a selection of published articles about the work
Roddy Doyle's foreword for 'The State We're Out'
In the summer of 1978 I worked as a sweeper for the City of Westminster Council. I was assigned to Farm Street Depot, behind Berkeley Square, given a brush and sent off to look for a man called Joe Brady. He was to show me the ropes, the finer points of brush and shovel work, getting the barrow across busy streets without killing or being killed, where to dump the rubbish bags, how to kill the afternoon hours until we were allowed to clock out, at four o’clock.
My first glimpse at Brendon Deacy’s linocut prints immediately reminded me of Joe Brady. Joe became a great friend; we met as often as we could, in London, Dublin and Dundalk, until his death in December, 1987. Joe’s story is in these prints – his work for Bord na Mona during the War years, his emigration to England immediately after it, all the work and years that followed. It seems that I can choose the prints I need and compile Joe’s story as he told it to me. The story depicted in the prints is not strictly Joe’s – he went to London, not the black landscape of Brendon’s prints; he worked on the sites and roads of the south, never in a factory; he had no children and never had a garden, although he grew up on a small farm in Monaghan; Joe didn’t support the miners – he was a Tory: he refused to dress like a working class man, to think, eat or vote like a working class Irishman. But that, I think, is what draws me so strongly to Brendon Deacy’s The State We’re Out: it is a very intimate story – Brendon himself is in the picture; that’s him getting married at the end, that’s his child in the striped babygro – but its form invites us all to create our own story from the images and, perhaps more importantly, the page-turns between the images. The images are solid things but the gaps between them are huge and empty and crying out for filling. Brendon’s personal story is ours too. That’s our father, our fight, our loneliness. And the story can change with each viewing. A detail not noticed before – the shirt in the suitcase, the handkerchief in the waving hand – can send the story spinning away into a new story. The form seems very small – only fifty-three prints – but its narrative possibilities are vast, perhaps limitless. It is the brief, visual account of one man’s life but is also any life we want to see, any story we want to tell.
And the prints themselves are individually wonderful. Like most black and white images, they fool us into thinking that they are realistic. And, indeed, they are. W.G. Sebald, in his book The Emigrants, describes one man’s impressions of Manchester on his arrival there in May, 1945: ‘... all seemed one solid mass of utter blackness, bereft of any further distinguishing features.’ This is the landscape of Brendon’s prints, perfectly captured. But, as in the best movies, the images are not held back by reality. The sun is huge and ever-present, sometimes hiding, but always there. The stars twirl and explode. The raindrops are daggers. Hands are vital. The hand holding the latch-key tells us as much as the faces that greet us at the opening door. The hands holding the head, the hand covering the eyes – it is the language of the silent movies. People pointing, clutching their hair, waving, punching. Every gesture is a message. And the faces too are stark and cinematic; their lines seem to be drawn with the smoke that belches from the chimneys. Compassion, grief, loneliness – life is hard – but there is happiness too, sometimes tentative, but there, like the sun lurking behind the black world. I like the humour as well; I enjoyed finding it – Thatcher is climbing out of the television, and the contrast between the west of Ireland and the north of England, the idyllic versus the satanic, the hills versus the chimneys. Brendon’s father says Goodbye to a place which offers a hilltop to every man, a place where the smoke comes out white, where people wave Goodbye with their best hankies. It is the world of The Quiet Man. And, indeed, much of this story in pictures reminds me of the work of John Ford. The lone figure of Brendon’s father in many of the images recalls Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath, another story of migration. And the story in the images, the dignity of the faces, the affection and resilience, bring to mind Ma Joad’s words at the end of that extraordinary film:
‘We’ll go on forever, Pa, cos we’re the people.’
Roddy Doyle, author
Irish Post review of 'The State We're Out', Martin Doyle,
MARTIN DOYLE introduces a remarkable work of art
that celebrates the Irish emigrant experience in Britain.
Published in its entirety for the first time on these pages is The State We’re Out, a collection of 53 linocut prints by second-generation Irish artist Brendon Deacy which depict his family’s experience as Irish immigrants in Britain.
The subject was inspired by the artist’s father, who emigrated from Bohola, Co. Mayo in 1951 and brought with him the West of Ireland’s strong storytelling tradition.
Brendon’s ‘novel without words’ was influenced by Belgian woodcut printmaker Masereel and filmmakers Eisenstein, Ford, Scorcese and Coppola. The work’s title reflects the attitude of his father’s peers to their situation in England.
“I grew up in a small town that was very much like an Irish colony, so many Irish people went over like my dad,’ Brendon explains. ‘My dad was a positive kind of guy, but the parents of most of my friends were very begrudging, they hated being in England, and all they ever talked about was going back home. They’d only drink in the local Irish Club, they’d only listen to Irish radio stations, so although physically they were living in one state, England, spiritually they were definitely in another. So the title is a play on the phrase ‘the state we’re in’ in recognition of the way these
The linocuts are stark and uncompromising, cinematic but shorn of any sentimentality. In the words of fellow artist Mick O’Dea: “There is no hint of a lace curtain here, one can’t see thing in a foggy or dewy manner.”
Brendon was born in 1964 in the North of England. After studying art, he became a graphic designer and then a lecturer but was becoming disillusioned when he got a dream job teaching at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin. The State We’re Out ends with Brendon and his wife and child embarking on the ferry for a new life in Ireland, waved off at the quay by his parents. It completes the circle but also makes a reality of what was for many generations “the myth of return”.
Brendon is delighted that his work is being published here. “It would be a pleasure to have my work printed in The Irish Post as I grew up with it in the house in Lancashire! You must know what a valuable contribution it plays in the lives of Irish emigrants in England.”
Martin Doyle, Books Editor The Irish Times, former Editor The Irish Post
30 October 1999
The Irish Times: 'The State We're Out',
Artist's stark images chart life of emigrant father
Have you ever heard of a book without words? There is such a book and it has a foreword by author Roddy Doyle. The book is The State We're Out and is the work of Laois-based artist Brendon Deacy, who has re-created his father's emigrant journey from the west of Ireland to England in 1951. The stark images were made by linocut printing and there are 53 of them. The launch of the publication, which has a limited edition of 250 copies, will mark the beginning of another special event, the John Keegan/Fintan Lalor commemorative weekend.
