Episode 12: Away with the Fairies

Just below the surface of modern Ireland, a parallel world exists with its roots in pre-Christian belief. Irish fairies aren’t like Tinkerbell – they’re more like a supernatural mafia. So be careful what you say, because as the story goes, they’re probably listening. Tim talks to one of Ireland’s last seanchaí or story-teller historians, who once managed to get a highway diverted to prevent the felling of a fairy bush. We also hear about modern traditions from the streets of Galway as the Celtic New Year Samhain festival is underway. Meanwhile, Naomi discovers that fairies can even make an appearance in modern politics, thanks to Ireland’s unique clan of rural populists, the Healy Rae political dynasty of County Kerry.

Who’s that girl?

Do you see that mist?

It was rolling into shot as I took the photo. It’s the first hint of the arrival of Hurricane Ophelia.

These pictures were taken on Howth Hill in Dublin in the hours before the hurricane — what was left of it after it crossed the Atlantic — hit Ireland. It was the worst storm in generations.

Luckily I had an amazing model to work with. Aoife Mullan grew up locally in Howth. She’s an artist and a graphic designer. I was delighted when she agreed to do the shoot because I knew she would bring terrific style to the photos. (The shoot was for the tote bag we are selling to fund our podcast. You can buy one here. Gwan ;))

It was an added bonus that the autumn ferns turned out to be exactly the same beautiful shade as her hair.

We started off in a valley of silver birches I’ve known as a magical place since I was a child, and always wanted to capture.

As we moved up the hill, the mysterious mist started to roll in. Howth is the hill on the north arm of Dublin bag. It’s the peninsula ringed with dramatic cliffs that you can glimpse from your aeroplane when you fly into Dublin airport. Usually, it has sweeping panoramas of Dublin, and that’s what I had hoped to capture.

But this mist was even better.

I was very keen to get some shots of Aoife with the traditional stone walls that criss-cross the hill, because we had mentioned that kind of landscape in our famine episode.

At a certain point, horse-riders appeared out of the mist.

It was a magical shoot where everything just seemed to click. And it was perfectly on theme to do just ahead of our episode on abortion in Ireland. Aoife Mullan has been involved with the campaign through Artists Repeal the 8th.

 

I asked her to share a few insights about her work as an artist and graphic designer:

Q. Tell us about your work

A. I studied Fine Art Painting in NCAD. I see my work as an extension of painting, as I don’t really paint in a traditional sense. I make sculptures, installations and photographic work and they really are like expanded paintings. Aesthetically they mostly consist of blocks of colours that play with vibrancy and light. I also make illustrations which make heavy use of collage and I have recently begun using traditional printing techniques.

Q. What are you inspired by?

A. I’m interested in and influenced by a broad range of things; objects and furniture by Memphis Milano, a group from the 80’s led by designer Ettore Sottsass. They made amazing use of laminates, plastics and vivid blocks of colour. I’m really into sci-fi; films like Day of Triffids, Brazil, Silent Running, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and in particular the set design from Logans Run. I like Polish poster art from the 50’s to the 70’s. A lot of the type was hand drawn and the colours were incredibly bold.

Q. What is Dublin like as a place to be an artist or designer?

A. So many of Dublin’s art studios have had to shut down or move due to rent hikes and developers. Places like the Joinery, Moxie and Broadstone Studios have all had to close. Broadstone was a place where over 30 established artists had studios. Some of these artists had represented Ireland in the Venice Biennales, and they were suddenly left with no place to work. So that’s really an indication of the precarity of the situation for artists in Dublin at the moment.

Q. What project are you excited about at the moment?

A. Right now I’m working on a series of illustrations, depicting women and their dogs. I saw a photograph of Countess Markievicz and her cocker spaniel Poppet lying on a wall and I’ve been looking out for things along those lines since. My process is photomontage, collage, a bit of drawing and then tweaking and reworking the images in photoshop and illustrator.

