A mixed media art exhibition based on the infamous burning of Bridget Cleary in 1895 has opened in the Old Co-op in Callan.
The exhibition, titled ‘A site of knowing:unknowing’, is by Helena Tobin, an artist and photographer from Ballyneale, Tipperary. It focuses on the area near Cloneen village where Bridget Cleary was burned to death by her husband Michael, as well as the area where he waited for three days afterwards in the hope that his wife would return.
The circumstances surrounding Bridget Cleary’s tragic death brought massive public attention to the townsland of Ballyvadlea on the slopes of Slievenamon, and the subsequent trial was reported on by newspapers throughout Britain and Ireland. Though a taboo subject in the area for generations, in recent times there has been more discussion about the man who claimed his wife had been abducted by the fairies, and that he had only burned the changeling which had been left in her place. Helena’s work examines the case by looking at video stills of the location where the events occurred.
“I’m interested in looking at how the landscape can hold memory and can hold these stories,” she said, “and that things that people want to forget can get pushed away but in a very literal way they’re visible in the fairy forts.”
Many physical changes have been made to the area since 1895, and the fairy fort where Michael Cleary maintained his vigil following the killing has long since been destroyed. However, another nearby fairy fort is still present, and features in the exhibition, as does soil taken from where the original fairy fort once stood.
As the viewer looks at the various images displayed in the darkened room, they are transported back to the long days when Michael Cleary remained on watch while contemplating what he had just done, and to the decades afterwards when many in the area dared not speak of what had occurred.
“These things do live on even if they’re buried and hidden,” Helena said. “I wanted to deal with it in a subtle manner and in a way that speaks of the landscape.”
The exhibition goes on for the duration of the Abhainn Rí festival, and can be viewed from 12pm to 5pm each day. It will also be displayed in Callan during the Kilkenny Arts Festival.
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