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‘Troubling Ireland’ was developed by Danish curatorial collective, Kuratorisk Aktion, who were commissioned by the Fire Station Artists’ Studios in Dublin to frame and convene a think tank for artists, writers and curators in Ireland. The aim of the think tank was to provide a critical, aesthetic and discursive platform for socially engaged arts practitioners in which received notions of Irish identity, history and politics would be probed and unraveled. ‘Troubling Ireland’ also asked participants to detect, destabilise, un-think and potentially transform notions of ‘Ireland’ and its relationship to capitalism and the global world order. Artists Augustine O’Donoghue was chosen as one of the participating artists.

Over the course of a year, five meetings were held in sites of social and political significance, north and south of the border: Dublin, Manorhamilton (Co. Leitrim), Belfast and Limerick. In each location, different problematics were engaged: British plantation economy and class relations; Ireland’s colonisation and division; the Celtic Tiger boom and bust; and possible paths to a more convivial and equitable future. These meetings comprised presentations, readings, screenings, walks, lectures and discussions, and concluded with a collective decision to launch a ‘Troubling Ireland Campaign’, beginning with a public poster campaign and website and concluding with an exhibition.

The poster campaign presented seven posters, mounted around Dublin city centre and related sites, as well as Leitrim Sculpture Centre, Manorhamilton. Each poster was an initial response from the think tank participants to the concept of ‘Troubling Ireland’, ultimately inviting viewers to also partake in the act of ‘troubling’. The poster campaign was accompanied by a website, which in addition to presenting the ideas behind each poster and their producers, included a reflection on the think tank process by cultural geographer, Bryonie Reid. To coincide with this poster campaign, the think tank organised a Public Hearing in Liberty Hall, Dublin, where the audience was invited to discuss the think tank’s aims with its participants. The campaign ended with an exhibition in Limerick City Gallery of Art called ‘Upending’, in which participants exhibited work arising from sustained individual engagements with the theme.

Strength in Community – Poster Campaign

Augustine O’Donoghue’s photograph, titled Strength in Community, was selected from ‘The Social Archive’ – the artist’s ongoing archive, documenting various social movements in Ireland since 2002. The archive was initially developed as a personal attempt to record the many voices of dissent and ideas not represented in Irish society throughout the Celtic Tiger period. The initiation of the archive shares a similar timeframe to the resistance of a small rural community in the West of Ireland, to an infrastructural project they perceived as a threat to their community, health and environment. The Corrib gas dispute centred on a community’s resistance to the development of a natural gas project in Rossport, County Mayo. It put them in direct conflict to the Irish government’s agenda for economic development and became one of the longest running civil disputes in modern Irish history.

The image shows the phrase, ‘Strength in Community’, painted onto the roof of a cottage in Ballinaboy, Rossport, by a campaigner opposed to the Corrib gas project. In the trees behind the cottage lies the site where a consortium of global players in the international oil and gas industry, led by Royal Dutch Shell, were building a gas refinery and a high-pressure experimental pipeline through the community. This project was both supported and facilitated by the Irish government.

The model of development pursued by the Irish Government throughout the Celtic Tiger was widely acclaimed and seen as an indication of the country’s success, in benefiting from the opportunities offered by globalisation. It was held up as an example for many other countries. The model was guided by many false assumptions concerning economic growth, taxation, services and infrastructure. This resulted in a policy direction based on neoliberal values, in which the government promoted economic growth over local democracy, environmental protection and social development. The dominant public discourse of this period embraced this agenda. Critical readings of the economic boom were marginalised, resulting in the emergence of a very narrow debate. Throughout this time, a small number of communities such as Rossport opposed what they felt was the negative impact of such growth and development. They expressed their opposition through collectively mobilising and resisting, in order to highlight their opposition. Their opposition, which was often marginalised and criminalised, succeeded in bringing the community’s concerns to the national and international stage. They exposed and highlighted the destructive impact of the development on their community and the scandalous giveaway of our natural resources to multinational companies.

In post-boom Ireland, as Irish taxpayers pour billions of euros into propping up sinking banks and failed systems, the campaign raised many ideological questions on issues of power, the role of civil society, and our understanding of what progress and development really mean. The power and strength of community to ‘trouble’, defy and challenge will define all our futures…. Let the fight continue.

Exhibition “Upending ”in Limerick city Gallery as part of the Troubling Ireland Think Tank Program

A Taste of Real Ireland consisted of a display of Troubling Ireland rock candy sticks in Limerick City gallery. The display was set up to resemble exhibition stall at an expo. The rock candy sticks were similar to those sold at tourist locations in Ireland, the centre of the rock sticks had the words Troubling Ireland embedded through the length of the candy stick. Wrapped around the inside of rock was text produced by a cross section of people in Irish society that responded in different ways to troubling aspects in Irish society. These included responses from economists, academics, feminists, writers, factory workers, community group, writers, architects, trade unionists, unemployed workers etc.

The rock sticks were available for gallery goers to take away. The candy sticks were also distributed at tourist locations around Ireland at political events and conferences and educational Institutes and directly to the public on the streets around Ireland . The Waterford Crystal workers used it as part of their pension entitlements campaign, they had created text for inside one of the candy sticks. They distributed them on the streets of Waterford and distributed them as “Christmas presents ”to politicians in Waterford City.  The Debt and Development coalition distributed them at their 20th anniversary conference in Ballyhea and Chararville and at talks in schools and colleges.