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President to gaze upon the Generation Tree

THE young people of Flagmount brought their community together in forging a piece of art last summer  and President Michael D Higgins will return to East Clare on Friday, February 22 to launch The Tree of Generations, at the Lough Graney Kids’ Corner.

The Tree of Generations is a sculpture that brought those from the age of three to 83 together in the spirit of art, community, and learning over a four-month period. Standing proud at 10ft, it overlooks the lake and welcomes visitors at Lough Graney Kids’ Corner.

Lough Graney Youth Club, its leaders, together with local artist Margaret Curran, took on the task of creating a sculpture in July. The structure now serves as a permanent reminder of the fun, laughter, storytelling and coming together of varying ages last summer.

The mixed-media project required a variety of art techniques and skills to be used as well as an element of renewable energy, which were all embraced by the youth club members.

The finished product is a concrete structured tree that is not only decorative but multifunctional. Just above base level is a bench, a planted flower bed runs around the tree trunk, a watchful bird perches within its branches under a wooden structured canapé, while a windmill tops the tree providing wind energy to a light under the canapé.

For the project, the youth learned mosaic skills, pottery techniques, and got some gardening tips along the way. The Generation Tree incorporates the elements also and the young people put their own individual stamp by making pottery fish for water, flames for fire and so on. 

Speaking about the project, artist Margaret Curran said, “The young people made the windmill and turbine and they learned how to shape and imprint into metal. There was also a gardening aspect and they learned how to make compost. Right from the very beginning, everything was very hands on. There is a central steel pole and onto that pole, we welded arms to the pole, mixed concrete and filled the hole and then they built a block bench. It’s a covered in a timber canapé. The bird mascot is made from a chicken wire structure, which was rendered and done in mosaic. We made armatures for this sculpture. The youth were 100% engaged in it and started at the very beginning from digging the hole, to the finished product,” she said.

Speaking about the Presidential visit, Margaret said, “I’ve never met the President but I do like him and his enthusiasm for the arts. It is a great honour that their efforts are being recognised in this way.”

Youth club leader Sharon Keane (20) told The Clare Champion how this project got up and running and how much she enjoyed it.

“We wanted to do something during the summer. The last thing we did as a youth club was the film [Inside Out Killanena Flagmount: A Film About Our Parish] for that. The directors were local and we wanted someone local again to draw on their skills, so we asked Margaret Curran who is an artist living in Flagmount,” Sharon said.

Kathleen McNamara of the Lough Graney Youth Club explained they wanted this project to be cross-generational and to involve the whole community.

“It was nice for the community, young and old, to get involved. We wanted to bring back some of the old meitheal tradition of people working together,” she said.

The project began with brainstorming sessions within the club and then Margaret was invited in. “We decided to do something with a bench where people could gather together and we came up with The Tree of Generations. We wanted the whole community to get involved not just the youth club. There was one day when my grandmother, my dad and my younger brother were here working on it, that was lovely,” Sharon said.

Facilitated through LEADER funding, the youth club participated in 29 workshops, which provided the training they needed to complete each of the tasks.

Stephen Canny (21), also a leader with the youth club, explained the reason for incorporating the different levels for each of the elements.

“It was about going back to nature. In olden days, a lot of people were connected more to nature than our generation so we felt that was important,” he said.

Sharon added, “We wanted to make individual pieces so, for instance, in the fire section we have fire pieces made out of pottery, for the water we had fish. You had free reign over what you wanted to do so long as it fitted within the elements. The children in the crèche all had little pottery stars so there are personal pieces throughout.”

Stephen said the renewable energy aspect was really beneficial as there is a huge emphasis on it and its importance for the environment.

“It’s amazing to see the finished product, when we first started you wouldn’t imagine that would be the finished product. It’s really nice. It was great too because Sharon is in Limerick and I’m in Galway and it gave us a chance to meet up. When you go to college, you lose touch with the community so being part of the youth club keeps you in touch,” he continued.

There wasn’t just a coming together under The Generation Tree, there was also regular gatherings for what was dubbed “ the family dinners” when all those involved would prepare dinner, have a chat over a bite to eat and help with the wash up.

The project afforded the leaders a chance to work with the young people at their own level and Stephen and Sharon said it was great to have everyone on an equal playing field.

“We were all doing something new. We weren’t experts in anything. We bounced ideas off Margaret and she came back to us with her thoughts. She was very inclusive and got everyone involved,” Sharon said. 

The youth club was in disbelief when Kathleen informed them that President Higgins would unveil The Generation Tree.

“We were talking about having a day for launching it and we were thinking ‘start at the top – we could have the President’. No one really thought we could do it but Kathleen managed it,” Sharon said.
Kathleen explained Lough Graney Youth Club are in a great position where they now have members of the club coming through as leaders and she said this endorsement was recognition for them and the club. 

“We are one of the few clubs who have young people coming on as leaders and I think it is a just reward for the youth club. The President is very much into the youth and community and art so we thought it was quite fitting to invite him, when we were doing all three. It’s a day of celebration really. The youth will provide entertainment for them so they will have poetry, music and singing,” Kathleen concluded.


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