IARSMAÍ | REMNANTS  a feature documentary about the stolen skull of Inishbofin and other stories

IARSMAÍ | REMNANTS a feature documentary about the stolen skull of Inishbofin and other stories

 

World Premiere of Iarsmaí | Remnants

Sat 13 July | 14:00 | Pálás Screen 1

2024 | Ireland, Nigeria, UK | 77’

 

Iarsmaí | Remnants and is the title of a feature documentary currently in pre-production with Deaglán Ó Mocháin’s company Dearcán Media for for TG4 and BBC Northern Ireland. Directed by Damien McCann and produced by Rosie McNally, the film will investigate how how Irish and British museums are re-examining collections of empire related material in response to a vigorous public engagement with colonial legacies in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests. my involvement in the Haddon Dixon Repatriation Project is one of three interwoven stories featured in the film.

Kerry Writers’ Museum

Kerry Writers’ Museum

Kerry Writers’ Museum has received significant Heritage Council funding for r&d on the management of film, digital media and intangible heritage assets at a community level. A key part of this task will be developing a collection management system that will set a standard and can be replicated in other organisations.

 

I joined the museum as Curator of Film and Digital Media in April 2024 and I work with Cara Trant, Executive Director, to build the museum’s capacity to manage its film and digital media collections in line with objectives set out in the Heritage Council’s 2023-28 strategy and Heritage Ireland 2030.

 

The project builds on the success of “The Bolex Boys”, an exhibition named after the iconic 16mm movie camera that became the badge of  filmmakers John Lynch and Michael Mulcahy. Mulcahy bought his first 8mm movie camera in 1963, while Lynch was managing a cinema in Kilkee. Lynch acquired a Bolex in 1971 and began making silent movies heavily influenced by Italian social realist cinema. Mulcahy joined Lynch as a sound operator and replaced his 8mm camera with Bolex. The partnership is still going.

 

Lynch and Mulcahy remastered The Way I Remember It in 1978, adding a soundtrack that RTÉ actor Eamon Keane of Listowel devised and narrated. I met them in 2020 and the digital restoration of the film and soundtrack provided the foundation for the “The Bolex Boys” project, which Cara Trant adopted in 2023 and the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media funded through the Regional Museums Scheme. The exhibition opened in September 2023.

 

 

 

My curatorial strategy was to create a space inspired by the analogue movie making technologies that Lynch and Mulcahy used in the 1970s and are undergoing a remarkable revival. This involved the construction of a space to display the analogue gear that Lynch and Mulcahy. Excitement and engagement was high on the agenda, so everything is hands on and the space itself doubles as a camera obscura, still the only one in in Ireland in the classic sense of a room-sized pinhole camera: an immersive space that creates a real time movie of Listowel town centre and places the viewer inside a working pinhole camera. We built a community cinema on the other side of the camera and this serves as a venue for celebrating a wider tradition of community storytelling in film that began in the 1930s and continues to this day.

 

In summary, “The Bolex Boys” project was a singular experiment in the collection, conservation and digitisation of film and digital media heritage resources, but we were always aware that Lynch and Mulcahy had built up an extraordinary collection of film and digital media along with fifty years’ worth of analogue film making technology. We were also aware that there were other filmmakers in and around Listowel who had similar collections, people like Leo Finucane who bought his first camera after seeing Lynch filming farmers delivering milk to Cooraclarrig Creamery in 1978 and went on to make 18 narrative films.

 

These  filmmakers all cite the work of earlier pioneers, Jack McKenna and Jack Hannon especially. McKenna bought his first camera in 1929, when he was eleven years of age. So this is not a localised, rural nostalgia project. It’s a popular art movement that has a long history and continues today in the work of artists like Lisa Fingleton and Laura Fitzgerald. It is also connected to a wider community film and video movement that includes Derry Film and Video Collective, Frameworks in Cork and Michael Fortune’s Folklore.ie in Wexford.