Brendon was born in Lancashire, England, and educated at Burnley College of Art and Leeds Polytechnic. He has been teaching art in England and Ireland for many years. He has exhibited widely in solo and group exhibitions and has work displayed in many galleries, including the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and the National Library, Dublin.
The theme of the weekend, on October 1st and 2nd, will be "Young Ireland Then and Now". It will be based at the new Dunamaise Theatre, Portlaoise. Before the launch of the book, the official opening will be performed by Senator David Norris. What makes this weekend different is that it is one of the first of its kind in Co Laois, mainly because there is now a venue available, according to Ms Mary Mulvey, the co-ordinator of the event. "There have been other events but they have not survived because of the lack of proper facilities. The new arts centre in Portlaoise has made this possible," she said. "The lack of a venue made this very difficult for us, so it is only now that we can envisage holding summer schools or weekends like this. "This first venture will be a two-day one, but if we get the interest and the support, we will expand it and we may not necessarily be keeping the same theme." She said that on the Saturday, the event will open with a reading by Danny Morrison, the former Sinn Fein director of publicity, who is now a full-time writer. In the afternoon there will be lectures on the lives of John Keegan and James Fintan Lalor and on their contribution to Irish life in the last century. The lecture on John Keegan will be delivered by Mr Tony Delaney and Prof Willie Nolan, of UCD, will give a talk entitled "Young Ireland and the 1848 Rebellion".
Mary said there was great interest in the symposium "Politics and the Pen", which begins at 7.30 p.m. and will be chaired by Sean O'Rourke, of RTE. Of particular interest will be the contribution by Mr Oliver C. Gibson, who is a Democratic Unionist Party councillor from Omagh, Co Tyrone, and an Assembly representative for West Tyrone. He is a member of the Royal Black Institution and the elected representative of the south-west Ulster committee of the Apprentice Boys. He was a member of the Ulster Defence Regiment, serving as an intelligence officer for the West Tyrone area. He now promotes tourism in the area and is a noted historian, author and promoter of Ulster culture. Other speakers will include Mr Alan Dukes TD; Mr Pat McDonnell, an SDLP councillor on Omagh District Council; and Mr Teddy Fennelly, manager of the Leinster Express.
Seán MacConnell, The Irish Times
23 September 1999
John Hume's foreword for 'A Life in Relief' artist's book
"What they understood and loved in Mr. Davitt was not the philosopher -
more often than not he spoke above the heads of his listeners - but the
one-armed Fenian chief, the darling son of their own Mayo, evicted like
themselves, saturated with a hatred of Landlordism as fierce as their
own, returning untamed by penal servitude to the old struggle by new
methods...they followed him and worshipped the man."
The story of Michael Davitt is a familiar one in the landscape of Irish history: born in Mayo, evicted from his childhood home, emigrated to England, lost his arm in a horrific accident and founded the Land League. Whilst these are important factors in his life, they also belie and ignore the complexity of the man. Michael Davitt was the first Irish politician to successfully make the transition from the physical force tradition to democratic politics. To this transition he added the radicalism of industrial England and a bond forged with Irish-America. His political and social concerns extended beyond Ireland: he brought relief to the oppressed in Poland, Hungary, Finland, the Boers in South Africa and to the plight of the Jews in Russia – his was a global viewpoint rather than a parochial one. He was one of the most original thinkers amongst Irish nationalists of his day; it encompassed prison reform, education, and labour issues. His land nationalisation programme was his most ambitious but in the 1880s it was too utopian and impracticable. However, it demonstrated that Davitt was thinking about society as a whole. His nationalism was non-sectarian and inclusive. Davitt had the common touch. Unlike other Irish politicians of his day, Davitt could relate to ordinary Irish people, as he too experienced eviction, poverty and emigration, for this reason, he remains a demotic figure. Davitt’s legacy reaches beyond Ireland, he even inspired Gandhi with his policy of passive resistance.
Despite Michael Davitt’s legacy, today he stands almost forgotten in terms of literature and art. However, Brendon Deacy’s ‘novel without words’ successfully redresses this omission. We live in a visual age; the most powerful moments in our recent history have left us with clear visual images – 9/11, Omagh, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and Bloody Sunday. In this age of modern technology – CGI and digital cameras - the linocut medium that Brendon uses is almost primitive but for this very
reason it represents and is true to Davitt’s story as it reflects his humble origins. Every image contains a narrative of compassion, grief, loneliness, hardship, poverty, hope, and courage. Linocut is a relief-printing medium, which invokes a visceral response. The black and white images allow no grey areas or ambiguities and so are fully believable just as Davitt himself was ‘fully believed’. Whilst Davitt’s life was marked by hardship and tragedy, his was a life of personal courage, spirit, hope and humanity and this ‘artist’s book’ perfectly captures all of these aspects and indeed stands that remarkable life in relief as an inspiration to us all. There is no doubt that he is an outstanding figure of Irish history.
John Hume, Nobel Peace Prize Recipient, KCSG, Founding Member SDLP
1 March, 2006
Irish Post review of 'A Life in Relief', Martin Doyle,
DRAWING OUR ATTENTION TO DAVITT
In the pantheon of Irish heroes, Michael Davitt stands unfairly neglected. There is no Hollywood film, bestselling biography or instantly recognisable image of him. However, on the eve of the centenary of his death, a Lancashire-born Irish artist is hard at work on a project that will draw our attention to the man who did more than anyone to give the Irish back their land.
Brendon Deacy is almost born for the job of bringing the memory of Michael Davitt back to life. He was born and bred in Bacup, six miles from Haslingden, where Michael Davitt grew up, but home for him was always his father’s native Co. Mayo and on holidays back in Bohola he remembers often making the pilgrimage to nearby Straide to visit Davitt’s grave.
If Davitt is Deacy’s hero, then his own father is his inspiration. Seamus Heaney writes in his poem ‘Digging’ of observing his father’s ease with a spade and his awkward acceptance that his own implement will be a pen. Similarly, Deacy’s father worked as an open-cast miner, then a tunneller before settling down to work, as did Davitt, in a Lancashire cotton mill. Now his son is gouging his own furrow in linoleum, creating a 77-strong series of linocuts that will recreate the life and times of Michael Davitt. “My father was always a fantastic storyteller,” says Deacy, “about his life in Ireland, or his work in England, and that informs my artwork. I want to tell stories visually with the passion of his storytelling.”