Q. What exhibitions and events are you excited about?

A. Recently I saw an exhibition on printed Irish record sleeves from the 50’s to the present day in the National Print Museum, and I am going to go see Witch and Lezzie, a show by Breda Lynch in the RHA which is on til 5th of November. I’m really looking forward to an upcoming exhibition in Frame Dublin this week of work by sign painter Vanessa Power. I’m looking forward to the Feminist Film Festival which is on the 16-18th of November.

I’m planning a trip up to Belfast to see two exhibitions soon. The first is Video Encounters: Inside the Story in Golden Thread Gallery. It consists of two video works, one by Rachel Maclean and one by Bedwyr Williams. Bedwyr Williams has a weird sense of humour in his work that I like. I also want to see Phlox in the Naughton Gallery which has work by illustrator Laura Callaghan. The exhibition deals with sexism within the illustration industry and platforms work exploring identity, sexuality and race.

You can check out Aoife Mullan’s work at her website here.

Naomi

Episode 11: Abortion

Ireland has one of the strictest abortion laws in Europe. Banned unless the woman’s life is in serious danger, it carries a 14-year prison sentence. Rumblings of change are beginning, but some a campaign could open up ugly political fault lines. Why is Ireland like this? Tim and Naomi explore the strange and surprising backstory to Ireland’s constitutional abortion ban. Tim hears from a journalist who snuck contraband condoms into 1970s Dublin. We hear from Ireland’s 31-year-old health minister on what change he wants to see, while Naomi meets a 17 year-old student who has swapped her textbooks for a megaphone in the pro-choice campaign. Just don’t let her Catholic school find out…

Episode 10: The Irish Slaves Myth

Have you ever heard that the Irish were slaves? If so, you may have been targeted with political propaganda. Naomi speaks to actress and writer Azie Dungey about how Irish history is being abused for a political agenda in the United States, while Tim asks two experts in the topic about the truth behind the internet myth. We hear from US journalist Traci White who set out to investigate why the meme was appearing on her Facebook page, while Irish Senator Aodháin Ó Ríordáin tells us what the Trump administration needs to know about Irish-American history.

Featuring: ‘When the Wick is Gone’ by the Pangolins

Episode 9: The Great Hunger

Ireland’s great famine was the worst peacetime disaster in 19th century Europe. It shaped both Ireland and the world. And it remains such a political bombshell that people still can’t agree on what to call it. We explore the hidden history of the mass starvation, from its little-known role in the origins of modern journalism to its surprising link to a Native American tribe. Tim discovers a piece of 1840s Ireland in the middle of Manhattan, while Naomi asks what lessons should be applied to current events today.

Featuring Cello Duet No. 1 by Chief Boima

Episode 8: The Brexit Irish

Applications for Irish passports surged in the last year, largely from people in Britain and Northern Ireland. Who are the new ‘Brexit Irish’? We meet them in this new episode and hear their motivations for claiming their Irish identity. We also speak to the Irish ambassador who found himself in the eye of the storm as applications soared. Tim hits the streets of Galway to investigate what ordinary Irish citizens think of the newcomers — and is taken aback by what he hears.  Discover why Ireland has such a large diaspora in the first place, and the key role they played in the foundation of the state.

Episode 7: Ireland and Europe

Ireland and Europe: what is Ireland’s future in the EU now that its neighbour the United Kingdom is leaving? Is the so-called Irexit at all realistic? We explore Ireland’s relationship with the continent now and in the future and unpick why Ireland differs so much from Britain in its history as part of Europe. We speak to Ireland’s most, and perhaps only, well-known eurosceptic Ray Bassett, as well as Ireland’s Minister for European Affairs and the ordinary people of Dublin to understand Ireland and Europe at this crucial moment in history.

Ireland’s lost aristocracy

Did you hear our recent episode, ‘Elites’? If you were wondering what Howth Castle looks like, here’s a video of Naomi’s visit to meet Julian Gaisford-St Lawrence, heir to the Dublin estate his family has owned for 800 years. It’s a peek into the fading world of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy.