by Ciaran Tierney
For a man who has spent all of his life living and working in cities, spending three weeks on beautiful Inis Oirr has been both a challenge and a golden opportunity for cartoonist Aongus Collins.
Aongus was chosen as the 2022 Galway Cartoon Festival Artist in Residence and loved his time in the studio here at Aras Eanna.
His time on the island coincided with the Féile na gCloch festival, which this year included a visit from a delegation from Korea, a hugely successful Culture Night in which 20 women musicians travelled around the island, and some top-class music and theatre shows in the Aras Eanna theatre.
So, while cartooning is a solitary occupation, Aengus relished the opportunity to meet so many new people during his time on Inis Oirr.
“This was my first time ever to come out to Inis Oirr,” he says. “It’s brilliant. I’m in a completely different world out here. I’m not on the mobile phone so much. I cut my consumption down to about 10% of my normal usage. The phone can be very distracting, even though it can help with research.”
A native of Cork City, Aengus has spent most of his working life in Dublin.
“I had never been on any island before,” he admits. “It is a totally novel experience, because I grew up in Cork and spent most of my life in Dublin. I suspect that Inis Oirr is closer to real life than the mainland. People here aren’t going around with their phone in their hand and half their brain in the cloud!”
Aongus has loved cartooning throughout his life, since he took weekly life drawing classes at the Cork School of Art as a youngster.
He got his first start as a cartoonist with ‘In Dublin’ magazine after moving to the capital, where he soon became friends with characters such as Tom Mathews – whose ‘Still Crazy After All These Years’ exhibition is currently running here at Aras Eanna as part of the Galway Cartoon Festival.
Later he worked for the Evening Herald, the Daily Star, and the Irish Independent, drawing cartoons to strict deadlines for the national newspapers, under the kind of pressure to meet deadlines which was a million miles away from his time here on Inis Oirr.
Considering that he spent 25 years working for newspapers, it is quite poignant that the kind of career path which was open to Aengus is no longer open to the young cartoonists of today.
“Newspapers don’t hire cartoonists anymore,” he says. “In fact, some of them have even got rid of their staff photographers. There are very few newspaper cartoonists now. There might be just four now in all of Ireland, compared to about 12 when I started in the industry.
“I was used to working to strict deadlines, to being unable to change something at the last minute if I felt it wasn’t working out. So, it’s a total luxury being here on Inis Oirr for a few weeks and being able to do what I want. Not only can I do what I want, I can tear something up if I don’t like it!”
Aongus kept a sort of “cartoon diary” of activities on the island during his time here, including the visit of stone masons from Korea, a spectacular traditional music concert in the Aras Eanna theatre, and the opening of a photographic exhibition.
He was captivated by the sight of stone masons from Ireland and Korea working together on the island.
Before coming to Inis Oirr, he curated the ‘Tarraing É i nGaeilge’ exhibition of cartoons in the Irish language, which has captivated visitors to both Galway City and Inis Oirr again this October.
Willie Brennan from the Galway Cartoon Festival asked Aongus to put the Irish language cartoons together and the result has been spectacular again in 2022.
“Newspapers have been wound down and I haven’t been working that much for the last number of years,” he says.
“The irony is that I have produced more here on Inis Oirr than in a normal working week back home. It’s like going back to when I used to work full-time in newspapers. This is such a unique opportunity, to spend time here on the island, it would be crazy to waste it
Aongus enjoyed three relaxing weeks on Inis Oirr thanks to the Galway Cartoon Festival. Photograph by Ciaran Tierney.
Cartoon by Aongus Collins.