Though his mother is English, and he moved to Ireland only in his thirties with his own family, Deacy has an uncomplicated Irish identity. “I always felt all Irish,” he says. “My father was a very strong character. Lots of kids I grew up with were the same. We grew up very much in the Irish tradition, almost living in a state of denial. Our parents would listen only to Irish radio, read Irish papers, drink in Irish pubs, discuss Irish politics. They might physically be in England but spiritually they never left.” Their souls never emigrated. “From my early days I always felt my home was Mayo. I grew up as an Irish kid; working in Leeds, in Birmingham, I was always recognised as Irish. It was only when I got the job at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin that people all of a sudden saw me as British, because of my accent. This is why I did my last book, ‘The State We’re Out’. I wouldn’t say I had an identity crisis but I had to think about who I was, explain myself.”
Readers may remember ‘The State We’re Out’, a superb exhibition and book of black and white linocuts telling his family’s story of emigration from Mayo to Lancashire, which was reproduced in The Irish Post in 1998. While Deacy’s work is a rare example of artistic interpretation of the Irish immigrant tradition in British life, its appeal is much broader. An Indian child wrote in the comments book of the exhibition when it was shown in Birmingham: “I never understood what my father went through in this country until now but it’s taken an Irishman to show me.”
Similarly, Davitt captured Deacy’s imagination not just as a neighbour but as a man who defied poverty and physical handicap and imprisonment to fight injustice and better the lives of his fellow men not just in Ireland and Britain but in South Africa and Australia. “Davitt is high on my list of heroes,” says Deacy. “He was a great liberator of the working classes. He went from literally having nothing but the clothes he stood up in to be an international arbitrator, yet the guy had so many handicaps, quite literally. When he lost his arm in the cotton mill, in a perverse way that was a blessing in disguise for instead of working in the cotton mills he got an education, developed an interest in Irish history and became a Fenian. While he served his prison sentence he thought long and hard. He realised Ireland was not going to defeat the might of the British Empire by force and he was one of the first to seriously embrace the constitutional route. His passive resistance influenced Gandhi and his constitutional politics were 100 years ahead of his time. He is the link between the two traditions, Fenianism and politics. His politics was informed by his family’s eviction but he was also an outsider because of his handicap, which gave him an absolute empathy for the downtrodden.”
Deacy’s exhibition will be shown next March in Rossendale, near where he and Davitt grew up, but he agrees that Davitt’s profile there is not so high. “But nor is it in Ireland. He should be one of the most celebrated figures in Irish history. However, the right things are being done to change that. Carla King has written a number of books on him. There is very little visual art to celebrate his life but that’s where I come in.” Davitt’s profile in Ireland might be higher, perhaps, if the country had not been transformed from a rural to a largely urbanised society, divorcing them from Davitt’s great legacy. Deacy disagrees. “Land is still very important in the Irish consciousness. It divides so many families, it’s so hard got.” If an Englishman’s home is his castle, an Irishman’s land is his.
Deacy believes that the medium he has chosen, linocuts, is particularly appropriate to his subject. “The development of this technique parallels Davitt’s life, from humble origins where it was held in low esteem – artists from Die Brücke group called their linocut prints woodcuts to avoid criticism – to acceptance as a serious technique via the work of Picasso, Matisse and Baselitz. “It is also an unforgiving medium, once you’ve cut away there’s no going back, which adds tension to the image and produces an emotional response.” But above all Deacy is concerned with communication, telling a story through images, just like two of his other heroes, film-makers John Ford and Sergei Eisentein. The first time I sawn[Ford’s] ‘The Grapes of Wrath’, it left an indelible impression on me.” There is indeed a cinematic quality to Deacy’s work, with panoramas being followed by intricately detailed close-ups. There is a sense in Deacy’s work of things boiled down to their essence, the result of the artist’s profound concentration. “For me drawing is a way of slowing time down. It gives me the chance to immerse myself in a subject and the opportunity for reflection on the man’s deeds.”
Just as the paintings and stained glass windows in medieval churches sought to tell the Bible story in images, so Deacy’s biography without words seeks to elicit an emotional response from the onlooker. In our modern, over-exposed world, overstuffed with vacuous celebrities and venal politicians, heroes can seem hard to come by. Deacy believes he has found one. “For me, Davitt represents truths and ideals: integrity, honesty, humility and a Christian sense of grace.”
Martin Doyle, Books Editor The Irish Times, former Editor The Irish Post
28 May 2005
Article published in CIRCA Magazine, No.107, Spring 2004
A LIFE IN RELIEF
BRENDON DEACY’S WORK IN PROGRESS
INSPIRED BY THE LIFE AND TIMES OF MICHAEL DAVITT
"Art for the average spectator need not be shallow. Of course he has no objection to the trite – but it is also true that he would accept true art if it were simple enough.
I thoroughly agree that there must be understanding between the artist and the people. In the best ages of art that has always been the case. Genius can probably run on ahead and seek out new ways. But the good artists who follow after genius – and I count myself among these – have to restore the lost connection once more.
A pure studio art is unfruitful and frail, for anything that does not form
living roots – why should it exist at all?"
Käthe Kollwitz, 1916
The year 2006 will mark the centenary of the death of Michael Davitt. His remarkable life has been well written about, but apart from a few photographs, engravings and portraits very little visual art exists about him. I have been inspired to graphically interpret this rich and diverse life filled with courage in the form of an ’artist’s book’ and accompanying suite of prints.
Michael Davitt was born in 1846 in Straide, County Mayo. Four years later his family was evicted for non-payment of rent, and they emigrated to Haslingden, an industrial town in the north of England. When he was eleven, his right arm was amputated after a terrible accident at the mill where he was working. This gave him the opportunity to go back to school, dramatically changing his trajectory. He later became involved with the Fenians and spent seven years in prison having been charged with treason felony. Within two years of his release he had founded the Land League and so played a crucial part in the course of Irish history. During his political career he was elected as an MP, spent further sentences in prison and traveled the world as arbitrator and people’s champion. He also fostered bonds with America which have been, and continue to be, influential in Irish affairs ever since. His published work and actions demonstrate that his ideas on education, prison reform, internationalism and social radicalism are as relevant today as they were a hundred years ago.
