10. Community Artists

Community Artists


"From August to December, a community artist will work in Co. Clare consolidating achievements and undertaking new projects".

This statement from the original proposal introudced to the committee the idea of a constructive follow-up to the whole affair of Ennistymon '84.

Interviews for the post of community artist were held in Ennistymon on July 20th, 1984, just a few weeks before the Visual Arts Festival. The interview board consisted of Pat O'Doherty, John Doorty and Medb Ruane of the Arts Council. There were three candidates also: Liz McMahon, who supervised our first mural, Mike Fitzpatrick, who designed and supervised the sculpture playground, and Dermot Twohig, a local artist and art teacher who exhibited at the library during the year.

To pick one out of three was challenging enough, but to decide to pick two community artists out of three candidates was both daunting and brave. And so it was that the interview board decided to appoint TWO artists to work in Ennistymon from September to December. The Arts Council grant was geared to cover one artist, while the second was to be paid through a Department of Labour grant.

Rehearsing for the puppet show


During her period as community artist, Liz concentrated on three projects: a puppet theatre, a wall hanging and a teachers workshop.

(a) The Puppet Theatre project was one which was intended to appeal to the young teenagers who - apart from the second mural - were somewhat left out of the

year's activities. Liz visited the secondary schools in town, introducing the idea of a puppet theatre and finding out who would be interested in the various aspects such as the construction of the theatre, the making of the puppets, the painting of backdrops, the writing of plays,


Two boys and two girls worked on the construction of the free-standing plywood theatre unit. Using the facilities of the woodwork room at the Vocational school, they completed the job in a week, working each evening and all day Saturday. During the following week, seven girls under the supervision of Liz painted the theatre and made it ready for use.

The next stage was to build some experimental puppets, familiarising the young people with materials and techniques. As they became more confident in their abilities, they began to create characters of their own design. And around this time too, Liz started a class for younger children on Saturdays. Following the example of their older brothers, sisters and friends, they learned quickly, and soon there were puppets on the hands of every second child. For a while, puppets were IN!

In an attempt to extend the interest and stimulate ideas, we invited Brian Bourke and Jay Murphy to give a workshop for the children. This proved a great success, as about 100 children and teenagers attended on the first day where Brian, Jay and some of the local children put on a number of shows. On the following day, Brian worked with a group of eight on the production of a play; and this lead to two groups working on two separate plays for a Christmas performance.

For Children's Book Week, the theatre was set up in the local library, where the children experimented with the principle of shadow puppets. Later a group of six designed and made their own shadow puppets for a production of Peter and the Wolf.

The culmination of all this activity was a public performance by the children at the Credit Union House during Christmas. The three groups put on their three shows in front of a crowd of over 100 appreciative people from the town.

* At the time of writing, the children of the Ennistymon Puppet Theatre are preparing new puppets and backdrops for another new show.

(b) The Wall-Hanging project began when Liz visited the matron of Ennistymon Hospital who was interested in having some local art-work installed in the building. Liz suggested a wall-hanging made from a number of small panels produced by people in the locality; and to promote the idea she visited the I.C.A. in Lahinch and Ennistymon, as well as the local schools. Altogether ten people - five adults and five school-girls - produced fifteen squares between them, using mainly local scenery as their theme.

Paints and inks were used on cotton and these squares were then embroidered and quilted. The finished pieces were sewn together to produce a panel measuring

four and a half feet by three feet, and the completed work was presented to the hospital by some of the people who participated.

(c) The Workshop for Primary School Teachers was organised as an attempt to dispel the myth that art can only be taught in schools by teachers who are artists. This belief seems to have greatly curtailed the introduction into the schools of art as a positive and creative element, not to mention exaggerating the importance of space and materials in the primary schools context.

The workshop was attended by an encouraging 20 teachers from the locality, who assembled for one night a week for three weeks at the Convent of Mercy school. Each session consisted of the introduction of simple practical techniques using everyday materials. The teachers placed themselves in the role of a primary school child and were assisted to produce a range of ideas using the techniques shown to them beforehand.

The sessions were kept informal and light-hearted, and bore fruit almost immediately as the teachers introduced their new-found 'skills' to their classes over the following weeks.

During her time in Ennistymon as community artist, Liz also assisted with a local pre-school group helped out during Children's Book Week at the Library, and organised an afternoon in Lahinch for children who built a 'beach city'.


Mike's ideas for a community artist complemented those of Liz's. Having worked on the sculpture play- ground scheme, he proposed to continue the idea by combining the world's of art, industry and employment by setting up a workshop to train young people in mould-making techniques. Mike believed this could form the basis of a course, which in turn would show the inherent value of creative activity in a very practical way.

AnCo were again approached for assistance and - no doubt familiar now with the ways of Ennistymon '84 - readily agreed to employ five young people as trainees in the workshop, and also provided some finance towards materials and rent of premises.

The finance for Mike's wages, the first six weeks rent on the workshop, and some materials came out of the Ennistymon '84 funds. An old store was rented close to the dashing river and modified as a studio/workshop. Overcoats were obligatory by November! Originally billed as a six-week project, AnCo. eventually supported 'Bowlane Moulds' for a total of 14 weeks.

The five young men who participated in this course had all worked on the sculpture playground scheme with Mike. It was a long way from the dole to sculpting a playground and now designing and creating hand- crafted moulds. But the trust which had been engendered between the artist/supervisor and the trainees was carried directly from one project to the other, and the experiences gained were unique and invaluable.

The designs carved into the plaster by Mike and the lads included replica shopfronts of the town, and the Cliffs of Moher, and various Celtic motifs. Rubber moulds were taken and multiple copies made which were later hand-painted and glazed.

By no stretch of the imagination can 14 weeks be considered sufficient time in which to perfect a process such as this. Indeed, the aim was not to develop a market for good, or a good for a market, but to give the workers a set of experiences, and insight into the craftsman's way of life, and some knowledge on the setting up and running of a small craft industry. Particular interest was shown by two local businesspeople, who purchased some stock; and a stall was set up in the market square to sell surplus stock shortly before Christmas.

Mike was very impressed with the natural abilities of his team. The one possible failing which he identified was "an in-bred lack of confidence in their ability to create their own jobs". Nonetheless, one of the lads did express an interest in experimenting further on his own, and perhaps of ultimately setting up a small business in the area with support from the Manpower Enterprise Scheme.

Mike Fitzpatrick with a selection of the moulds

Pat MacNamara Mikey Burke

Don Dillon



Dept. of Labour

Brenda Ahern

Paddy O'Dwyer

Brian Bourke

Jay Murphy

Pat O'Doherty

Ennistymon Convent of Mercy

Ennistymon Vocational School

Ennistymon C.B.S.

Ennistymon Hospital

Ennistymon Library

Ennistymon and District Credit Union

Ennistymon and Lahinch I.CA.

subs@thecourthousegallery.com April 15, 2024
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