Beyond The Pale: The Deep Dive (Áras Éanna, Inis Oírr)

Stage Door Live Associate Producer takes a deep dive into the west as far west as you can go: The Aran Islands. She is in love with the west, if you haven’t noticed.
Des Dillon and the Jumping Frog

Welcome one and all to my lovely corner of the universe Beyond the Pale. Every few weeks, I am going to take the time to delve into something a little deeper than my usual blog post. I am calling it, very originally, The Deep Dive.

This past week, I have once again been spending my time going into the West. It is, undoubtedly, one of the most unique and spellbinding regions in the country. There is a particular magic about the place, its uncompromising geography, unabashed ruggedness and fierce beauty: it’s easy to see how it has inspired artists since, well, forever. It is a place where one can’t help but feel connected to and awed by Mother Nature. But I digress, I have spoken at length already about my love affair with Galway in a previous post.

WARNING: I have peppered this post with some words as Gaeilge (in Irish). If you do not speak Irish, have no fear, there will be a Glossary at the bottom. Each of these words will be marked by a * so you can make a note of them/skip to the bottom to find out what they mean. Yes, this may be my small attempt to teach you Irish and spread my grá* for the language because I’m devious like that.

This week, I am going even further West. I am taking a wee ferry from Doolin and praying the winds will ease so the crossing won’t be too choppy, although I do love a good strong breeze to blow the cobwebs off. After about 25 minutes, I will step off the ferry and set foot on Inis Oírr (Inisheer) and the incredible Áras Éanna Ionad Ealaíne. (Áras Éanna Arts Centre).

Based in a former weaving factory on the smallest of the three Aran Islands, it is the most westerly arts centre in Europe. It was founded 20 years ago this year, and they had planned a programme of events to celebrate this before Covid decided to cancel 2020.

Paraic Breathnach

There is a 75 seat theatre, a Gallery, an artist residence, a studio and various workspaces and classrooms. Throughout the year, they programme theatre, visual Art, festivals, conferences, comedy, literature, dance and many other art form events and community programmes. Though the population of the island itself is around 220, they have created a vibrant cultural and artistic hub which many flock to. Over the last twenty years they have welcomed artists from all around the world to live and work on the island.

To my chagrin, though I have visited the Aran Islands several times, I have never been to Áras Éanna in real life. (This is something I will rectify as soon as it reopens and I can make the trip West). The arts centre came to my attention, as most things do these days, via my facebook feed. Since lockdown, they have been broadcasting live music events on their Facebook every week. Most importantly for the times we are in, the artists are paid for these broadcasts. I speak a bit more on the topic of valuing artists’ work online and the dangers of this ‘free content’ culture that has sprung up in a previous blog post which you can read here. But back to the live broadcasts.

Liam Ó Maonlaí performing at Áras Éanna 2019

If you missed them, fear not, for they are all available to watch back on their Facebook page. Some are long, some are short and overall they are a very pleasant way to spend some time listening to some great tunes played by fabulous artists. Close your eyes and you can almost pretend you’re tucked away in a little síbín* with a pint/whiskey in front of you and a warm fuzzy feeling all over. One of my favourite of these is brought to us by Míchéal Ó hAmhlain. He not only delights us with some epic flute and whistle playing (I defy you not to tap your toes!) but he also speaks as Gaeilge*, gives us a bit of history and a few scéal* along the way and even invites the musically inclined amongst us to play along. It is trad* at its absolute best. Even if you don’t speak Irish, or play an instrument – give it a look, it is food for the soul. There is a good mixture of ceol*, so if trad isn’t your thing, have a look through some of the other videos; there is something for everyone. You can check them all out here.

Another way they have found to keep the work alive, is to provide three artists in residence ‘in absentia’. How this will work is that they will connect three artists with residents on the island who will act as researchers or information gatherers on the artists behalf and share their findings with one another through social media. The application deadline for this has passed, but they are now in the process of selection and I am looking forward to seeing what comes out of it.