My images are being created by linocut, a medium which powerfully and directly evokes all the vitality of the wide range of events which punctuated his sixty years. The development of this technique also parallels Davitt’s life; from humble origins where it was held in low esteem (artists from Die Brücke group called their linocut prints ‘woodcuts’ to avoid criticism) to acceptance as a serious technique via the work of Picasso, Matisse, Baselitz and the Neo-Expressionists. Relevant to the subject matter, linocutting also has a political significance. Like many artists, who deliberately or because they have no other choice, I make a point of its origins. The connections of linoleum printing with home industry and folk art are important to the theme of this series of work, and I celebrate the fact that the artist can also be a craftsman, especially at this time when the association of craft with art is seen by many as hopelessly parochial. For all their technical simplicity – sections are gouged away, the remaining surface area which stands in relief is inked and the plate printed – the emotional complexity and richness of linocut prints can be stunning.
To be competent with one’s craft as well as having a working knowledge of art history is important to me. References to Frans Masereel, Käthe Kollwitz, Ben Shahn, Gustave Doré, the German Expressionists and the film makers John Ford and Sergei Eisenstein are evident in these prints. These people raised questions about the role of the artist in society and like them I aspire to create socially responsive art by integrating social experience, ethics, politics and picture making. Their art actually meant something and they were masters of communication. Linocutting is an exacting medium which compels me to work in a direct way to relay the intended message as clearly as the way Davitt did with other means. But essentially it is another form of drawing, and for me drawing is a way of slowing time down; it gives me the chance to immerse myself in a subject and in this instance it gives me the opportunity for reflection on the man’s deeds. These compositions are based on the interplay of black and white, and my attempt to give the images a cinematic quality influenced this decision. John Ford once said, ‘For a good dramatic story I much prefer to work in black and white – black and white is real photography.’ On first seeing ‘The Grapes of Wrath’, one of his wonderful adaptations of a good dramatic story, the way he handled composition, shadows and perspective in black and white left an indelible impression on me.
In his autobiography, ‘Long Walk to Freedom’, Nelson Mandela wrote, ‘Prison not only robs you of your freedom, it attempts to take away your identity.’ I am fully aware of the responsibility of showing a true picture of Michael Davitt’s identity. For me, Davitt represents truths and ideals: integrity, honesty, humility and a Christian sense of grace and I want to reinforce his story without sentimentality. The uncompromising nature of the medium lends itself to this. There is no room for ambiguous or grey areas which I think reflects the great man’s attitudes. I am paying close attention to detailed research to ensure an accurate and authentic story of his life is told, but besides being historically faithful I want to let the past bleed into the present because as Carla King wrote in her essential biography, (1) ‘In many ways the originality of Davitt’s thinking speaks to the Ireland of a century after him’. So between the research involved, preparatory drawings, cutting the plates and printing, I will be working on the project until 2006 when I will be exhibiting the work to coincide with his centenary and the international Michael Davitt Centenary Conference which will take place at St Patrick’s College, Dublin.
Inspired by the words (and work), of Käthe Kollwitz, I finally want to make clear that this body of work is more than a document of Michael Davitt’s life. I am not expecting the viewer to respond in an academic sense, my aim is to elicit an emotional response and my ambition is to create a stimulating and thought provoking exhibition and book which will be accessible to anyone with feelings.
9 February 2004
(1) Carla King, 'Michael Davitt' (Historical Association of Ireland), 1999.
Midlands Arts Magazine, Summer 2014
Síoraí: Visualising James Fintan Lalor’s Words Today
Brendon Deacy writes about the motivation and process behind his new exhibition of paintings at the Dunamaise Arts Centre
When Muireann Ní Chonaill, Laois County Council Arts Officer, asked me to consider producing an exhibition of paintings about James Fintan Lalor (JFL), eighteen months ago, I had to confess that apart from being familiar with the facts that he was from Laois and that he was influential on the political thinking of Michael Davitt, my own particular hero from Irish history, I knew very little else about him. As I began to conduct my initial research I was drawn deeper and deeper into his dramatic world.
Learning that Lalor contributed immensely to the Irish political landscape, what struck me most of all was how what he said back in the early 1800s is just as vital today but, apart from a single portrait, a commemorative sculpture and a postage stamp, no other visual art exists about him. I realised then, what an honour it was to be asked to put on an exhibition to change this and indeed to be trusted to do a decent job of it. My aim, therefore, was to create a series of ten iconic paintings that would be inspired by Lalor’s words and that would raise awareness about the great man whilst adding to his legacy. John O’Leary observed that, ‘we have had no political writer since, at all comparable to him in clearness, directness and strength’, and I aspired to give my work the same qualities.
Rather than repeating previous processes that I have used, I felt this project needed an original approach so to emphasise the contemporary relevance of his statements I decided to use his words verbatim; treat them in the style of Irish political posters of his time; and juxtapose them with images of present-day Ireland. Finding current issues to depict with his words was all too easy; there is an eerie similarity between what Lalor was commenting about and what I see happening today. Austerity, mass emigration, political corruption and the obscene gulf between rich and poor were the first themes that I wanted to respond to. After thorough research into Lalor’s life and writing, I examined the typefaces and posters that were used in this period. I was remarkably fortunate to be given access to the relevant archives in the National Library as I was informed that I would be one of the very last people allowed in to do this for the foreseeable future due to cut-backs and staff shortages. Working with lettering is an enduring passion of mine so I loved examining the original posters and the challenge of identifying the typefaces that were used and then finding modern matches for them. Irish posters of the Nineteenth Century were as uncompromisingly direct as Lalor himself so I have attempted to bring their attributes of communication and urgency into the work as it developed.
To add to the visceral nature that I wanted for the images I collected dust and debris from Tinakil House where Lalor was born and raised, with the blessing of his descendant Kevin Lalor Fitzpatrick, and mixed it with oil paint which created alluring textures and significantly also forges a metaphysical connection between the work and the man himself. A colour palette was also determined by the photographs I took on this visit.
