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600-a site specific art installation by Jenny Wood-Sullivan

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600 is a site-specific installation by artist Jenny Wood-Sullivan. The title references the quantity of paupers which could be housed in Portumna workhouse.

The use of a number as the installation title immediately highlights Jenny's interest in how paupers were processed in the workhouse system, essentially reducing people to just numbers on a page. With this in mind, it is striking how visually pleasing and gentle the installation appears, with the contemplative art of origami (a Japanese technique of folding paper into a variety of forms) taking centre stage.
As the visitor walks through one of the original workhouse rooms, they are witness to a flock of 600 origami birds flying down towards the floor, in a desperate attempt to reach a solitary seed. The viewer does not need to be told that there is not enough food for all. The birds themselves are folded from the pages of an old tome titled The Church and Science by Sir Bertram C. A. Windle, printed in 1917. What could be a mo…

Dark Shadows Exhibition

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The work of Kieran Tuohy has to be seen to be believed. Perhaps it is the fact that his large sculptures are carved from single pieces of bog-wood,or that the natural cracks in the petrified timber are as vital to the pieces as Kieran's own hand, or that the striking gleam of bog-wood is just so hard to photograph. Whatever the reason, everyone who visits the Dark Shadows Exhibition comes away ineffably changed.
The impact of Dark Shadows is even more incredible given the fact that the Famine, or as many people now call it The Great Hunger, is not new to us. It is one of the nation's most defining events, a cataclysm drummed into us at school and reinforced by having Irish communities around the world. It is not for love of travel alone that the Irish Diaspora is proportionately one of the largest in the world. So to mount an exhibition which solely focuses on The Great Hunger would seem a risky venture. That is, until you are confronted with the sculptures themselves.
On one …

No Place for Idle Hands-Part 2

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The difference between the work of women and men in Irish workhouses
·Embroidery·Knitting·Making socks, shawls, handkerchiefs & other items of clothing·Lace-making·Crochet·Quilting·Netting·Flowering& Sprigging

The above list shows the variety of skilled needle-work performed by female paupers.  Note the inclusion of a type of needlework which is largely forgotten today; flowering and sprigging. This entails the embroidering of muslin with small sprays of foliage or floral patterns.

Many different patterns could be used and were widely circulated in periodicals. In an era before the ready availability of printed fabric, a huge volume of labour was required to supply the demand for this kind of needlework. Below we can see a popular muslin pattern from R. Ackerman's Repository of Fashions 1829, which shows a fashionable flowering/sprigging design. 

Men were engaged in a different selection of industrial activity. 125 out of 163 workhouses (just over 75%) provided their young m…

No Place for Idle Hands-Part 1

Working life in Irish Workhouses
Life in Irish workhouses was not a straightforward case of finding work for paupers and making sure they did it. This was because the British Parliament had very set ideas about the employment of the poor. A 1782 Act of Parliament stated that it was concerned with "the better relief and employment of the poor". This shows that in the minds of politicians, relief and employment went hand in hand.

If we fast forward to the 19th century we see that the concept of employing the poor had evolved. As well as a general consensus that paupers should be working within the workhouse walls, the instructions for pauper industry have become more specific. In the British Isles this is most evident in the Irish workhouse rules.
The 1844 Irish Workhouse Rule:
Paupers...shall be kept employed according to their capacity & ability; but no pauper shall work on his own account, or on account of any party other than the Board of Guardians; & no pauper shall re…