God’s Pocket

County View

County View
John Healy

Two Mayo heritage groups were among the 19 that took part in an innovative project which reached fruition during National Heritage Week, at the end of August. Under the auspices of the Irish Communities Archives Network (ICAN), the aim of the project was twofold: to strengthen the connection between groups in the ICAN network and to promote members’ wellbeing through participation in creative activities during the challenging period of lockdown.
To that end, during May and June, participants were encouraged to experiment with different ways of capturing and documenting aspects of their local heritage under the general heading of ‘Daoine agas Ait – People and Place’.
At a series of online sessions, the members were introduced to the finer techniques of photography by Aoife Herriott and composition in poetry and prose by writer Alice Kinsella. The objective was for each group to come up with a postcard that best represents the heritage of their respective areas, together with a script to reflect what it was that influenced their subject choice.
In all, 19 heritage groups, represented by 46 participants from all over the country took part in the Heritage Postcard initiative. The postcards were launched during Heritage Week and distributed locally to individuals, schools and groups. A large cache was sent to the far-flung Irish diaspora. The Mayo Genealogy Group was represented by Seamus Bermingham, Noelene Crowe and Patricia Conway, while Mary O’Malley represented the Louisburgh-Killeen Heritage Group.
Both Mayo groups worked in partnership with the National Museum of Country Life. Although the Covid restrictions might have meant that the project went somewhat under the radar, the resultant postcards have nonetheless been widely distributed and been warmly appreciated by the recipients.
For their theme of their postcard, the Mayo Genealogical Group chose ‘Stone’, with a magnificent colour shot of the Kilcashel Stone Fort at Kilmovee given prime position. Seamas Bermingham pointed out, with some justification, that the ancient heritage of east Mayo is far less well known than sites closer to the Atlantic, and that Kilcashel – which is a designated National Monument dating back to 2,500 BC – is relatively unknown to most Mayo people.
Completing the postcard are two smaller photos, one of an abandoned stone dwelling, the other of the deserted Balla Railway Station, a symbol of emigration, which itself was closed in June 1963. (Ironically, as an aside, the then chair of CIE, Todd Andrews, who presided over the closure of so many small rural railway stations, was himself a regular passenger on the train to Balla, where he frequently came to visit a number of old family friends.)
Meanwhile, in Louisburgh, it was decided to ask the community what it liked best about the heritage of the Louisburgh-Killeen area. Almost 200 photos were submitted from across a hugely diverse range of subjects – all of which will later feature in an online exhibition – but the one common theme to emerge was the beauty of the area’s local beaches and the stunning allure of its Atlantic sunsets.
With seven pristine beaches to choose from, the subject was an easy choice, and local man Adrian Tiernan of Art Altitude Dronework was commissioned to capture a panoramic view of a typical Louisburgh beach sunset.
The result, a spectacular coastline shot of the rolling ocean, a seemingly endless beach, and a shimmering sunset, was selected as the Louisburgh-Killeen choice for the Heritage Postcard Collection.
And the postcard’s accompanying script by Mary O’Malley probably sums it up best in its closing line – ‘God’s Pocket on the shores of Clew Bay’