Whenever I begin a body of work I choose a short phrase or a key word that I will constantly refer to throughout the project. In this case I felt the most appropriate word for both Lalor and my paintings would be ‘integrity’ so whenever I have made a choice – about media, subject-matter or any detail – I would be guided by my answer to the question ‘does this decision have integrity?’ ‘Integrity’ has been an important word for me since I came of age in Thatcher’s Britain. The only redeeming feature of Thatcher’s tyrannical reign, I believe, was that it was the catalyst for an explosion of creativity. Wonderful paintings, design, films, TV programmes, books, poems, plays, performances and songs of dissent from that period informed my development as an artist. What united the best of this work, from people like Ken Loach, Billy Bragg, Gerald Scarfe, Hanif Kureishi and Ken Currie was its integrity. Although artists, designers and musicians I speak to now feel the same antipathy for what is happening at government level in Ireland today, as the British creative community felt in Thatcher’s time, it concerns me that there isn’t much evidence of it being addressed in their work. The driving force behind ‘Síoraí' was always going to be raising awareness about JFL but it also became clear to me that I could also use it as a vehicle to promote debate and express my revulsion at all that is rotten in Irish society today. I feel that the disconnect that Lalor witnessed between rulers and ruled is no different today between most of our elected representatives and the general public. Since Lalor spoke out so passionately about this in his day it would be disingenuous of me not to use my methods of communication to do the same.
As momentum grew I began to receive positive feedback and encouragement from Muireann, Michelle de Forge, Ian McCormack, Michael Parsons and Teddy Fennelly on the JFL Committee but I also began to think that, after all the research and energy that I had invested in the project, it would be a real shame if all the subtle details in the paintings’ messages did not register. From experience I know that in a gallery context visitors to an exhibition often give no more than cursory glances to work on display, and obviously that is their prerogative, but I really want people to consider the meanings in these paintings and see the relevance of Lalor’s words today. I therefore decided to ask writers and commentators who I admire if they would reflect on a particular painting from the series and write an article that would accompany it. The enthusiasm and generosity that this idea received really took me aback. So much so that I am designing a one-off newspaper in the style of the papers that Lalor wrote in, that will contain all of the images from the exhibition with extraordinary commentaries by Robert Ballagh, Martin Doyle, Sean Fleming, Mick Heaney, Seamus Hosey, Sister Stanislaus Kennedy, Ken Loach, Jim O’Brien, Fintan O’Toole and Clare Short. Laois County Council and the JFL Committee are unstintingly funding the printing of this publication that will be given away free of charge at my exhibition opening and at the JFL Autumn School. Because it will be printed in a limited edition and with its sheer quality of writing, it will become a much sought-after artefact. If you are still reading this article you are invited to attend the opening at 7pm on 3rd October!
In one of my early meetings with Michelle de Forge, manager of the Dunamaise Arts Centre, she wisely suggested that visitors to the show would be interested to see the process behind the work so we talked about exhibiting sketch books, research and materials in cabinets in the gallery. This conversation led to documenting the whole artistic journey on film. My son, Louis, has shot hours of intimate footage of not only me in the studio working on the paintings but also of fascinating meetings with people connected to the project such as: with Robert Ballagh who discusses his written piece for the publication; with Kevin Lalor Fitzpatrick who shows us JFL’s territory with great insights; and passionate conversations with people affected by issues raised in the paintings. At the time of writing, this footage is being edited to a gem of a twenty-five minute film which will be premiered on 17 October at the JFL Autumn School.
Working with Louis; the organisers of the exhibition; the writers who have contributed to the publication; the people who have participated in the film; and the JFL committee has been one of the great pleasures of my life. I hope that these good people have also enjoyed the collaboration and that I have made a worthy contribution to the legacy of James Fintan Lalor.
‘Síoraí: Visualising James Fintan Lalor’s Words Today’ will open at 7pm, Friday 3rd October, at the Dunamaise Arts Centre. All welcome. A limited number of copies of the publication which accompanies the exhibition, with contributions from ten leading commentators, will be given away free of charge at the opening.
A film that documents the making of the exhibition will premier at the James Fintan Lalor Autumn School on 17th October.
Brendon Deacy, Midland Arts Magazine
21 August 2014
Síoraí exhibition catalogue, Teddy Fennelly,
Freedom. It has different meanings for different people. To those enslaved by tyrant masters, it primarily means escape from the shackles of oppression. To others it may mean the ownership and security of one’s person, one’s home, the right to freedom of action, movement or expression or simply, on occasions, the ability to let our hair down.
In whatever incarnation, freedom is a concept to which we all aspire. Brendon Deacy, found an interesting definition in one of James Fintan Lalor’s early letters to The Nation in January 1847. He was outlining his first principles in the fight for self-determination for the people of Ireland. “National independence … in what form of words you please; but denounce nothing, proscribe nothing, surrender nothing, more especially of your own freedom of action. Leave yourselves free individually and collectively.”
Eugene Delacroix’s epic painting of “Liberty Leading the People” which commemorates the French (July) Revolution of 1830, is, perhaps arts most recognisable masterpiece based on that period of revolution. Brendon, with his artist’s eye, looked at aspects of contemporary life which might best give a modern day expression to Lalor’s cry for freedom. The inspiration for his painting he found close to home. Watching his daughters and their friends playing football, he saw glorious images of what freedom means to him. The young women were totally absorbed in the game, doing their utmost individually and collectively in the pursuit of the best possible result for their team. All their cares and worries were left behind.
What a fine expression of freedom! The football is the absolute focus of the young players in the painting who seem to have acquired an unworldly weightlessness as if floating off the ground. A carefree lightness of being. Freedom is a value that we may sometimes take for granted. It is an alien concept to those in war torn countries or where famine exists. Such was the situation in Ireland in Lalor’s time. The country was ruled by Westminster and the landlords held sway over a countryside teeming with impoverished farm labourers and tenant farmers. The peasants were harshly treated and lived in dreadful conditions. They depended on the potato grown in their little plots for their food and when the crop failed in successive years disaster struck. As many as two million people died through starvation or disease and at least another million fled the country as a result of the Great Famine.
