I have been thinking of other perspectives and features of the valley where my work is located and what it informs it. Nearby is a stream, that often becomes a small river in winter or in our too frequent wet summers. It was once known at the ‘Black River’ 300 years ago (as it came directly from the Blackstairs mountains and its ‘black’ Oak forests), now its called the Killedmond river (due to the name of a nearby townsland). It is over the field from us so it enriches the land here and it feeds into the greater Barrow River (in the foreground above). The valley and Barrow River and its river edges are highly scenic, heritage rich and ecologically important for Carlow county. However, many local residents including myself have been alarmed in recent weeks to find our county representatives never listed any of the county as having areas of ‘high amenity’, unlike neighbouring counties. Many of us engaged in the arts, heritage, local ecology groups and local tourism have been signing petitions, lobbying for the future of this area, as towering 60m high overground pylons have been proposed to cross this valley (and other equally scenic parts of Ireland). It was quite interesting to connect with older artists from the area about this too as we are arguing that this infrastructure be placed underground in sensitive areas.
Coincidentally, the value of the arts to highlight our unique local identity was brought home to me several times in the last few weeks too. I’m friendly with members of the Barrow Valley painters group (established in 1973) and was delighted recently to attend an opening of their new work, with the ‘Barrow River’ as the theme for this year. It is on for a few more days at VisualCarlow.ie. What made the opening a real delight was the work of course and a very interesting introductory talk. It was not a speech nor did it refer directly to any of the paintings although they were part of the ‘conversation’, but it was the sharing of rich memories from a local man who knew the Barrow River as it flowed through Carlow town in the 1950s. Before TV and other distractions, the River Barrow was one of the town’s most important economic and social features (and its pleasing to see how this area in recent years is being attended to again). The River Barrow was used as a canal for the transport of goods and a social meeting place for swimming, boating, picnics and there were some delightful anecdotes of what some of the Barrow Valley painters were up to back then etc. Carlow and Ireland in general are still a long way from thinking about nature rights, rights for rivers and their riverbeds, which I have discussed on this site previously, but its great to see a groundswell of support to protect our local area.
Then a friend and neighbour, Michelle Byrne, was showing me her new stone sculpture for Carlow town last week, which will be officially unveiled this week. Michelle, like my husband, has only taken up stone sculpture in the last few years but her work is fascinating. All the details of her ‘stone map’ are accurate so the sculpture will be a permanent ‘image’ of Carlow town and its River from 2013, to its future citizens. Michelle is a member of the 9 Stones Artists group that I am a member of – there is such a rich variety of creative work that reflects on so many aspects of life in this relatively small but beautiful Irish county.