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Rosary beads, trinkets and other votive offerings adorn the old statues on the feast day of St Brigid at St Brigid's Well in Liscannor. Photograph by John Kelly

Clare exhibition celebrates the lore around St Brigid’s Well

A CELEBRATION of the traditions and beliefs that have sprung up around St Brigid’s Well in Liscannor is taking place in North Clare currently.

The exhibition ‘Dabhach Bhríde’, which is centred around Lá Fhéile Bríde, opened at The Courthouse Gallery and Studios earlier this week and will run until Saturday, February 4.

Tying in with the new Bank Holiday to celebrate Ireland’s only female patron saint, the exhibition is located at The Red Couch Gallery space.

It is the creation of Clare-based artists Frances Bermingham and Mary Fahy and the opening last Tuesday involved a gathering to make traditional Brigid’s Crosses and share stories of the rich
tradition around the medieval saint.

Both Mary and Frances are involved in a study of aspects of St Brigid’s Holy Well at Ballysteen, Liscannor currently.

“I am intrigued by the traces we leave, through our contact with people, objects and places,” Galway native Mary said. “My current body of work explores ritual grief practices and the Divine Feminine at St Brigid’s Well. The intimate prayers of the well-goers are enshrined at the site, through the leaving of tokens of remembrance, or ‘clooties’.

“Where traditionally rags were tied to a prayer tree, the modern visitor leaves whatever they have with them; hair ties, bracelets, children’s toys.

“The countless talismans left by visitors to the site transcend time and religious leanings. The religious statues at the well are weighed down with entreaties. These love/grief tokens represent the commonality of grief.

“My work honours with compassion those who are suffering or who have passed on. Human memory and experience weave layers of meaning into the site, changing these objects over time, imbuing them with sentiment.

“At this powerful pagan/Celtic/Christian site dedicated to Brigid, a sacred pause reminds us that we are all just passing through.”

A researcher and fieldworker based in Moyasta, Frances is also studying and responding to the wealth of votive offerings that have adorned the well for decades.

“The well and its well house is a vernacular landmark of cultural memory,” she said. Frances described the votive offerings as expressions of thanks or request, adding that their placing is also significant.

“This placing and layering marking the processes of ritual, repetition, fading traces of colour and form, decay of natural materials and patterns of loss and remembrance,” she said.

“The tacit knowledge of these offerings over time. Everything changes and nothing changes. My work tries to capture this by my own making of votive offerings of material language.”

Mary describes herself as “a multidisciplinary teaching artist and mother”.

She graduated from Limerick School of Art and Design (LSAD) in 2001 with a BA in Fine Art Painting. She was awarded the Revenue Commissioners Purchase Prize and selected for The Young Contemporaries exhibition in the Belltable Arts Centre, Limerick.

Twice shortlisted for the Markievicz Medal Award for Painting in Dublin, Mary completed her Higher Diploma in Art Education 2003, winning both the prestigious Larkin Memorial Award and the Irish Times Award. Mary is Head of the Art Department at Scoil Mhuire, Ennistymon since 2003. Solo show venues include The Clare Museum, Scarriff Library and Ennistymon Courthouse Gallery 2015.

Mary co-founded the Clare-based Artist-Mother Collective in 2022.

Frances’s early career was in Marine and Fisheries and is now involved in Whale and Dolphin research-education and local community projects.

She completed her heritage training ‘Learning from the Landscape’ in 2013 and carried out a two-year inventory of the natural, cultural and built heritage of the Loop Head Peninsula.

In 2018, Frances was part of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group’s (IWDG) sailing expedition to Iceland on Celtic Mist on both sea and land and had a joint exhibition of her work at the Cultúrlann Sweeney, Kilkee in November 2018.

Frances’s most recent body of research work and exhibition material as part of a three person team was ‘Five Stories from the Loop’; for the reopening of Loop Head Lighthouse for Clare County Council.

“Material diversity is a constant,” Frances said. “I am a maker of things. I arrange and rearrange them to form and shape my story of living and surviving within a coastal seascape.

“My daily vernacular is that of tide and wind and shore and bog. I am drawn to the edge, the boundary of things. In my practice I have chosen the materiality of seaweed as a sustainable natural resources washed ashore by tides to make artifacts, objects and wearable forms.

“My ongoing work is researching the cultural value and qualities of seaweed as a material language and the keeping of contemporaneous notes.”

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