Video and sound installation at Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin.

In his first issue of The Nation newspaper in 1842, Thomas Davis called on artists to rectify the absence of artworks reflecting the Irish perspective. Irish artists of the period did not paint their history because of a perception that such artworks would not be acceptable to the establishment. For the group exhibition, ‘Dearadh: Visionaries of 1791 to 1803’ at Kilmainham Gaol in 2003, artists were invited to respond to Davis’s provocation and to re-examine this period in history (1791-1803). Augustine O’Donoghue’s work for the exhibition took as the starting point Irish Republican, Robert Emmet’s famous speech from the dock, when he asked that his epitaph not be written until Ireland took its place among the nations of the earth.

O’Donoghue’s installation, Not Yet Emmet, asks this question of contemporary Ireland and looked to current politics for an answer, with the response reflected in the artwork title. The installation consisted of three videos and a sound work. The first video focused on the idea of democracy in Ireland and dealt with the decision of the Irish government to allow Shannon Airport to be used by the US military to refuel planes and to transport troops and equipment to the Middle East during the Iraq War. This decision appeared to be against the wishes of the vast majority of people in Ireland, and the issue dominated Irish politics at the time of the exhibition. The video showed a demonstration that took place outside the gates of Dáil Éireann, in an attempt to force the government to listen to the public. Gardai wearing riot gear without identification numbers arrived on the scene and proceeded to remove protesters. The video also features speeches made at the end of the demonstration, which made references to democracy and civil liberties.

The second video looked at a more localised issue. It is often said that that we can judge ourselves by looking at how we treat the most venerable in our society. This video focused on a demonstration which took place outside the offices of Sean Arda TD, against cuts in funding for Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital in Crumlin. The demonstration was organised by local people and parents of children who attended the hospital, following the tragic death of a child when her surgery was postponed, due to a lack of intensive care nursing staff. The conversation between the TD and the people not only focused on the hospital cuts, but on the wider issues of inequality in Irish society during the Celtic Tiger era.

The third video focused on Irish citizenship. At the time, Ireland had seen a huge increase in the number of immigrants, many of whom came because the Irish government had issued visas or work authorisations, or because, as EU nationals, they were entitled to work here without prior permission. Others came to Ireland as refugees or asylums seekers, which brought many changes and challenges to Irish society and Irish identity, as we became a more multicultural society. This video shows a demonstration organised by residents against racism outside the gates of Dáil Éireann. The demonstration was organised in response to a Supreme Court judgement not to grant residency to non-Irish born parents of Irish children, which may result in Irish citizens being forced to leave the country with their parents on deportation orders. The location of the installation was poignant, as the work had a direct relationship with the history of Kilmainham Gaol – once used as a holding bay for many thousands of Irish people who emigrated to destinations around the world. In the official guided tour of the gaol, the huge contribution that Irish immigrants made to their respective new countries is both acknowledged and celebrated.

The audio piece for the installation consisted of assorted sounds – including songs, music, chants and the banging of pots and pans – recorded at various marches, demonstrations and gatherings in Ireland and across Europe, many containing lyrics and chants referring to revolution. The sound piece was installed outside, over the doorway of Kilmainham Gaol, where public executions used to take place. Historically, crowds would gather outside the jail to witness these executions; writers and poets would compose songs about the person who was about to be executed and sell them to the crowd.