X-PO started life in 2007 as a public art project in the former post office in Killinaboy, County Clare. It was initiated by Deirdre O’Mahony as a social, cultural and community exchange where different forms of knowledge - farming, artistic, local, place-based - could make unexpected creative connections. In the first year working with different groups and individuals the artist collaborated on a series of archival exhibitions that reflected different aspects of rural life today. Beginning at the most local level X-PO showed how collaborative exhibition-making can give a voice to, and make visible often disregarded, tacit, local knowledge. The Mattie Rynne Archive, Rinnamona Research Group, Killinaboy Mapping Group and the The Peter Rees Archive all took place in the first year of the project.
Subsequent exhibitions include Wise Ways Kilnaboy, Penning the Mart by Megs Morley, Senan Kileen's An Clochán and Deirdre’s SPUD project. It is tempting to include former postmaster Mattie Rynne as a co-collaborator in this process; the archive of his belongings exhibited at the opening of X-PO signposted a way of being-together that, like the post office building, faces both inwards and outwards, looking at the local and the global.
Since 2008, opening from September to June, X-PO has continued, run by a team of interested participants who have further developed, funded and managed the project. There are weekly clubs in singing, mapping and Irish, regular talks on local history and archaeology as well as film screenings and occasional exhibitions. Drawing from a broad constituency, X-PO lays no claim to be representative - it is rather the act of participation that is at the core of the project, providing a public space in which to discuss, agree, disagree, and challenge the changes underway in what are increasingly socially fragmented, rural communities. It has been a catalyst for further projects by O'Mahony such as First Citizens Speak a film about North Clare residents who grew up as the first citizens of the Irish State, and the home for weekly gatherings by the Kilnaboy Mapping group who have named the occupants of the houses of Killinaboy Parish going back to the earliest records and traced the roads, bothereens and paths, many of which have long fallen into disuse. The project has since been recognised as an important socially-engaged artwork and named as the artwork for 2007 in the RIA/Irish Times centenary publication Modern Ireland in 100 Artworks.
In 2019, X-PO took a new turn. A new public art project, Folk Radio, an artist-led radio station based in the former post office was commissioned through Clare County Council’s Gaining Ground programme. Led by artist Tom Flanagan, individuals and groups are making sound recordings, audio works and programmes exploring the hinterlands of North Clare. Tom has also recorded interviews with people who have been active at X-PO over the past decade, and podcasts of these and further original sound works including the X-PO Heritage Talks series will be added to the Folk Radio website on the Listen/Watch page as the project progresses. Folk Radio will go live with analogue FM radio broadcasts in February 2020 over a set period of 14 days. To celebrate the launch of the station, a live broadcast event will be hosted by Folk Radio at X-PO, inviting local artists, community groups, politicians and policy makers to a series of talks and a discussion forum on the potential of radio and creative practices, and the challenges of rural life in North Clare.
Archive1: The Mattie Rynne Archive.
John Martin ‘Mattie’ Rynne was postmaster of Kilnaboy for over fifty year. From all accounts he led a solitary childhood, and ill-health led to his removal from school at the age of twelve. He took care of his mother until her death in the 1960s and lived alone in the building until his death on 17th January 2000. The postmaster was a circumspect and discreet man who insisted his customers wait outside the post office while he dealt with each individual and the Post Office in Kilnaboy used to be the busiest in North Clare. While people waited, local news was exchanged. He left the Post Office building to James Maher, who was the last postmaster of Kilnaboy and it closed in 2003. The building remained shut until 2007 when it was re-opened as X-PO.
The first action at X-PO prior to opening the space was to document the contents of the post office, both the ‘public’ office space and the private living space. The private half of the house was left much as it was when Mattie died. The post office still contained his many books and journals, manuals and tapes. I cleaned, collated and catalogued the contents. The collection of books, papers, objects and his own archive of newspaper clippings revealed an intellectually curious, private man who was passionately interested in the world at large. Mattie communicated to the world beyond Kilnaboy on his short-wave radio, indicating a desire to communicate with the world decades before the advent of the internet. The unmistakable tones of BBC World Service presenters resonated in the background when doing business in the post office. Documents and old jotters contained essay assignments for correspondence courses run in the UK in the 1960s: there were writings on numerology and essays on “The Social State” and books on history, politics, astrology and self-help. There were course books for in ‘Radio Inspector and Practical Equipment’ and ‘Advanced English’ and objects, that also spoke to a life of intellectual enquiry. There were eighty-five cassettes of recordings made by Mattie from BBC language courses in French, German, Italian, Dutch and Spanish going back to the early 1970s.
Link to Film on Mattie Rynne Archive
Archive 2: The Killinaboy Mapping Group:
The Killinaboy mapping group has been meeting since X-PO opened in 2007 and are currently putting together a website of their decade of research. This digitization project has two core elements – firstly, to make their work more widely available, and secondly, to create a digital archive of their work for future generations. The Mapping Group archive The Full Story? has been displayed at exhibitions, contributed to community mapping workshops, and been discussed in scholarship in the fields of Visual Culture, Irish Studies, and History. Most recently, it featured in the Iarsma project, and been recognised within heritage and academic scholorship for the important contribution the group have made in bringing together the oral history of place with scholarly research.
Link to Mapping group page: Killinaboy Mapping Group
Archive 3: The Rinnamona Research Group
Rinnamona Research Group at X-PO. Left to Right: Sean Roach, Mary Moroney, Deirdre O'Mahony, Francis Whelan, Anne Byrne absent John Ruane. Photograph Ben Geoghegan 2008.
In the 1930s, Ireland was the focus of an extensive survey known as ‘The Harvard Irish Mission’, produced by scholars from Harvard University who conducted a detailed study of family and community in three rural locations, one of which was Rinnamona in Killinaboy parish. The resulting publications, The Irish Countryman by Conrad Arensberg and Family and Community in Ireland by Arensberg and Solon Kimball, are considered to be ‘classic’ scientific texts and remain influential within sociological and anthropological academic spheres. The local response to both texts was mixed. The books were widely read in the local community and, for some, the revelation of the private lives of their forebears was unexpected and unwelcome.
In the course of her research, sociologist Dr. Anne Byrne (NUIG) came across some of the original diaries kept by Solon Kimball when he stayed in Rinnamona. Handwritten in pencil in a school copy book, Kimball gives an intimate record of a rural community in the 1930s. He details the evening gatherings of the older men whom he refers to as ‘the Rinnamona Daíl. Anne made contact with some of the successors of the Rinnamona Dáil – Mary Moroney, Sean Roche, John Ruane and Francis Whelan – and they came together in early 2008 to read through the diary and decide how best to deal with the new material.
Two of the group were already actively using X-PO and, having seen the opening archival installation, asked to make a public re-presentation of their version of the story of Rinnamona in the 1930s. An account of the history, academic context, exhibition-making process and re-presentation of the project is given in papers Anne Byrne and Deirdre O'Mahony with the cooperation and permission of the Rinnamona Research Group
An Udder View: The Peter Rees Archive.
Peter Rees,Udder Creamery Truck Peter Rees Exhibition 2008
A further archive that emerged though X-PO was that of local photographer and truck driver Peter Rees. Like his father, Rees collected milk from farms throughout North Clare and was known throughout the county for his distinctive appropriation of the Coca-Cola logo on his Udder Cola creamery trucks. Passionate about photography from an early age, Peter carries his camera in the cab of his truck and has documented the social events, incidental happenings and changing landscape of the parish on his daily run. An Udder View was a collaborative project between Rees and I. His collection is a ready-made archive of parish life organised chronologically in albums in a small office in his house. Several evenings a week over a four-month period, we went through one-hundred and twenty-three albums, selecting approximately a thousand photographs for the exhibition.
Whether driving his truck, or through his involvement in the local organizations Rees has served as the unofficial recorder of the public affairs of the parish. He has documented meetings, boat festivals, cattle auctions, housing developments, political rallies, the school fancy dress parades, pranks played on newlyweds, the decade long history of protests at Mullaghmore - the daily life of a rural locality. We reviewed several methods for exhibiting the images and eventually decided to scan and reprint selected photographs, re-presenting the archive in two forms; in albums and projected as a slide show offering an opportunity for both a public and a private reflection.
Link to film on Peter Rees' Archive
Peter Rees, An Udder View Exhibition at X-PO 2008