28 July 2008

Viewfinder, a sited poem in the Barracks, Cootehall

VIEWFINDER (a sited poem by Alice Lyons, visible July 24th to September 20th)

A poem in a shed beside the Barracks, Cootehall, County Roscommon.

A trick on the old and new Cootehalls (involving mirrors).

"Poems are hard to read " (William Meredith)

If you are travelling the N4 between Dublin and Sligo, take the turning for Cootehall (between Carrick and Boyle). Follow the road for 3 kilometers and cross the bridge over the River Boyle.
The Barracks is in the village, beside the bridge and next to the arch of Coote's Bawn. The poem is outside, and no one needs to open the building for you.

Viewfinder is part of AFTER, a series of public art interventions which address the unprecedented effects of Ireland's recent economic boom on the rural landscape. Facilitated by a TRADE international artist in residence program, five artists living in Leitrim and Roscommon (Carol Ann Connolly, Gareth Kennedy, Alice Lyons, Anna MacLeod and Christine Mackey) worked for a year with New-York based artist Alfredo Jaar (www.alfredojaar.net). The events in AFTER are the results of this residency. To see the other events and schedule, go to www.AFTER.ie.--this site is just going live this week. AFTER is funded by the arts offices of Leitrim and Roscommon county councils and The Arts Council/An Chomhaire EalaĆ­on.

AFTER will be officially launched by Alfredo Jaar on September 6, 2008 (2-5 pm) at The Dock, Carrick-on-Shannon.


That's the press for the project. Can you read the poem as it is in the photographs above? I don't think so.I am so familiar with it that I can't tell if it's readable on the first go or not.I'll type out the poem below, at the end of this post. Anyhow, the Barracks in Cootehall is where writer John McGahern spent a good part of his childhood, and it features, poignantly, in Memoir as the place to where he and his sisters were removed while their mother lay dying in their childhood home in Aughawillan, County Leitrim. The Barracks is now a part-time station for An Garda Siochana in Boyle. Once or twice a week a Garda is stationed in the Barracks--it's been ten years since anyone has lived there full time; the last Guard to be there in residence with his family was Frank Daly, R.I.P.

The poem that I've written and installed in the shed refers to John McGahern's short story "Korea." In that concentrated tale, a young man is in a shed beside the Barracks and overhears his father chatting with a neighbour about the possible financial remuneration to an Irish family whose son has been killed in the Korean war in the service of the American army. Earlier in the story, the young man had been perplexed by his father's uncharacteristically generous offer to help his son emigrate to America. After what he overhears, he puts two and two together, and the effect of the story is sickening; a kick in the gut when one realizes the awful greed of the father.

Fast forward fifty years or so: Cootehall is now a village overrun with holiday homes which remain largely unsold and empty. (Not to mention that they are, for the most part, aesthetically inappropriate to the character of a rural Irish village.) The developers are in danger of bankruptcy, if not already insolvent. The Barracks now appears on estate agent brochures as one of the features of the charming, historic village--with no sense of irony. An old farmer put it most succinctly to me the day he called to me from his tractor (with a wave of the hand toward the empty housing estates): "Ye have Cootehall destroyed!" It's a crying shame, and it all happened so fast that we (ye), the people of the village, were powerless to do anything before it was all too late. And there WAS a will to oppose the rapid developments as was evidenced by a petition that went around and was signed by a majority of village residents; it was just too late and too dissolute to be effective.

So this is what we are left with after the goldrush of the last ten years. The people of the village are coming to accept the changes--for what else can they do? The village development committee labours on to improve the look of the village, to hold the developers (and Roscommon County Council as the enforcement agency) to task to properly finish the developments and to repair the damage to the roads and fields adjacent to the new estates. The houses will eventually sell and be lived in by people whom we will come to call our neighbours, and Cootehall will adjust. How could it not?

But it is true that for a time we lost the run of ourselves, and we missed an opportunity to develop our village in a thoughtful, constructive, imaginative way, a way that might have included more of the interests and concerns of the local people and not solely those of speculative developers, capital investors, and banks--though these groups are not mutually exclusive. And so it remains to be seen--how will these new, large and pricey estates shape the place about
which David Thomson in Woodbrook wrote: "Despite the beauty of the river, the bawn and the pub, no stranger could easily believe that this sad village is to me one of the most romantic places in the world"?


In the shed beside the Barracks
in the shade of it, damp and February cool I feel
I am standing in a camera
The shed walls frame a picture
of the river and across it
sunlit luxury bungalows
all lined up to face The View

Here where a boy squatted
overheard the father's plot
(This was in "Korea")
to sell his son downriver


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