4. The Murals



Public murals were obviously a totally new venture for the Ennistymon '84 committee. Finding children who I wanted to paint on a wall wouldn't present any great problem; but with regards the selection of an artist, we honestly didn't know where to start. When the matter was raised at an early committee meeting, it was announced that there were a number of artists in the area who had done and supervised murals before, and who should be given the opportunity now to do the same in their own area. And while the idea of commissioning a local artist was an ideal on which the whole project was based, there was nonetheless too much doubt among committee members evidence was lacking and arguments were unconvincing.

In the light of this indecision, Marian Fitzgibbon voiced the opinion that the initial reaction of the townspeople would be important in determining the whole mural project. Therefore she proposed to locate an available artist from the region with proven experience in mural supervision, and to ask the artist to speak to the committee on the how's, why's and wherefores' of mural painting.

Liz McMahon, from Patrickswell in Co. Limerick, had supervised some school murals under the 'Paint on the Wall' scheme, and had executed a number herself on commission. She presented a slide-show of her work to the committee, which was sufficiently impressed with her credentials to commission her for the first mural.


Supervision: Liz McMahon. Execution: Primary School Children. Location: Ardnaculla, Ennistymon. Period: April 18-28, 1984.


An old storehouse, adjacent to the town's last remaining forge and prominent at the Lahinch Road entrance to the town, was offered by a local businessman as the site for the first mural. The windows had long been boarded up, and the walls were stained with the remains of many whitewashings. It was originally intended to paint on the whole wall, but this notion was shelved at the last minute when it was found that scrubbing the old whitewash was detrimental to the even older mortar which was holding the building together. Therefore, it was necessary to confine painting to the windows and door-areas. To compensate for the last minute loss of the main wall, the Co. Council were approached about a nearby water- pump building. Verbal agreement was immediately forthcoming, although the Council officials can't have realised at such short notice what exactly would be happening to their little windowless hut. Nonetheless, a written request for permission was rushed off poste- haste, and the way was cleared for a rapid redecoration of this corner of town.

Work in progress at Murphys Sweet Shop


With a view to assessing the abilities of those local children who might be participating in this mural, some school-teachers were approached and asked to organise a painting-drawing session in their classes, and to pass on the finished works to the committee. This aspect of the preparations was organised by Pat O'Doherty, our school teacher committee member, who got together with Liz to pore for many long hours over the children's work."... Here's a nice bicycle, we'll use that on the wall. .. and this one has lovely colourful flowers; maybe she can do a window-box... and this one,... well, he can be a Background Worker!"

Visits were also made to the schools by the artist and our administrator, to introduce the idea of mural painting to the children.


Work on the mural(s) began on April 18, and no sooner had the first streaks of colour appeared on the pump- house when a vociferous objection was made by a nearby resident. Even the local sergeant was drawn into the fray, but after a number of diplomatic deputations, including Liz with a portfolio of her work, the perplexed individual was somewhat more understanding of the project, and the work continued after a brief pause.

Day by day the humble pump-house was transformed into "Murphys Sweetshop", with a mouth-watering selection of sweets on the shelves, a cat outside the door, curtained windows on the sides and back of the building, flowers around the edge, a bicycle against the wall, and an old woman in a rocking chair taking the summer sun.

When the "sweetshop" was nearing completion, one of the children painted a crow on a side wall. For whatever reason, our local objector was once again out on the street challenging the artistic concept of this black bird with the long legs, skinny wings and big red beak. As a result, the poor young artist had to "fly" her crow to the other side of the building.

Down at the old store, the "windows" were being painted on plywood boards at ground level, and were later nailed into position, thereby eliminating the need for worryingly high ladders. One of the doors included an original half-door and this proved too much of a temptation for Liz, because she decided to paint it herself. In a couple of days, and old woman appeared in this doorway, realistically gazing out on the world. However she proved too realistic for one individual who swore that the painting looked too much like a dear departed relative, and not for the first time, the artist had to compromise.

Nonetheless, the old woman at the half-door proved a great success. The story goes that three men were walking home rather late one night, and as they passed the portrait each in turn saluted the woman:

"Good-night, Ma'am".

"Good-night, Ma'am".

"Good-night, Ma'am".

and continued merrily on their way.

Putting on the finishing touches


A most heart-warming element in the organising and execution of this mural was the exemplary co-operation of Mr. Lorcan O'Connor, and the O'Connor family. Not only were the walls of the building willingly offered, but we were also given a room for storing paints and materials, a generous contribution was made towards the cost of paints, the walls were freshly whitewashed, and the area in front of the mural was tidied and re-gravelled. Indeed, people were dissuaded from parking in front of the mural, lest they spoil the view.

Since the completion of the mural, many visitors have been spotted photographing this eye-catching corner of town-an indication of the success of the project.


On Thursday, May 3, children, parents, committee members and local people assembled outside "Murphy's Sweetshop" to (in)formally launch the murals. Canon P. O Laoi presided over the ceremony-such that it was and sweets were dispersed to the children, giving the occasion a festive air which saw the mural established as a worthwhile part of the local scenery. In a way, this mural was the first visual confrontation the people of Ennistymon had with contemporary art and on the whole the majority reaction was one of understanding and encouragement.


The O'Connor Family. Canon P. O Laoi.

Clare County Council.

Una McCarthy.

O'Sheas house with murals on the windows and doors


Supervision: Anne Heffernan. Execution: Teenagers. Location: Beside the Library. Period: June 2-8, 1984.