“Within sight and sound of this dismal calamity, amid the actual horrors of every passing hour, it is scarcely possible to look far into the future or take thought and care for remote results. In the presence of famine men are blind to its effects”, Lalor proclaimed. Yet it was during those dreadful years that he wrote his most powerful scripts.
In Lalor’s time, Repeal (of the Act of Union) was the main political platform for the nationalists and O’Connell was the man who led the campaign. Lalor reviled the man and the movement. He was not one of O’Connell’s “creeping, crawling cowardly creatures” as he defined the Repealers. “Political rights are but pen and parchment”, he wrote. “It is the social constitution that determines the condition and character of the people – that makes and moulds the life of man.”
His vision was clear. “Ireland her own, and all therein, from the sod to the sky. The soil of Ireland for the people of Ireland”.
Lalor was the master of the soundbite but, unlike many of the masters of the soundbite today, his message also had substance. His vision and his words inspired others after him such as Davitt, Connolly and Pearse, to carry the flag of freedom – and eventually a measure of freedom was won for our country. In the Treaty debate in Dail Eireann in 1921, Michael Collins pleaded that the settlement with Britain offered freedom to achieve freedom. What have we done with that freedom? Just look at what has happened our country in recent years. The idealism of those who helped establish the state was replaced by cynicism and greed during the years of the so-called Celtic Tiger. Debts of €64 million were racked up by the banks and the speculators, and allowed to happen by the lack of good governance, and the lack of responsibility of the people entrusted to run the nation on our behalf. Who have been hung out to dry in order to repay these loans? The carers, the disabled, the schools, the health service, PAYE workers, pensioners, those young people who took out mortgages on overpriced property and would not be able to repay the loan in two lifetimes, let alone one; and, of course, those thousands, hundreds of thousands, of our young educated people, the lifeblood of the nation, who have been forced to emigrate to find employment.
What has happened these very same people who brought the country to its knees? They have been rewarded with excessive pensions, in some cases promotions to even more lucrative jobs, and in many cases, they have been allowed to safely stash away their ill-gotten goods.
What sort of a country sends people to jail for not paying their television licence and allows those responsible for bankrupting our country to escape scot-free?
As I suggested to the Lalor Autumn School last year, why not take a lesson from sport? The rules apply to everyone. Apart altogether from the rules there is an unwritten code of ethics, of honesty and fair play. Of course sport has its cheats, but they are sought out and frowned upon.
If we expect high standards, high performance and total honesty, from our sports people, then why should we expect anything less from the powerbrokers in big business and from the people who run the country?
Perhaps Brendon Deacy has hit the nail on the head. Sport is an expression of Freedom. Perhaps it could even be conceived as the ultimate expression of Freedom.
Teddy Fennelly, author & former Managing Editor of the Leinster Express
18 October 2014
Síoraí exhibition catalogue, Séamus Hosey,
As children when we cycled down to the bottom of the hill from Raheen National School in County Laois, the deserted Tenakill House stood like a scary haunted edifice where in the nursery long long ago the nanny had dropped the infant James Fintan Lalor and he was a hunchback ever after. Whatever about that childhood myth we knew little of the facts about the remarkable Lalor family of political activists and public figures who lit up the landscape of the Queen’s County and further afield in Nineteenth Century Ireland in some of its most turbulent episodes.
In Brendon Deacy’s fine painting of James Fintan Lalor (1807 – 1849) we can read the words by which that great political visionary, land agitator and orator lived and died: ‘Ireland her own, and all therein, from the sod to the sky.’ Only in recent times has the influence of the powerful writings and rhetoric of Lalor been acknowledged on later historical figures like Michael Davitt, James Connolly and Patrick Pearse who wrote that his ‘new gospel was self luminous, delivered in the ringing voice of an angel.’
James Fintan Lalor was the eldest of twelve children, born in 1807 at Tenakill House where his father Pat Lalor owned six hundred acres. Because of a congenital spinal condition and general poor health he was educated at home by a tutor and later briefly at Carlow Lay College. His father was an active Catholic Emancipation supporter and friend of Daniel O’Connell. When twenty five sheep from his farm were seized by the bailiff because he refused to pay tithes to the established church the outraged farmer had his workmen brand the word ‘TITHE’ on the backs of the sheep. When the bailiffs drove the sheep to Smithfield Market nobody would buy the branded animals and they died, starved and exhausted on the road from Liverpool to Manchester.
On the strength of this passive resistance to hated and unfair tithes Pat Lalor was elected the first Catholic Member of Parliament for Queen’s County and served at Westminster from 1832 – 35. In Tenakill political differences and tensions between father and son often boiled over with the young radical James Fintan later writing that he did not ever want to become one of O’Connell’s ‘creeping, crawling, cowardly creatures.’ The question of the ownership of the land, according to James Fintan Lalor’s unwavering conviction, was central to the understanding of necessary political change, a national issue ‘besides which Repeal dwarfs down into a petty parish question.’ He went so far as to write to Sir Robert Peel denouncing the Repeal Association and offering the British Prime Minister any assistance he could in suppressing the movement. Old Hugh in Brian Friel’s masterly play ‘Translations’ set in Donegal at this exact contemporary period of national turmoil says with great perception and insight, ‘Confusion is not an ignoble condition.’
Writing powerful letters and articles in ‘The Irish Felon’ (which this newspaper is styled upon) and ‘The Nation’ Lalor believed passionately, in Yeats’ later phrase, that ‘words alone are certain good.’ In frustration in his later years he turned to more violent and revolutionary means but disillusioned and worn out by illness he died at only forty-two and was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin following a huge funeral.
If ghosts are rattling around Tenakill House in the parish of Raheen in Co. Laois as this publication is read, those of Pat Lalor MP and his radical political patriot son will not be the only ones disturbing the cobwebs. James Fintan’s younger brother Peter Lalor emigrated to Australia where he led the miners’ uprising at Ballarat in Victoria in December 1854 fighting for the workers’ right to establish a trade union. On the hard seats in the cinema in Abbeyleix we cheered when we saw Chips Rafferty playing a bearded and swarthy Lalor in a film called ‘Eureka Stockade’ and addressing the miners as they prepared to take on their bosses he proclaimed, ‘We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties.’ He lost an arm in what became known as the Eureka Stockade, was elected Member of Parliament and eventually became Speaker in the Legislative Assembly of Victoria. To complete the ghostly cast at Tenakill, Richard Lalor comes out of the lace curtain shadows – friend of Charles Stewart Parnell and Home Rule Member of Parliament who stood by The Chief after the infamous split. Finally John Lalor-Patrick served the county as Nationalist MP from 1916 – 1918.
