8. Visual Arts Festival

Visual Arts Festival

August 13-31, 1984


The original idea for the Festival was that it would be a celebration, or culmination, of the many arts activities in Ennistymon during the previous months; that it would be a period when the large projects would be completed and available to the public; and that the occasion could be made more attractive by a number of fringe events, which would help create a 'festive' atmosphere in the town.

During the month of May, a number of committee meetings included discussion on the fringe events. There was certainly no lack of imagination, as music, theatre, poetry, cinema and street artists were all listed as possibilities. But we began to realize that there was a distinct danger that the 'fringe' events would outweigh the Visual Arts Festival and therefore defeat the whole notion of celebrating visual art in Ennistymon. Fortunately, runaway imaginations were finally stabled when it dawned on the committee that there was absolutely no money available for fringe events, and that they would have to be self-financing or else not happen at all.

Mike Murphy accepting a Matt O'Connell batik on opening night


The formal launching of the Ennistymon '84 Visual Arts Festival took place on August 13th, 1984. It was a most unusual night. The crowds that thronged the Monastery Hall and the Community Centre were overwhelming and the occasion was without parallel in the town. No doubt the presence of Mike Murphy did

much to bring the people in, but the mixture of artists, officials and townspeople was immensely encouraging.

Preparation of both venues was a trial right up to the end. The Monaster Halla school gym- was newly painted and cleaned, and windows were boarded over to accommodate some of the pieces in the 'Sources' exhibition which ran in the hall during the Festival.

We are eternally grateful to Br. McGrath at the CBS for his unending patience in dealing with a stream of administrators, Arts Office staff, committee members and artists at all hours of day and night. The only condition laid at our feet was that we acquire separate insurance cover for our events there. This of course we duly did.

The preparation of the Community Centre was an even more wearying task for all concerned. Despite assurances very early in the year that the partially-built Centre would be sufficiently ready for mid-August, it became apparent that this would not be so. Late in the day the committee decided that this valuable venue should be made ready at all costs, and the Arts Office staff were dispatched to organise temporary lighting and power points, as well as toilets (with doors!) and sewerage. (If anyone wants information on temporary toilets, we now have many experts!). Even later in the day, a batch of happy volunteers were recruited to decorate the bleak walls of the large bare hall; and simultaneously another group of volunteers were making, baking, collecting and preparing foods of all sorts to satisfy the


That the Community Centre was made ready for the opening night 'party' (and the exhibition of craftwork) is testimony to the volunteer spirit which accompanied the Ennistymon '84 project at this time.

And so on opening night all these factors came together to bring to the town a truly festive atmosphere. After assembling to drink wine and minerals and experience Mr. Murphy in person, the crowd then moved en masse across the road to the Community Centre where they proceeded to remove all edibles and liquids at an alarming rate.

To be self-critical for a moment, it must be said that the organisation of food and drink on the night left a little to be desired; the problem being that the unexpected crowds were not marshalled as well as they should have been. We had not anticipated that food presented in a buffet-style would be enjoyed with such wild abandon. While the vast majority were very courteous and into the spirit of the night, it is nonetheless true that some glasses and bottles of wine got into the wrong hands, namely young people. Also, the dispersion of the food, because it happened so quickly, led to some of it being scattered around the floor and litter was an unexpected problem.

Notwithstanding, these negative points were more than compensated for by the rest of the night. People of

all ages and many of them from the town-assembled to savour the flavour of this warm August night, and to listen to a young brass band from Navan, a group of young local musicians and the famous Tulla Ceili Band who kept the people dancing until late.

The "Sources" Exhibition in the Monastery Hall


In declaring the Visual Arts Festival formally open, Mike Murphy was simultaneously opening nine exhibitions at nine different venues in the town. Arrangements were made that each exhibition would be open to the public late on Opening Night, and for the rest of the Festival period they were open during the hours of the particular premises.

The nine exhibitions are synopsised below:

1. Sources An exhibition of works by Barrie Cooke, Anne Madden, Camille Souter and James Coleman at the Monastery Hall. All four artists attended the opening. The title (Sources) indicates that these artists have each been influenced by the Burren and North Clare at some time or other, and that these influences have been a source of their work.

One reporter stated that the pieces on display were ".. admittedly not the most important work" of the artists. Unfortunately we did not keep a Visitors Book at the venue, but reaction to this exhibition was generally low-key and perhaps the artists themselves must take some of the blame from the point of view of choice of material. Most of the pieces were not for sale, but one was sold ('Mullaghmore' by Barrie Cooke). Nonetheless, the amount of local people who ventured up to the hall during the period was encouraging. For most it was probably their first encounter with generally abstract work.