 

 

 

To finish, film has always been part of the cultural life of this town that has become synonymous with storytelling, although, unlike the region’s literature heritage, there was little understanding of the need to collect, preserve, archive and share this heritage at a local level. That prompted an application to the Heritage Council in the Spring of 2024 and the Film and Digital Media Heritage project started work in April 2024. Since then, I have been involved in an audit of film and digital media heritage assets and the result of that research will be showcase during Heritage Week, which runs from 17-25 August. This will be, in effect, a manifesto in film.

 

 

 

What is it like to be inside a Camera?

What is it like to be inside a Camera?

Kerry Writers’ Museum has constructed a camera obscura so that people can experience what it is like to be inside a camera. Curators drilled a hole in a shutter on a window overlooking the square in Listowel and an image of St. John’s Theatre and Arts Centre is projected through the hole on to the wall opposite, upside down and back to front.

“We are the only museum in Ireland to have installed a camera obscura in the classic sense of drilling a small hole in a wall and turning a darkened room into a camera” says director Cara Trant. Another camera obscura will open in the north later this month, but it uses a roof mounted system manufactured by the Astronomy Centre in Lancashire. The Listowel camera, on the other hand, takes the viewer back to the origins of photography over 400 years ago.

Ciarán Walsh came up with the idea while designing an exhibition built around the Bolex 16mm camera used by local film makers John Lynch and Michael Mulcahy. “We wanted to celebrate analogue cinematography, so we put people inside a room sized camera” he says. “It’s very interactive. You stand in the dark, let your eyes adjust and the image appears. Put your finger over the hole in the shutter and it disappears. It’s immersive and mesmerising”.

The project has become the springboard for much bigger exploration of the link between storytelling and filmmaking in Listowel and beyond. The Heritage Council supported the project with a grant of €40,000 under the Heritage Support Fund and the museum hopes to raise awareness of the importance of community film making, amateur film and home movies as important heritage assets that can easily disappear.

The camera obscura is open to the public and all you need to do is turn up at Kerry Writers’ Museum and ask them to turn the lights out.

Thumbnails/ Captions / Descriptions

Curator Ciarán Walsh spends 20 seconds inside the camera obscura in Kerry Writers’ Museum (photo Kerry Writers’ Museum).

Description: Walsh used his mobile phone as a light source that doesn’t overwhelm the light from outside. The image projected features St John’s Theatre on the Square in Listowel. The clock (upside down and back to front) shows the time.

 

 

Shane Batten checks the aperture of the camera obscura in Kerry Writers Museum, Listowel (photo Kerry Writers’ Museum).

Description: The aperture is a 10mm hole drilled in a shutter on a window overlooking the square in Listowel. Batten holds a lens salvaged from a slide projector over the aperture to see what affect if any it has on the projection (the mage remained in focus for a couple of inches and was much smaller, so we discarded the lens).

 

 

 

Shane Batten checks the aperture of the camera obscura in Kerry Writers Museum, Listowel (photo Kerry Writers’ Museum).

Description: The aperture is a 10mm hole drilled in a shutter on a window overlooking the square in Listowel. Batten holds a lens salvaged from a slide projector over the aperture to see what affect if any it has on the projection (the mage remained in focus for a couple of inches and was much smaller, so we discarded the lens).

 

 

Shane Batten spends 20 seconds inside the camera obscura (photo Ciarán Walsh, Kerry Writers’ Museum).

Description: Batten used his mobile phone as a light source that doesn’t overwhelm the light form outside. The image projected features St John’s Theatre on the Square in Listowel. The clock (upside down and back to front) shows the time.

 

 

 

Historical Note

The term camera obscura (dark room) was first used in 1604 to describe a completely darkened room in which a small hole is made in one wall so that the scene outside is projected on to a screen on the wall opposite. The rays of light bend around the hole and the scene appears upside-down and mirrored, although colour and perspective are not affected. The smaller the hole, the sharper the image, but it may take several minutes for your eyes to adjust to the darkness enough to see the image.

