Street and circus artists from all over Europe got to hear about a new project to build a unique artistic residency on the beautiful Gaeltacht island of Inis Oirr during an international seminar which took place online recently.
Artists attending the Fresh Street #4 conference, which was originally supposed to take place in Turin, Italy, heard Dara McGee of Áras Éanna Ionad Ealaíne and Lucy Medlycott of the ISACS (Irish Street Arts, Circus and Spectacle) Network talk about their love of the island and the inspiration it gives to visiting artists.
“It’s the most westerly arts centre in all of Europe. The next stop is America. It’s the smallest of the three Aran Islands, a Gaeltacht island, and we are very lucky to have a beautiful arts centre located on such a beautiful island with the blessing of the community,” said Dara.
“The island has a patchwork of beautiful limestone walls that have been built on over the generations. It’s very windswept and rugged, it’s very scenic and beautiful, and the community there is very close-knit and culturally rich in music, the language, and culture.”
Dara said that the arts centre almost came about by accident 20 years ago when an artist called Mick Mulcahy was inspired to put on an exhibition of his work, inspired by the island, in a disused weaving factory.
The current President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, was among those who was involved in transforming the factory into Aras Eanna, which now has an art gallery, studios for artists, and a beautiful 75-seat theatre with wonderful acoustics.
“The community of Inis Oirr, with a population of about 240 people, are rich in the Irish language, music, and culture. Having artists travelling to the island from all over the world and sharing their experiences with the islanders, and especially sharing their experiences with the schools about their work and what they do, has had a profound impact on the island,” Dara told the street artists.
He talked about his vision of bringing more guest artists to the island, once the current restrictions have eased, in 2021, to engage with the island, its people, language, scenery and culture.
Lucy spoke about the special place the Aran Islands have in Irish history because of the impact J.M. Sygne’s plays had on Ireland during the War of Independence after he spent time living among the local people on the western edge of Europe.
“Synge’s plays at the turn of the last century were a catalyst in the creation of the nation state,” she told the international audience.
“Inis Oirr is a place where you just lose yourself in time and in place, and it just changes your perception of the world. So to make it a centre for artists to go and be creative was really a critical point for us. To give artists that freedom to just think, breathe, and see the world in a different way.
“It changes your feeling, your reaction to the world and feeling about the world. It makes you feel how small we all are, which can be very empowering in itself. This idea of giving artists a moment, a place to breathe and to think, is more valuable than anything. Right now there is so much pressure. How will we survive? How are we going to change? We have to find a place to support artists and Inis Oirr is a really precious place.”