A separate catalogue was produced for the 'Sources' exhibition. Designed by David Lilburn, it is a slim glossy affair which has rather more class than the rest of our publications, and therefore slightly incongruous. About 70 catalogues were sold.

The original idea that this 'Sources' exhibition would tour nationally was dropped for financial and organisational reasons. However, the Arts Council did provide extra funding to stage the exhibition in Ennistymon alone.

2. Clare Crafts: An exhibition of old and new crafts from Co. Clare at the Community Centre. Submissions were invited from craftworkers throughout the county and a number were represented in the exhibition. Crafts included leather, jewellery, batik, ceramics, weaving, patchwork, woodwork, mosaic and musical instruments. The venue was a large bare room in the incomplete Community Centre which had to be prepared from scratch. The one advantage of the bare, block-walled room was that the decor couldn't clash with the displays.

One contributor was critical of the selection of crafts and also of the 'mauling' which pieces had to endure. For most people, the tactile experience was a pleasure and an education.

Included in this exhibition were pieces of old handcrafted textiles and clothes from the locality, which formed part of a larger exhibition earlier in the year. We felt that the old and the new complemented each other in the display.

3. Old Photos Displays in five of the town's pubs, Marrinan's, O'Malley's, Davoren's, Phil's Place and O'hEagrain's. In January 1984 the committee organised an exhibition of original photographs and reprints which were loaned to us by people in the town. As it was such a success at the time, it was always hoped to repeat the show, but unfortunately we never quite got around to it. The next best thing was to make reprints of those most readily available, frame them, and display them in various pubs to a more varied audience. The subject matter being local their appeal was always immediate and remains so today. The pubs involved made a donation towards printing and framing costs.

4. Architectural Survey: An exhibition of a survey carried out by a team from U.C.D. at the Credit Union House. The Housing Research Unit of U.C.D.'s School of Architecture were commissioned by Shannon Development to undertake a survey of villages and towns in the Mid-West region; and Ennistymon had been included as a good example of the 'model' Irish town. Simultaneously, the Ennistymon '84 project was being set in motion, and so it was logical that the survey should receive a high profile during the Festival.

The display included photos, diagrams and text on the town's buildings, shopfronts and general layout, and suggestions were made for improvements to the town plan. The venue proved quite suitable, needing little more than a fresh coat of paint.

Philip Geoghegan commented that "the inclusion of the built environment as a fundamental component of arts in the community is very welcome, and could be fruitful in the future".

5. Photographs by Anna Korff and Ilsa Thielen: An exhibition at the library by two Germans living in North Clare. There are a number of first class photographers now living in the region, and it was felt that it would be interesting to have a show which would give the 'outsiders' view of North Clare. While both their styles differ, nonetheless the subject matter of local scenery and people was immediately appealing to the more 'native' community, while the quality of all the prints lifted the works above mere photographs. A simple catalogue was produced jointly by the artists, and a number of prints were sold during the Festival.

6. Sculpture and Paintings by Mike Fitzpatrick: An exhibition by the young Newmarket-on-Fergus artist, at the Arts Office. Mike endeared himself to many in the town when he supervised the sculpture playground during the Summer. Now there was an opportunity to see some of his own work. This proved to be a very successful exhibition, with the carved wooden sculpture pieces attracting much attention. The most remarkable aspect of the show was the surprisingly high level of sales. A total of seven pieces were sold from the exhibition. This can be seen not only as a reflection of the high standard of Mike's work but also of the suitability of the venue as a gallery space.

7. Prints and Paintings by Niall Timmins: An exhibition by this Belfast-born, Ennistymon-based artist, at the local branch of Allied Irish Banks. This was the third exhibition of paintings to be held in the bank during 1984. Niall's work concentrated on the local flora and fauna and highlighted his skills as a miniaturist. Again the success of this exhibition was reflected in excellent sales. The launching of the exhibition was rather unusual in that management at the bank organised a unique late night opening for the purpose on Festival Opening Night. A simple catalogue was produced by the artist.

8. Drawings, Etchings and Painting by John Verling: An exhibition in the main dining room of the famous Falls Hotel. It was an odd sight at times to see people walking slowly around the edge of the room, while others sat eating their meals. The venue was somewhat removed from the more central location of other venues, but nonetheless received a good audience from the guests and visitors to the hotel. John Verling's pieces for this exhibition focussed-like many of the Ennistymon '84 exhibitions on the Burren and North Clare, and a number of works were sold during the Festival. 9. Just Looking (See separate chapter).

