Thanks to Fund It, an all island crowd funding website for Ireland’s creative projects, support is given to the creative sector. Run by Business to Arts, a not-for-profit organisation, its aims are to support resilience and transformation in the cultural sector through research, innovation and partnership. Artists who sign up for Fund It are generally seeking the cost of an exhibition, publication or some worthwhile project which is funded by the public. In return, the public receive signed copies, invitations to openings, artwork, whatever is appropriate to reward the investment.
Two of the projects I came across recently on Fund It are worthy of mention. The Cream of the Milk, a limited edition broadsheet (250 in total) features thirteen remarkable Irish Women. The two artists involved are Alan Nolan and Pauline Hall. It’s visually stunning and lovely to have in the hand (or indeed framed on the wall). Nolan is a designer, illustrator, graphic novelist and children’s author. Hall lives in Dublin. Her first novel Grounds was published by Brandon. Hall’s contribution to the broadsheet is to supply a series of short, humorous poems (clerihews) to accompany the fabulous illustrations. One of the verses concerns Marie-Louise 0’Murphi/posed for Boucher sans souci./King Louis also loved her in dishabille,/some years before the fall of the Bastille. By contrast, Peig Sayers,/wrapped in black woolen layers/spoke of oatmeal, praying, and the seal-rich sea,/onto cylinder records for the BBC. The thirteen women featured on the broadsheet are represented as follows:
Nora Barnacle (1884-1951): Wife and muse of James Joyce. Their second meeting was 16th June, 1904, the date later immortalized in ‘Ulysses’. They left Dublin for a precarious cosmopolitan existence in Europe.
Dr James Barry c 1792-1865: Physician, army officer, male impersonator. Barry studied at Edinburgh. Possibly the first woman in Britain to graduate as a doctor. Taking a series of overseas postings, she pioneered an emphasis on hygiene and performed one of the first Caesarian Sections.
Nurse Mamie Cadden 1891-1959: Midwife and abortionist. Her private practice in Dublin offered illegal abortions to patients from all over Ireland which enabled her to lead a fast lifestyle. She drove a red sports car. In 1956, a patient died and she was sentenced to death, later commuted.
Biddy Early c. 1789-1874: Clairvoyant, healer. When she foretold a murder, her reputation as a clairvoyant was established. Worked in County Clare using herbal remedies for animals and humans. Tried for witchcraft, but few witnesses came forward and she was not convicted.
Grawnawale/Grace 0’Mally c.1530-c1603: Pirate, Chieftain of the 0’Malley clan, political pragmatist. She succeeded in recapturing her deceased husband’s castle and holding on to his wealth, divorced her second. Using small fast ships, she staged surprise attacks along the West coast.
Eileen Gray 1878-1976: Designer, architect. Worked in France. Acknowledged as the greatest western exponent of lacquer, her work in this material now attracts record prices. She aimed at the creation of a total environment, influenced by the Dutch De Stijl movement.
Iseult the Fair: Legendary Princess of Ireland, part of an ill-fated love triangle with her husband, King Mark of Cornwell and her lover, his nephew and follower, Tristan. Retold throughout Europe from the twelfth century, Iseult’s is a story of undying love.
Lady Hazel Lavery 1880-1935: Artist, model, socialite. With her husband Sir John Lavery, moved in fashionable London circles. Drawn into Irish political life. Wore widow’s weeds after Michael Collins died. Hers was the image on most Irish banknotes from 1928 till 1996.
Constance Countess Markievicz 1868-1927: Republican and labour activist. With her sister Eva, celebrated in Yeats’ poem. Advocated for striking workers in 1913 and fought in the Easter Rising. The first woman elected to the House of Commons, later Minister for Labour in the first Dail.
Marie-Louise 0’Murphi 1737-1814: Courtesan, artist’s model. Said to have been discovered in her teens by Casanova. Became a minor mistress of Louis XV, after he saw Boucher’s nude painting of her. Later married three times. Imprisoned during the Terror, but escaped the guillotine.
Peig Sayers 1873-1958: Writer and storyteller. On marriage, she moved the Great Blasket Island. Her book ‘Peig’ was dictated to her son, as she could neither read nor write Irish, although she spoke fluently to numerous visitors. She has many descendants in Springfield USA.
Margaret Burke Sheridan 1889-1958: Soprano. Early promised confirmed by Marconi, encouraged by Toscanini and Puccini. Her beauty and talent ensured success at Milan. Sang with Gigli. Her recordings of Madama Butterfly were regarded as outstanding till 1950’s. A career shortened by ill health.
Lady Jane Francesca Wilde (Speranza) 1821?-1896: Poet, nationalist, folklorist, linguist. Wife of Sir William Wild. Set up literary salon. Wrote the first poetic response to the Famine and incendiary articles for The Nation. Influenced both by Evangelical and Catholic traditions. Urged Oscar to face trial.
The second Fund It project I’m very taken with is by Patricia Fitzgerald, a Mandala Artist based in Dublin. “The first time you see a mandala, you might be forgiven for thinking that it is just a whoo whoo hippy art form, but it is a whole lot more that!” Fitzgerald further explains that the act of creating a mandala brings the practitioner into a place of calmness, where decisions can be made in a much more focused manner. Patricia began drawing them when she was going through a very stressful time in her own life. “Mandalas are drawn intuitively, with no expected outcome. And so they are a form of meditation, an active mindfulness technique.”