A miniature of this room became known as a “camera” and experiments in fixing the projected image led to the invention of photography in 1826. Nicéphore Niépce experimented with material that hardened on exposure to light and he produced his first  picture after an “exposure” of eight hours. it takes twenty seconds max to get a properly exposed photograph inside the camera obscura in Listowel.

an illustration of a camera obscura in Athanasius Kircher’s, Ars magna lucis et umbrae (The Magnetic Art of Light and Shadow), 1646 (creative Commons)

 

The Bolex Boys

The Bolex Boys

 

Michael Mulcahy and John Lynch

Anyone interested in indie film and photography will have noticed an extraordinary revival of interest in analogue systems for reproducing sound and vision. The handheld Bolex 16mm film camera with its spools of film, wind up mechanism, characteristic shutter clicks, and carousel of lenses embodies all that is analogue for a new generation of young film makers. There couldn’t be a better time to consider the work of an earlier generation of indie film makers who exploited the accessibility and portability of handheld cameras to create an extraordinarily cinematic record of the changing social and cultural landscape of North Kerry from the 1970s onwards. This article introduces the work of John Lynch, Michael Mulcahy and Paul Kennelly, the Bolex Boys of North Kerry.

John Lynch bought his first cine camera in 1971, a second-hand Bolex. He worked as a creamery manager in a rural district north of Listowel in County Kerry. The people of Ireland had not yet ratified membership of the European Economic Union, but change was in the air and nowhere more apparent than in the farming community who delivered their milk to the creamery every morning. The tractor was replacing the donkey cart and Lynch imagined a film in which the creamery became the pivot in the telling of a story of the end of a way of life

Lynch’s cinematic imagination had been awakened as a young boy when a travelling theatre company opened its show with a screening of short films. He became fascinated with the mechanics of projection and learned his trade in the Astra cinema in Listowel. He left home to study dairy science in University College Cork but spent his spare time learning all he could about film making. After graduation, he went to work in creamery in County Clare and ran a cinema in the town of Kilkee. He married Noreen Horgan in 1961 and they returned to Kerry in 1967 after Lynch got a job as manager of the Cooraclarig Creamery.

Lynch began filming traditional farming practices in 1971 and assembled the footage into a silent film called The way I remember it. The Bolex was a mechanical camera and the sound of a spring unwinding as it drove film through a mechanical shutter made sound recording impossible in a one-person operation. The problem was solved when Lynch met Michael Mulcahy at a screening of the film. Mulcahy trained as a marine radio operator but never went to sea and built up a business as a sound engineer servicing an accelerating folk revival movement. He had built a recording studio in his garage and arranged with Lynch to record a soundtrack for The way I remember it.

Lynch asked storyteller and broadcaster Eamon Keane to write a script. Keane devised an original, long-form poem over repeated screenings and Mulcahy recorded him performing it in his studio. It was the beginning of a film making partnership – Mulcahy bought a Bolex and Lynch began recording sound – that continues to this day and that original soundtrack remains one of the most underrated pieces of spoken art ever recorded in Ireland.

They joined forces with Paul Kennelly, a linesman with the ESB who took note of the changes taking place in rural Ireland when he worked on the rural electrification programme. He had an interest in photography and switched to cinematography when his wife Hanna gave him a present of a Super 8mm cine camera. A natural and talented storyteller, he recorded life in the small village of Finuge, a crossroads situated at the geographic centre of County Kerry.

Pat Ahern recording an interview with John Lynch

Kennelly and Lynch filmed opening of the Teach Siamsa in Finuge in 1974, which became the foundation of a National Folk Theatre established by Fr Pat Ahern in Tralee in 1991. Kennelly’s film captured Dermod McCarthy of Radharc Films recording the event for RTÉ and the footage, alongside Lynch’s footage of the first of the modern Fleadh Cheoil festivals, represents a remarkable record of a rapidly changing cultural landscape, which anthropologist Helena Wulff has described in Dancing at the Crossroads.

