First Citizens Speak: Excerpt
A film-based artwork commissioned by Bealtaine as part of VOLTage in association with Clare County of Culture and glór. Supported by The Arts Council/An Chomhairle Ealaíonn.
Produced and Directed by Deirdre O'Mahony. Duration 00:36:42
Speaking off camera, older citizens of North Clare talk about the memories, values and behaviours they hold dear - that are and were important in achieving a strong sense of contentedness in their lives. The film captures the wit and wisdom of one generation, offered to another.
First Citizens Speak was based on an idea by Corofin GP, Dr. Fergus Glynn who acted as mediator for the project.
Deirdre O'Mahony, The Family, inkjet print on archival paper, 2016
At the core of this project is the idea of one generation sharing their accumulated experience and knowledge with present and future generations. How do we develop the emotional and psychological skills to navigate a time of unprecedented social, cultural, political, environmental and economic change?
The oldest citizens of the state experienced profound change, from the birth of the state and the end of a way of life that was built around mutual dependency and shared labour, to the independence and autonomy of a globalised post-modern world. How they navigated and processed those changes, and the ways that were found to maintain health and wellbeing, are deeply relevant to us today.
Launch of First Citizens Speak, glór, May 2016. Photograph reproduced with the kind permission of Eamonn Kelly Photographer.
The Tender Overlap
We recognize the skills and talents of family and community forebears, but assume that among them, few were artists, philosophers, writers or singers of world renown. Despite the gift, we may conjecture that the opportunity for the expression or recognition of it was not theirs. Yet we may know of the local songs and tunes passed on from mother to daughter, or the footwork needed for intricate dances learned from uncle, father or neighbor and we might be able to recall the names of local men and women who were great story tellers, singers, and musicians. We may remember a carefully built stone-‐wall, filigree lace work, neat rows of flowering new potatoes heaped with fine brown earth, a brightly painted garden gate, a pail of fresh water, a hand stitched jacket, the iron wheel rim forged for a locally built cartwheel, a kitchen-‐garden planted with onions, cabbage, gooseberries and rhubarb with next season in mind, the soft coat of a well-‐fed calf, an old churn bursting with meadow flowers, or the round bundles of reeds that miraculously manifest as a sturdy thatched roof.
This is the work of living in and with time, products of moments of solitude and contentment while part of a communal life that is underpinned by service, concern and care for others. Alongside them, we may have watched our foremothers and forefathers, learning by eye and ear, observing and listening as deeply and as unconsciously as a child. When we pay attention to the stories of lives and the conditions of their living, the tender overlap of the generations emerges, creating the moment of transmission. This then is the responsibility of our work in the present: to make visible and tangible the daily practices, philosophies and creative force of our forebears and the impact of those experiences, their wisdom and knowledge of the human condition, on our own lives. The gift is always passed on.
Dr Anne Byrne is a sociologist with an interest in narrative, biography, visuality and collaborative research methodologies, teaching and researching in the School of Political Sciences and Sociology, College of Arts, Social Sciences and Celtic Studies at the National University of Ireland Galway, Ireland