It’s a fascinating concept and one which I was very keen to know more about. Fitzgerald is very enthusiastic about the art of mandala.“The act of merely sitting down at the table to create a piece immediately gives you time to yourself. Time without distraction. Time just for you. By taking this step, you have immediately opened yourself to a calmer place, where the noise of your incessant thoughts can begin to settle into a more productive mode.”
She also maintains that through creating the mandala, trust in the intuitive senses are strengthened. “You become aware of your breath, breathing deeply and immediately you begin to relax. Beginning at the centre of a circle, you draw whatever shapes that come into your head. Using whatever colour feels right for YOU….not letting your ego mind tell you ‘well that blue doesn’t go with that orange’ or ‘that wouldn’t match the curtains in the sitting room’. No. Remember, this is not just a pretty piece of art, although it inevitably ends up being just that.”
Going through this process helps thoughts become clearer. “ Perhaps there has been a problem spinning around in your head, a decision that you can’t make. By balancing the mind in this creative way, often the solution becomes clear. A eureka moment! There’s a science to this. Psychologists, neurologists and researchers have found that by stimulating both sides of the brain (which mandala art is doing) our thought process becomes clearer, stress reduces, blood pressure lowers and the list goes on.” She makes a convincing case for the health benefits of the art. “Normally when we make decisions we use the left hemisphere of the brain, considered as rational. We often leave out the possibility of taking advantage of the benefits brought by the right hemisphere of the brain, such as creative imagination, serenity, global view and ease of memorization, among others. By drawing intuitively in the wholeness of the circle, we get a much fuller picture of what is going on in our lives, our minds. In fact, the word ‘Mandala’ is the ancient Sanskrit word meaning ‘Circle’ or ‘Container of Spirit’. It is an ancient technique that has been used across the world for hundreds if not thousands of years. Indeed the Dali Lama and the Tibetan Monks create the most beautiful mandalas…and they are just about the calmest people on the planet!”
Patricia Fitzgerald studied Visual Education and Communication at Dun Laoghaire College of Art & Design (IADT) and also holds a first class honours degree in Philosophy and Sociology from University College, Dublin. For her, drawing mandalas is a meditative and spiritual practice, bringing a sense of peace and connectedness. Her work has already been exhibited successfully at Smock Alley Theatre, Temple Bar, Dublin 2. She hosts Mandala & Meditation workshops and retreats. www.healingcreations.ie
The Hennessy Book of Irish Fiction 2005-2015
Ciaran Carty and Dermot Bolger co-edit the publication. Carty, in the introduction, gives an overview of how the New Irish Writing Page came about in 1968. Back then, the portal to literary opportunity came courtesy of The Irish Press and David Marcus. When The Irish Press, due to difficulties, was forced to go tabloid in 1988, the page was dropped. Meanwhile Carty had initiated a monthly slot in The Sunday Independent (where he was working as a film critic and features editor), similar to the New Irish Writing Page. The page attracted writers such as Dermot Bolger, Philip Casey and a young barrister called Mary McAleese. The New Irish Writing Page found a new home when Vincent Browne invited Carty to edit a slot in The Sunday Tribune for new writing, with David Marcus initially involved as a consultant. The page has been running ever since despite the closure of The Sunday Tribune, a move to The Irish Independent and now this year, to The Irish Times. Carty’s introduction also honours the fact that April, 2015 marks the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the day when Richard Hennessy, in common with other ‘Wild Geese,’ left Cork to join with the army of King Louis XV of France, before eventually settling in the town of Cognac on the river Charente. The rest is history… in terms of literature..and brandy.
It’s worth noting that not all of the stories in the current anthology are winners of the award. Carty makes the point that the twenty-five story selection is a personal one, from the 120 published in the past decade. These 120, in turn, were chosen from several thousand stories submitted. It’s a fair approach to selection and makes the resulting anthology more interesting. Looking at stories from a stand alone perspective, when they each appear in The New Irish Writing Page, is a different proposition from determining how a story might fit in a body of work. Making ‘the cut’ in any anthology brings in other considerations than just the quality of the work. It’s pretty much a given in any case that a story published in The New Irish Writing Page is of a high quality. The 2,000 or so word limitation ensures they are all of equal length. However, stories of similar themes, structure, have to be weighed against each other. Carty sums up his selection process by saying that the stories ‘reflect a spirit of openness and the power of literature to speak to a culture without borders, a society without divisions.’
As a three time nominee for the Awards (Poetry 2004, First fiction 2005, eventually winning the Emerging Fiction category in 2010), I feel very honoured to be among peer practitioners of the art of the short story form. As such, it’s not my place to review but to revisit the pleasure of these stories ‘housed’ together for the first time. I am pleased to see one or two inclusions from writers who didn’t win the award but whose stories are personal favourites. The Hennessy book of Irish Fiction (2005-2015) is available in all good bookshops or at www.newisland.ie