Exhibition of Clare craftwork in the community centre


As John Doorty stated in his introduction to the Festival programme: "... to enjoy the fringe events in isolation is considered to be an occasion of sin, an insult to the concept". It had been decided earlier in the Summer that the fringe events shouldn't overshadow the visual art aspect of the Festival, and the prospect of not having funds for these events seemed to have guaranteed this. Nonetheless, by the end of August a full programme of side events had taken place, and in retrospection it is felt that they did actually complement the rest of the Festival. Attendances for the fringe events (see 'Chronology of Events' for details) ranged from fair to full; the most successful being the poetry reading by Richard Murphy, the Jazz and Blues gig with Red Peters,

the Traditional Concert (run in conjunction with An Cumann Merriman), the Film Night and the Teenage Disco.

Finance: As things worked out, the fringe events were self-financing. The above-mentioned occasions which drew large crowds, each more than covered themselves financially. The other events either broke even or were run at relatively small losses, and these were later covered by a £500 grant from Clare Co. Council through their 'Assistance to the Arts' fund. A deciding factor in the economics of the 'fringe festival' was the excellent co-operation of musicians, artists, and guest speakers, a number of whom settled for expenses alone or a basic fee.

Bar Extensions: This was an issue which fostered a lot of debate both at committee level and among the publicans of the town. In the heel of the hunt it was decided to go ahead and apply for week-end extensions, the feeling being that they might be an extra incentive to bring people into town, who might in turn-even by accident experience something of the Visual Arts Festival so well.

For our own part, there were days and nights that were so long and exhausting that we too appreciated the extra hour or so to wet our poor whistles..!

Sub-Committees: A number of people were delighted to look after specific aspects of the fringe, and in the main these groups (and individuals) worked very well and took some of the burden off the shoulders of the administrators.

Programme: A detailed Festival programme was produced, outlining the main exhibitions, fringe events, committee members and general acknowledgements. Design was by Christy O'Shaughnessy, LSAD, who also designed the Festival posters, fliers and invitations. Over 200 copies were sold during the Festival.

Family Festival: The Family Festival' is an annual event in Ennistymon comprising a variety of sports, games and entertainment for all ages. In 1984 the local Junior Chamber were the organisers, and after a number of meetings and deputations, it was decided to hold the Family Festival simultaneous with the Arts Festival. This added an extra buzz to the generally festive atmosphere, and the Family Festival committee were responsible for erecting a stage in the town square and organising the Tulla Ceili Band and other musicians to play for outdoor Ceilis and dancing on the streets during the Festival.

Fringe Venues: For a town with a shortage of 'real' venues we were delighted in the end to be able to muster a variety of temporary venues for a variety of events. Fringe venues included the open-air stage in the Square, the Falls Hotel, the Archway Cellar Bar, the Scout Hall, the Parish Church, the Library, the Monastery Hall, the Falls Hotel Field, and of course Main Street.

Thanks to:

Mike Murphy, RTE

Marion Richardson, RTE

An Cumann Merriman

CBS Ennistymon

Simon O'Loughlin

Arts Office Staff

Community Centre Committee

Kieran & Brendan Glynn

Paddy Doherty

David Lilburn

Mary Grey

Matt O'Connell Michael Marrinan

Chiris O'Malley

Michael Davoran

Phil Fahy

Mary Haran

Michael John Glynn

Clare Champion

Siobhan Mulcahy

School of Architecture UCD

Ennistymon & District

Credit Union

Ennistymon Library Staff

AIB Ennistymon

Falls Hotel

Clare Co. Council

Ennistymon & District

Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann

Gerry Dukes

Ennistymon Youth Club

Archway Bar

Theatre Omnibus

Canon P. O'Laoi

Junior Chamber Ennistymon

Mary Murray, Mid-West Arts

Bonnie and Mal Whyte

Michael Petty

Susan Vaughan

Patricia Foley

Tom Bannion

Ann Brooks

Cormac McGuinness

Beva Bazler

Binky Andrewes The Wall family

Kitty Doherty

Fr. Heneghan Biddy Barrett Yvonne Bartlett Gilla Skerritt

Carmel Kenny Breda Keane

Jackie Fitzpatrick Voluntary Service International Tony McEvoy

Nan Ahern

Colm Hayes

Joe Galligan

St. Mary's Choir, Clonmel.

Catherine O'Loughlin

subs@thecourthousegallery.com April 15, 2024
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