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Centenary celebration of Mayo medic

Living

INSPIRING WOMAN ‘Matriline’, a photographic installation by artist Mary Kelly, is one of the artworks on show in the multi-venue exhibition ‘Insider on the Outside’ inspired by the life and work of Mayo-born Kathleen Lynn.

Áine Ryan


A staunch suffragette and republican, she was a middle-class medic from Co Mayo who lived openly with her lesbian lover in Dublin. She held the rank of ‘Captain’ as the Irish Citizen Army’s (ICA) Chief Medical Officer, and just days before the Easter Rebellion of 1916, James Connolly presented her with a brooch in honour of her work with the ICA.
One hundred years after Dr Kathleen Lynn dodged bullets on the roof of Dublin’s City Hall there is a palpable poignancy to the fact that her progressive legacy will be marked in an exhibition to be held in five venues across the county of her birth.
‘Insider on the Outside’ is a collaborative and creative investigation into the life and work of the Killala-born feminist through newly commissioned works by 12 of the 13 participating artists.
Exploring the many proactive preoccupations of Lynn’s busy life, the multi-media exhibition puts a retrospective lens on this seismic period of the Easter Rebellion 1916; Lynn’s rural roots in the wake of repeated famine and socio-economic devastation; the revolutionary role of women in a stiflingly misogynistic society partially liberated by the so-called Celtic Dawn; and the correlation between the 1916 centenary celebrations and the current struggle for independence in the Middle East.    
The exhibition is curated by Catherine Marshall, former Head of Collections at IMMA. Explaining the choice of title, Marshall observes that Kathleen Lynn’s pedigree and position, born into a ‘comfortable Church of Ireland family’ could have led to a life of relative ease and comfort. However, when Lynn studied medicine in the early years of the 20th century, she was not entitled to be paid for hospital work because of her gender.
Whether it was this institutionalised inequality or the litany of other socio-economic and cultural disparities she observed as she grew up in a rural Ireland on the cusp of a broad revolution, Kathleen Lynn would spend her long life ‘systematically challenging the status quo’.
As well as her involvement in the 1916 Rising, she established St Ultan’s Hospital for Infant Children in 1919 with her life-partner, Madeleine ffrench-Mullen. In line with Sinn Féin abstentionist policy, because of the compromises of the Anglo-Irish Treaty brokered by Michael Collins in 1922, she refused the Dáil seat to which she was elected in 1923.     
 Catherine Marshall writes: “Those actions were enough to place her outside her circle of family and friends, but she became even more of an outsider when her old colleague Éamon de Valera, as Taoiseach in the 1930s, opposed her attempts to integrate St Ultan’s with Harcourt St Hospital to form a National Children’s Hospital, because he feared that as a confirmed Protestant, her involvement would modify the Catholicism of the new institution. Lynn’s choices throughout her life placed her firmly outside the circles of power.”

Artistic collaboration
‘Insider on the Outside’ is a Mayo Arts Collaborative 2016 exhibition that will be on show from Saturday next, March 26, until April 30, at five publicly funded centres across the county.
The official launches, by Dr Ann O’Mahony, will be held next Saturday at the Linenhall Arts Centre, Castlebar at 11am; the Custom House Gallery, Westport, at 1pm; Áras Inis Gluaire, Belmullet at 3pm; Ballinglen Arts Foundation, Ballycastle at 5pm; and, finally, Ballina Arts Centre at 6.30pm. A free bus trip to all the venue openings is being organised (booking essential).
Speaking to The Mayo News ahead of this weekend’s launch, Marie Farrell, Director of the Linenhall, said: “Kathleen Lynn was an amazing Mayo woman. The early years of the last century were a time of great idealism, creativity and energy, and Kathleen was right at the heart of it. I regret that it is only in recent years I learned of her role in the founding of our State and her incredible work with sick infants.
“She should have formed part of the rich tapestry of my life and my children’s lives as they were growing into adulthood. It is fitting that Kathleen will be remembered in her home county in the early years of this century with work produced by a creatively engaged and committed group of visual artists.”
 
Communal creativity
Seamus Nolan’s artwork, ‘Free Silhan Oscelik’, which is being exhibited at Áras Inis Gluaire in Belmullet, encompasses an installation and a discussion, juxtaposing Kathleen Lynn’s fight for independence with contemporary struggles. Michelle Browne’s work at Ballinglen Art Foundation Gallery, Ballinglen, explores the politicisation of Irish women ‘socially and spatially’ and how this develops in a public arena.
Mary Kelly’s photographic installation ‘Matriline’ (Custom House Gallery) examines the ‘historic visibility and record of women’s lives’ from 1874, the year of Kathleen Lynn’s birth. Gary Coyle (Ballina Arts Centre) work will mark the demolition of ffrench-Mullen House, a block of flats on Charlemont Street, near St Ultan’s hospital, established in the 1940s.
Patricia Graham (Ballina Arts Centre) focuses on the mystical landscape of Mayo and its famine marks and memories. Deirdre O’Mahony (Ballina Arts Centre) contributes a series of posters, entitled: ‘What would Kathleen say?’. A sketch for sculpture by Janet Mullarney (Ballina Arts Centre) is called ‘Concepts, crusades, clothing and clotheshorse’.
Joanna Hopkins (Linenhall Arts Centre) reflects upon Lynn’s diaries and her love of gardening, flowers and the outdoors. Margo McNulty (Linenhall Arts Centre) focuses on the foundation of the State and how the collected archive of Lynn’s life becomes a fulcrum for the many influences that led to the 1916 Rebellion.
Conor O’Grady (Linenhall Arts Centre) contributes a video projection and floor installation which facilitates public interventions on ‘the lack of recognition’ afforded to women leading up to and during the 1916 Rebellion.
Drawings by Geraldine O’Reilly (Linenhall Arts Centre) include one of Mullaghfarry, Lynn’s birthplace near Killala, depicting how nature has encroached on her home, ‘symbolising … the decline of a whole social order’.
Finally, Dermot Seymour’s (Linenhall Arts Centre) painting is an oil on canvas, ‘Asahi Epitaph’, depicts cattle grazing in a field in front of the controversial Asahi chemical plant. The plant closed in 1997, but left ‘an environmental time bomb that leaches poisonous toxins into the surroundings of Lynn’s birthplace’, said the artist.    

For more information on the multi-venue ‘Insider on the Outside’ exhibition, see www.kathleenlynn.net. To reserve a place on the bus touring the five exhibition venues, call 094 9023733.

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