As I dug further into the work at Áras Éanna, I discovered Out of Land a Docu-Art Film. It follows two Berlin-based jugglers, Kate Boschetti and Liam Wilson as they created a performance inspired by the island. I reached out to Artistic Director, Dara McGee to find out more.

“Last year we hosted ‘Fresh Street 3‘ for an amazing day on the island where over 200 participants involved in street art and circus from around the world were treated to site specific shows on the island.”

Out of Land‘ was just one of these shows, and the two performers had spent a month as Artists in residence at Áras Éanna prior to the Fresh Street 3 event. The film was produced of their time spent working on and devising the show and was premiered on their Facebook page on the 24th May.

This film is absolutely breath-taking, and well worth a watch. Unfortunately for some of you, it is narrated entirely as Gaeilge by Eoghan Mac Mathúna (a copy of the full text is available to view) which I luxuriated in. However, even if you don’t understand the words, the story is perfectly clear.

It speaks about how the two performers planned to walk the island every day, to absorb it and be inspired by it for their performance. As soon as they landed, they noticed the distinctive stone walls that run like veins throughout the western landscape. They immediately decided to build one themselves for their set, embarking on a challenging task that so many on the island had years before. They decided also to swap their normal juggling balls for stones. No mean feat, but what better way to connect to the landscape? They had no idea what to expect from the island before they came, but they were warmly welcomed, and soon found themselves teaching their skill in schools, and spending many the night having the chats in the pub with locals. As showtime drew near, they had to leave some of the socialising to one side as they focused on the performance. An international audience of 200 was coming to see them perform, and they both found it hard to imagine the same event happening anywhere else, so embedded was the occasion with the place itself. They both learned so much from the experience, particularly that when you’re creating work in unfamiliar territory, you should always look at what’s around you with an open mind.

This piece was created within the frame of FRESH STREET#3 with the support of and in partnership with: Irish Street Arts, Circus & Spectacle Network (ISACS), Áras Éanna Ionad Ealaíne Inis Oírr, Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture, Circostrada Network.

The final spoken line of the film caught my ear and went straight to my heart: ní dhéanfaidh siad dearmad go deo ar an draíocht a chur an áit seo orthu. (they will never forget the magic the island placed on them). It’s true, there is a magic there that can’t help but have an effect on you and inspire your imagination.

The Gallery, Ealaíntóirí Inis Oírr 3

Speaking of imagination and inspiration, the final subject I would like to bring to your attention is a digital photographic exhibition by artist Cormac Coyne rather aptly titled ‘Inis Oírr during lockout order’. (You might now understand why this had to be a ‘Deep Dive’).

If nothing I have said has tempted you to look into visiting the arts centre, these photographs will. These photos are simply stunning. Coyne has lived and worked on the island since 2007. He speaks about wanting to capture the beauty of the nature, the richness of the islands and their people who are both resilient, and gentle. In my opinion, he succeeds. His pictures paint more than the thousand words I could write about the islands: the sense of awe and wonder, the extreme yet utterly captivating beauty of an island on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, and of course the people themselves. You can view the exhibition here.

A huge thank you to Dara McGee for his time, and the next time I’m journeying west-ward, I plan to visit in person, as should you. In the meantime, do check out their website and follow their Facebook page to make sure you don’t miss out.

I think, in years to come, I would like to retire to that island on the edge of the world. A small cabin will I rent there, have a hive for the honey bee, a vegetable patch (nine bean rows is a bit much to be fair) and I will write, create and breath the freshest of air off the Atlantic. Not that I’m dreaming of running away from the real world or anything…

GLOSSARY:

    • Grá (graw) : LOVE
    • Síbín (she-been) : A SMALL PUB, (usually the illegal after hours kind, but sh!)
    • Gaeilge (Gaylgah or guhwaylga, depending where you’re from) : IRISH LANGUAGE
    • Scéal (sh-kale) : STORY
    • Trad: (trad) : short for traditional music, or ‘ceol traidisúnta’ in Irish
    • Ceol (keyole) : MUSIC

For the record, Áras Éanna is pronounced aw-ras ay-nah.

Now off with you and start practicing your cúpla focal! (coopla fukal – few words).

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