What the Lalor ghosts at Tenakill will think of their exorcism as their legacy is considered in Brendon Deacy’s Síoraí exhibition, publication and film is difficult to predict: for certain they will not be unanimous.
Séamus Hosey, author, former RTÉ radio producer & broadcaster
18 October 2014
The Irish Times, Centenary Special, Nora-Ide McAuliffe
The Centenary: Who is doing what in 2016?
People around Ireland and the world are recalling the rebellion of 100 years ago in personal and creative ways. Here, some of them explain their centenary projects.
Brendon Deacy: Sioraí, oil painting exhibition at the Museum of Australian Democracy, Australia.
If Brendon Deacy’s exhibition is irrelevant by 2116, he’ll be happy about it. While the Laois-based artist didn’t know much about the political activist, land agitator and patriot James Fintan Lalor when he began his project two years ago, he fast became an admirer.
Lalor’s writing had a seminal influence on many people, including Pádraig Pearse. The 1916 leader called him “one of the four evangelists of Irish freedom”.
Although Lalor died long before the Rising was even planned, the most interesting thing about him for Deacy was that the relevance of his words applied as much during the Rising as they do in the 21st century.
“There’s no visual art there of Lalor, apart from a fairly pedestrian portrait sketch, so I had very little reference material to go on for a visual exhibition,” says Deacy.
“But then I decided to look at his writings, and the frightening thing was that his words are so relevant to what is happening in present day Ireland. I took his words verbatim and floated them above images of contemporary Ireland.”
To give his work a metaphysical connection between the work and Lalor, he mixed debris from the ruins of Lalor’s house with oils, to create his 10 paintings.
“There go the young, the gifted, the daring, the wise,” are Lalor’s words set to a backdrop of flight departures from Terminal 1. “Rather create a pauper than assist a struggling worker,” shows the all too familiar coffee cup, held out by a homeless person asking for help.
The year “1916 was the pivotal event in modern Irish history”, says Deacy. “It was led by true visionaries. But I hope that for a better Ireland, this project might not be relevant in the future, which is a strange thing to say about your own work.”
Nora-Ide McAuliffe, The Irish Times
13 January 2016
Leinster Express Special 1916 Supplement
DEACY'S PAINTINGS TRAVELLING TO
MUSEUM OF AUSTRALIAN DEMOCRACY
EXHIBITION INSPIRED BY THE WORDS OF JAMES FINTAN LALOR
Following the success of Brendon Deacy’s latest exhibition in Laois, ‘Síoraí: Visualising the Words of James Fintan Lalor Today’, one of the artworks from it was presented to the Museum of Australian Democracy in Eureka (MADE) by Margot Coogan, Lalor Clan Chieftain, which lead to an official invitation to exhibit the show there.
‘Síoraí’ originated from a commission by Laois County Council who asked Brendon to produce new work as a central feature for the James Fintan Lalor conference 2014 at the Dunamaise Arts Centre, where the public came together with academics, artists, journalists, politicians and social leaders, to discuss Lalor’s legacy and relevance today (). Lalor (1807–1849) dedicated his life to lobbying on behalf of the downtrodden and had a profound effect on Irish democratic developments. The exhibition’s title, ‘Síoraí’ (‘Eternal’), is in respect to the
enduring relevance of his words on key parts of Irish history up to the present day. Pádraig Pearse called Lalor ‘one of the four evangelists of Irish freedom’ so the timing of the show is befitting to mark the 1916 centenary as it expresses the seminal influence he had on visionaries like Pearse as well as Davitt, Larkin and those who drafted the Democratic Programme of the first Dáil in 1919.
The artist created ten iconic paintings using oils mixed with debris collected from Tenakill House, where Lalor was born, significantly forging a metaphysical connection between the work and the man. To emphasise his contemporary relevance, Lalor’s words are presented, just as he wrote them, in the style of Irish posters of his time and juxtaposed with depictions of present-day Ireland.
A series of prints of the paintings are also available for sale. The whole journey to the exhibition was documented in a short film which premièred at the conference and will also be shown at MADE.
The venue’s location is ideal for building on the strong links between Australia and Ireland’s cultural history and celebrates the Laois connection as MADE stands on the site of the Eureka Stockade, an event that shaped Australian democracy which was lead by James Fintan’s brother. Peter Lalor’s contribution to Australian politics and human rights is celebrated at MADE who state, ‘James Fintan Lalor, as Peter Lalor’s brother, is of significant interest to the museum. The presentation of these influences and issues by Brendon Deacy resonate with the challenges that both Ireland and Australia face today down through the centuries.’
Laois County Council, Midland Legal Solicitors, Culture Ireland and NCAD are very generously supporting the exhibition as part of the International Culture Programme to celebrate ‘Ireland 2016’. The exhibition will be launched by Noel White, the Irish Ambassador to Australia, on the 9th July and will run until the 22nd August 2016, at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka, Ballarat, Victoria.
Leinster Express Special 1916 Supplement,
The Courier (NSW, Australia) review of Síoraí Exhibition
The Ire of the Irish
IT MIGHT have been many years since the Eureka Rebellion, but the passion and anger to fight injustice are as prevalent in our community as ever.
The anger that fuelled the Rebellion was no doubt the same rage that spurred the Irish Easter Uprising 100 years ago, in 1916. The Irish Republicans wanted an end to British rule – a similar sentiment running through the veins of the Ballarat miners in 1854.
Now, an art exhibition at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka is celebrating those historical connections between Australia and Ireland. Launched last weekend by Irish artist Brendon Deacy and Irish Ambassador to Australia Noel White, Síoraí is a tribute to Irish revolutionary James Fintan Lalor, whose brother Peter Lalor led the Eureka Stockade. The exhibition has travelled to Australia in a move funded by the Irish government, as it aims to mark the centenary of the Easter Uprising.