By the beginning of June, the Ennistymon '84 project was moving into a higher gear with numerous events being planned and some members of the committee stretched to breaking point. It seems on retrospection (for none of the available diaries offer an explanation), that it was suddenly remembered that only one mural had been done so far, and that the second was now overdue. Equally as suddenly, it seemed that the second mural had been organised without the consent of the general committee, leaving some members aggrieved at the apparently dictatorial methods used in deciding what should be happening in this community arts project. Nonetheless, an amount of work did go into selecting an artist and an art style for this mural. A number of artists from around the country submitted photos of their work and these were displayed in the library in conjunction with a questionnaire which went out to the people of the town. As it happened, most of these artists were unavailable for the period.


Adjacent to one of Ennistymon's finest amenities, the new Co. Council Library is an area where the young people of the town have tended to "hang out" over the past few years. Here also was a rather rundown looking shed/store which was owned by the family of a local Youth leader, who readily agreed to a mural on its walls. It was obvious that the teenagers themselves should be involved in the decoration of their corner.

Anne Heffernan and the preparatory work


The wall was freshly plastered on June 1. The following morning revealed that the words "Warlords Rule

O.K." had been carved into the new plaster, and this nocturnal vandalism sent a small shudder through those of us who were there, as we knew that this small group from Ennis were intent on spoiling the occasion, simply because the local youth were showing more interest in the mural than in them.

Later in the day, our artist, Anne Heffernan from Clonmel, arrived and immediately set up a preparation area in the library corridor. Using brushes, sponges and stencils she began to familiarise the teenagers with some basic techniques. Despite some verbal harassment from their non-participating friends, they stayed until late. Their surprising persistence and unflagging interest discouraged the onlookers, and augured well for the success of the mural.


Delays were inevitable in all our events at this stage, though what form they would take could never be predicted. On this occasion there was the matter of a lost passport which meant a day away at the Passport Office; there was the matter of paints which had to be returned to Limerick and changed; and of course the weather again played a part in interrupting progress. There was also a litany of minor setbacks; one child bitten by a dog, one cut on a barb of wire, children swinging out of the ladder and clambering across the tin roof, and regular bouts of relatively harmless slagging and jeering. Nevertheless, there was no doubt that this was the place to be; everyone eventually wanted in on the act.

Because of the delays, it was June 7 before the paint finally began to colour the walls, and time was running out with only two days left to complete the work. However enthusiasm remained high, and the mural took shape rapidly.

The techniques employed by the artist not only speeded up the overall process, but also added an extra exciting dimension to the art-making process. These included a type of 'reverse stencil' using masking-tape, and the painting of elongated, natural shadows as they were cast on the wall. This meant that the kids were including themselves in the mural, which was appropriate.

On the two days of actual "painting-on-the-wall" work continued right through the day and ended in moonlight at about 11.30 p.m. on both nights.

The last day was not without incident either. An objection was received from a local resident, but this was more to do with a family misunderstanding than with the mural itself; and the graffiti writers struck again, this time bringing a heated response from a number of the parties involved. In the end a diplomatic truce was arranged and an attempt was later made by the vandals themselves to clean up the offending graffiti.

Anne Heffernan watches over the completion of the mural.


The above encounters, instead of alienating the young people from the mural project, in fact succeeded in bringing them closer together, and closer to Ennistymon '84 as well. They took great pride in their finished work, and were not afraid to defend it against the spoilers. It also confirmed this little part of town as "their place", gave them a certain right to be there, and lessened the shadiness which often hangs over young people who "hang out"...

Unlike the first mural, there was no formal launching of this mural by the library. In retrospect it seems that the committee and administrators were too busy organising a number of other events around this time, and no mention seems to have been made at all of any sort of launching. On the other hand, it seems fair to say that it launched itself, and probably needed no ceremony at all apart from the actual job of executing it.


Paddy O'Dwyer Rita Conway

Ennistymon Library

Maisie O'Dwyer Una McCarthy James Honan.


Artist: Pat Barrett. Location: Ennistymon Community Centre. Period: July 31 - August 7, 1984.


The Ennistymon Community Centre Committee had expressed an interest in having a mural painted on one of the many bare walls in their unfinished building. At first they indicated that they should have the final say in what type of mural should be done, but this approach was dismissed, and the arts committee took responsibility for selecting both the artist and the design.

On June 25, the matter came up on the agenda of a committee meeting. Submissions had been invited from local artists who might be interested in painting the mural, but only two replies were received. The committee may have been at fault here in not sufficiently advertising the position because, in the main, invitations were communicated by word of mouth only. Other reasons for the poor response may have been the short notice given the murals project was running behind schedule at this time and also the time of year, which is invariably busy for all artists and craftspeople.

Nonetheless, the two submissions were discussed at length by the committee, and opinions were divided on the most suitable. The artists involved were Finola Graham of Fanore and Pat Barrett of Ennistymon. Finola proposed a mosaic panel depicting a rural scene and incorporating a small fountain/stream at its base, while Pat proposed a painting with abstract design.

In the end Pat Barrett was commissioned to paint the third mural.


To all intents and purposes, this remains the hidden mural of Ennistymon '84. The wall offered as a mural site is in a short passageway opposite a secondary entrance to this large building. Developments in the centre so far have been concentrated on the main upper floor, while the lower sections are still largely undeveloped. Until such a time as the building is fully operational, and the secondary entrance in regular use, this mural will have to remain in hiding'. Perhaps it will be rediscovered in a few years time...


The painting was executed on an 8' x 8' plywood panel firmly attached to the wall, and the design is an abstract one consisting of thin coloured lines, curves and angles on a strong blue background.

The artist describes the idea behind the painting as follows: "The work is based on the study of architectural elements and general urban forms. All the elements found in an urban landscape-even lights and sounds play an important role in this painting."


Community Centre Committee. Arts Office Staff.

Pat Barret

subs@thecourthousegallery.com April 15, 2024
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