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Writers and artists explore heritage-rich bench marks

Going Out

HIDDEN HERITAGE A bench mark on the façade of the Linenhall Arts Centre in Castlebar. A bench mark on the façade of the Linenhall Arts Centre in Castlebar.

Project on old carvings yields fascinating creative works

Ciara Moynihan

An exciting exhibition opening in the Linenhall Arts Centre this Friday is the culmination of a fascinating project on something that many of us walk by every day without noticing. Benchmarks – elegant symbols carved into the stone façades of the buildings – might be small, but they have a big story to tell.
These simple crows-foot-shaped marks started to appear on stone walls in built environments all around the country during the 1800s. Their purpose? To mark the height above sea level at particular locations. They were used by ordnance surveyors to map the terrain.
The Linenhall Arts Centre’s building (originally built in 1790 by Lord Lucan as storehouse and a clearing house for the flax and linen) is home to one of these beautiful surveying bench marks. Many more survive in Castlebar and in towns around the country, on buildings, bridges and other structures of note.
The theme of surveying is of ongoing interest to multi-award-winning Mayo author Mike McCormack, who has been working at the Linenhall with ten Mayo-based writers, and alongside ten visual artists from Engage Art Studios, to explore aspects of bench marks and surveying in the context of local heritage.
Entitled ‘Benchmark’, the project began last September with a briefing session that featured a presentation about bench marks and surveying by surveyors Marie Byrne and Raymond Healy of Ordnance Survey Ireland. Mayo County Council’s Conservation Architect Siobhán Sexton also gave a walking tour of the bench-marked structures in Castlebar. Since then, the writers and artists have busy creating new works based on their own creative responses to the theme.
The project is now culminating with the exhibition at the Linenhall Arts Centre. The free opening event this Friday evening will feature readings from a selection of the written work created, as well as a gallery tour of the visual art.
The exhibition, which continues until Saturday, February 15, features the work of visual artists Maeve Curtis, Noelle Gallagher, Nicola Gunwhy, Nuala Hiney, Eimear Jean McCormack, Hilary Morley, Avi Ratnayake, Vicky Smith, Joan Sugrue and Ruby Wallis, as well as work by writers Edel Burke, Aisling Keogh, Alice Kinsella, Mike McCormack, Sheila McHugh, Mari Maxwell, Geraldine Mitchell, Elizabeth Reapy, Ger Reidy, Jean Tuomey and Anne Walsh Donnelly.
Other related events include a Bench Mark Paper Sculpture Workshop for adults and an Art in Conversation event (Saturday, February 8, at 4pm) in which Mike McCormack will be joined by the artists involved to talk with former Linenhall director Marie Farrell about the project.
“We’re delighted this project is coming to fruition,” says Orla Henihan, Arts Access Officer at the Linenhall Arts Centre, and project co-ordinator. “It has been a privilege to witness the artists as they engage with the theme, and it is fascinating to see the range and diversity of responses which have emerged from the humble starting point of the bench mark.”

The Benchmark project was made possible through support from Creative Ireland Mayo. All are welcome to the exhibition opening and readings this Friday, January 17, at 7.30pm. Admission is free. For more, see www.thelinenhall.com.