Deacy has created 10 paintings using oils mixed with debris that he collected from Tenakill House, where Lalor was born. To emphasise Lalor’s contemporary relevance, Deacy has presented his words verbatim in the style of Irish political posters of the time next to depictions of present-day Ireland.
M.A.D.E director Jane Smith said the Lalor family had been “fighting injustice” since the time of English leader Oliver Cromwell. “James Fintan Lalor was very important in leading the young Irish movement back in the 1840s. The sentiments and the values around fighting injustice came from the Lalors as part of the Stockade and became part of the narrative around the Irish Easter Uprising in 1916,” she said.
“Irish Ambassador to Australia, Noel White...talked about how important those values were and how they still resonate today. All he things people were fighting for 100 years ago are still relevant today.” Ms Smith cited Brexit as a modern example where people felt marginalised from formal decision-making processes.
The exhibition will continue until September 11.
Amber Wilson, The Courier
15 July 2016
Laois Nationalist report of Síoraí show in Australia
LAOIS MAN’S EYE-CATCHING ART GOES ON SHOW DOWN UNDER
AN exhibition by one of Laois’s best-known artists, based on the writings of the county’s most famous patriot, was unveiled in Australia last week.
The collection by acclaimed artist Brendon Deacy features paintings that visualise the writings of 19th century patriot James Fintan Lalor in a 21st century context.
The exhibition was officially opened by Irish Ambassador to Australia Noel White at a gala ceremony in the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka (MADE) in Ballarat near Melbourne and will run until 11 September. The show, titled Síoraí − Visualising the Words of James Fintan Lalor Today, is expected to increase interest in the life of the Laois patriot, whose writings had a considerable influence on Pádraig Pearse. In the centenary year of the Easter Rising, the exhibition also celebrates the historical bonds between Australia and Ireland.
The museum is located on the site of the Eureka Rebellion, a key event in Australia’s fight for freedom, in which James Fintan Lalor’s youngest brother Peter played a major role. Peter Fintan Lalor was the main instigator of the 1854 Australian gold miners’ uprising known as the Eureka Stockade and his statue is on the Main Street of Ballarat.
The Deacy exhibition was originally created for the James Fintan Lalor School in 2014 and travelled to Australia with the support of Culture Ireland and the Laois 2016 Commemorations Committee. The invitation to exhibit came following a visit to Australia by local Lalor clan chieftain Margot Lalor-Coogan, who was guest of honour at celebrations marking the 160th anniversary of the Eureka Stockade in Ballarat.
While there, Margo presented the museum with a limited edition print of one of Brendon’s oil paintings. The print is a portrait of James Fintan Lalor that incorporates the patriot’s famous line: “Ireland her own and all therein from sod to sky.” As a result of the visit, the museum issued an invitation to the Laois artist to bring the James Fintan Lalor exhibition to Australia.
A highly-acclaimed contemporary artist, Brendon Deacy has published two books and many notable public collections hold his art work. He teaches at the National College of Art and Design (NCAD) and has been a visiting tutor to the universities of Anadolu (Turkey), Birmingham, Helsinki, San Diego and the Royal College of Art.
Carmel Hayes, Laois Nationalist
20 July 2016
Leinster Express report of Síoraí show in Australia
Eureka for Brendon's exhibition
Brendon Deacy’s exhibition, titled Síoraí: Visualising the Words of James Fintan Lalor Today' recently returned from Australia where it showed at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka, Ballarat, Victoria as part of the International Culture Programme to celebrate Ireland 2016. The exhibition was launched by Noel White, the Irish Ambassador to Australia who travelled from Canbera for the occasion. The Australian trip originated for the exhibiton when one of its pieces was presented to the Museum of Australian Democracy in Eureka (MADE) by Margot Coogan, Lalor Clan Chieftain who was invited to the 160th anniversary celebrations of the Eureka Stockade in Ballarat.
This lead to an official invitation to Brendon to exhibit the show at MADE in 2016.
The exhibiton ran in Eureka from early July to September 11 and Brendon Deacy described the experience as been “absolutely brillant.” “It represented the reunification of two brothers - James Fintan and Peter,” he stated “It was a wonderful experience, a life enhancing experience and I am eternally grateful to Muireann ni Chonaill, Laois Arts Officer and to Margo Coogan, Lalor Clan Chieftain. “Visitors to the exhibition in Australia were intrigued that I had used materials from Tenakil House in the paintings, creating a kind of transcentdal link.”
‘Síoraí’ originated from a commission by Laois County Council who asked Brendon to produce new work as a central feature for the James Fintan Lalor conference 2014.
The exhibition’s title, ‘Síoraí’ (the Irish word for ‘Eternal’), refers to the enduring influence of James Fintan Lalor's words on key parts of Irish history, right up to the present day. Pádraig Pearse called Lalor ‘one of the four evangelists of Irish freedom’ so the timing of the show was befitting to mark the 1916 centenary of the Irish Easter Rising as it highlighted the galvanising impression he made on visionaries like Pearse, and those who drafted the Democratic Programme of the first Irish parliament in 1919.
Brendon created ten iconic paintings using oils mixed with debris collected from Tenakill House, Raheen where Lalor was born, significantly forging a metaphysical connection between the work and the man. To emphasise his contemporary relevance, Lalor’s words are presented verbatim in the style of Irish posters of his time and juxtaposed with depictions of present-day Ireland.
The venue’s location in Australia was ideal for building on the strong links between both countries culture and history. The Museum stands on the site of the Eureka Stockade, an event that shaped Australian democracy. It was lead by James Fintan’s brother, Peter. Peter Lalor’s contribution to Australian politics and human rights is celebrated at MADE who state, “James Fintan Lalor, as Peter Lalor’s brother, is of significant interest to the museum. “His influences on his younger brother and the Young Ireland movement trace directly to the events in Ballarat in 1854. “The presentation of these influences and issues by Brendon Deacy also resonate with the challenges that both Ireland and Australia face today down through the centuries.”
Brendon thanked his sponsors Culture Ireland, Laois County Council, The Thomas Dammann Trust, NCAD and Midland Legal Solicitors who supported the exhibition as part of the ‘Ireland 2016 Centenary Programme’.
19 September 2016