Many people bought Super 8 cine cameras in the 1970s and 1980s and there is a rich archive of home movies that incidentally record social change as it happened on a local level.  Lynch’s project was different because it was grounded in cinema and this is most obvious in his filming of the killing of a pig in Kissane’s farmyard in 1978, the last time a pig was butchered in the traditional way in Kerry.

The influence of Ermanno Olmi is immediately apparent in the way Lynch set up and filmed the event. A centre piece of Olmi’s acclaimed film Tree of Wooden Clogs (1978) is the killing of a pig and Lynch’s short film, edited in camera, became a homage to a form of cinema that focussed on the lives of ordinary people in a rural setting. Olmi’s project was essentially ideological but his realism – the immediacy and honesty of the cinematic representation – is what captured Lynch’s imagination.

This is the most striking feature of The way I remember it, but equally impressive is the quality of visual poetry in motion. This seems to have inspired Keane to create an original work of immense artistic ambition and the combination of Mulcahy’s sound and Lynch’s vision is a remarkable cinematic achievement that underpins the popular film making movement that followed in its wake.

The documentaries Lynch, Mulcahy and Kennelly filmed over the next 5 decades constitute a remarkable and little known chapter in the history of cinema in Ireland. Furthermore, Lynch and Mulcahy have kept their studios in working order and these spaces bring us back to the future in terms  of the current analogue revival. Projecting the work of the Bolex Boys in this space becomes a celebration of analogue filmmaking and cinematic storytelling that is as thrilling as it is timeless.

Ciarán Walsh

July 2022

The Haddon Dixon Repatriation Project

The Haddon Dixon Repatriation Project

In 2020, TCD announced plans to deal with its colonial legacy and we asked Provost Paddy Prendergast if he had heard of the stolen skulls held in TCD. The repatriation of these remains would, we proposed, be a good way to start decolonising the campus. He agreed but TCD changed its mind when the Anatomy Dept refused to repatriate the remains. A new round of negotiations with Provost Linda Doyle and her public engagement team on Sept 1, 2022.

A public history project in three parts. Part one deals with an attempt by communities to engage TCD in the repatriation of skulls stolen from three burial grounds in the west of Ireland in 1890. Part two responds to various arguments advanced by the skulls’ keepers in the”Old” Anatomy Dept in TCD and deals with the issues of provenance and folklore relating to the protection of burial grounds.

The Stolen Skulls of Inishbofin. Photo by Walsh (2016) of a collection of 24 stolen skulls in Trinity College Dublin / TCD. Haddon and Dixon stole thirteen crania (skulls without jaw bones) from monasteries in the west of Ireland in 1890, and gave the collection to Trinity College Dublin. The photo shows four of the skulls on two shelves in a display case in a display case, wrapped in plastic bags that carry a catalogue number. They are labelled ‘Inishbofin, Haddon & Dixon’ and St. Finian’s Bay. Kerry, Haddon & Dixon. Marie Coyne and Ciarán Walsh began campaigning for their return in 2012.

Part 1 : The case of the missing skulls from Inishbofin

“John Millington Synge poked fun at colonial science in The Playboy of the Western Worldwhen he referred to an anthropological collection in TCD. “Did you never hear tell” Jimmy asked Philly “of the skulls they have in the city of Dublin, ranged out like blue jugs in a cabin of Connaught?” In 2020, TCD announced plans to deal with its colonial legacy and I joined real-life descendants of Synge’s characters in asking Provost Paddy Prendergast if he had heard of the same skulls. The repatriation of these skulls would, we proposed, be a good way to start decolonising the campus.”

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Part 2: ‘Don’t kick that skull or the dead will come after you!’

“Covid restrictions have forced us all to think about traditions relating to death and dying. The case of the Inishbofin skulls at TCD has added a curious twist to that story. An investigation into the provenance of those skulls has uncovered a long-forgotten tradition of placing skulls in medieval ruins and an associated body of folklore that warned people against interfering with them. The message was simple: don’t kick that skull or the dead will come after you!”

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Part 3: And island funeral

TCD released the remains of thirteen individuals on 13 July 2023 and we carried them Inishbofin and buried them on 16 July.