feel a connection to each other and participate in the festival which is so important to her and the other artists and volunteers who make it happen each year.

Ar Scáth a Chéile comes from the Irish proverb: ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine, which can be translated as it is in each other’s shadows people live. This fitting term acknowledges how we have had to stay apart to keep each other safe, and how we need each other’s shelter for survival.

Deirdre invited members of the local community, past festival participants and audiences near and far, to make a flag to contribute to outdoor installations of bunting around the Dingle peninsula. While each flag has its own message, appearance and meaning, when displayed together the flags become a riot of colour and a signal to passers-by that the community and Féile na Bealtaine is still strong and connected to one another. Deirdre’s intention was to “give community back to people who didn’t have it” and to instil a sense of togetherness and joy through pockets of bunting. She states how bunting gives “an instant feeling of festival, celebration. We fly bunting to celebrate, we hoist flags to symbolise achievement and identity. The prayer flags of Tibet are said to carry good intentions, positivity and spirituality on the wind to spread throughout the land”. While the bunting became a burst of colour and happiness around the Dingle Peninsula, the work is far from festive decoration. Each contributor made their flag with intention, with very personal touches, making a piece of art that they knew would be part of a larger project.

Deirdre asked people to make a flag that “celebrates your hopes and joys”, sharing tips and instructions online. There were lots of locations to drop off the completed flags so people didn’t have to travel outside of their 5-kilometre radius, with options to post them for those living far away. The instructions were simple and materials accessible to anyone at home, such as repurposed sheets, clothes or fabric.

Contributions were from very diverse communities and individuals. The idea was picked up by school teachers and parents, who encouraged their children to share messages of hope or commemorate something important to them. Poetry is printed, words of hope transcribed through Ogham, and messages to loved ones no longer with us are commemorated in the adorned fabric. Poignantly, in some flags the material’s former use is still evident, whether it is a baby grow, bedsheets, an old hi-vis jacket or pair of jeans. Fungie the dolphin inspires some submissions, as do farmyard animals and pets. Craft has its own showcase, with beautiful crochet, knitting, felting, embroidery, appliqué and quilting. People’s love for Munster, Kerry, and more specifically Dingle, is expressed through county and club colours. Allegiances to peoples’ country (Ireland, Switzerland and the USA) or their organisation (Sacred Heart University, Connecticut and Camphill) is stated proudly.

We get a glimpse into what is important to people when asked to share a message of hope in their flag: for some it is their favourite footballers or famous jockeys Rachel Blackmore and Jack Kennedy, for others it is a piece of poetry which gently describes how “I went down in the afternoon to the sea, which held me until I grew easy”, or hopeful quotes “Like rushes in a field, we will grow stronger again”, or the familiar words of comfort, Sonas, Sláinte, Dóchas, Grá. It is a joy to see the flags from Aigedlige Clique from Basel, who are regular visitors to Féile na Bealtaine. Their skill at making vibrant costumes has been lovingly incorporated into the small triangle shapes and even though they couldn’t be in Dingle, they made themselves very present through their flags.

As the submissions came in, Deirdre gathered the flags at a temporary studio in a large room in An Díseart, a cultural centre and research institute in the old Presentation Convent – a world-renowned institute for the academic study of Celtic Spirituality famous for its Harry Clarke stained-glass windows. During the process of gathering all the flags together, Deirdre hemmed the flags to protect against fraying in the Dingle weather and photographed each one. The flags were then strung together as bunting in preparation for their placement around the peninsula. While doing this, Deirdre observed how significant it was to have all the flags together in one place, and the idea was sown that she would revisit the project as a full installation.

That gave rise to Téarnamh – meaning recovery, survival or to come through an illness.

The flags have travelled around the Dingle Peninsula for last year’s Féile na Bealtaine, installed in carefully curated clusters in locations that people could see during their 5km walks or drives: An Díseart, Dingle, Lispole, Annascaul, Ventry, Cloghane, Ballyferriter, Dúnchaoin, Castlegregory and Teach Siamsa na Carraige. The flags have fared well after a year, considering their exposure to the elements during last year’s festival when they were hung up in their outdoor settings. Deirdre states that fraying or weathering shows “the passage of time and wear and tear of life”.

For Téarnamh, the world has changed once again and people can come together in once place. We can now find ourselves at a moment of reflection on what people have come out of after the past two years, be it illness, social restrictions, not being able to see our family and friends, not being able to come together to celebrate life events, or commemorate people who are no longer here. The flags for Ar Scáth a Chéile capture a very unique moment in time, in an extremely personal way. This is not just one artist’s work, it is the sewing together of more than 1300 individual messages, an outpouring of inspiration made during the height of uncertainty, confusion and fear. It is very clear from the messages in the artwork that there is a huge sense of resilience, hope and creativity in the communities and individuals that contributed. As an installation, Téarnamh allows for a moment to stop and reflect, to gather and celebrate and to consider the power of collective creativity as a symbol of recovery.

For Deirdre, Féile na Bealtaine has been crucial to her practice as an artist, offering a platform for her first exhibitions after she graduated from college, to later becoming a testing ground for experimentation, collaboration, or an opportunity to showcase her many talents as a painter, printmaker and contemporary practitioner spanning other artforms. Ar Scáth a Chéile in particular presents Deirdre’s capacity for working collaboratively with a huge community, which can often be the most challenging way to work as an artist. Her closeness to local Dingle and involvement with Féile na Bealtaine gives her a unique viewpoint into her own community, and how fortunate that community are to have an artist of her calibre and a festival that celebrates creativity, renewing itself each year and offering joy to all involved to mark the approaching summer.

Aideen Quirke, April 2022

Aideen Quirke is a freelance arts worker from Co. Tipperary. She currently works as Associate Programme Curator at Sirius Arts Centre, Cobh Co. Cork and has previously worked as Director of Cork Printmakers, Artistic Director at Sample-Studios and as part of curatorial teams at the Douglas Hyde Gallery, VISUAL Carlow and at galleries and museums across Ireland.

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