March to the Beat – Parading on Saint Patrick’s Day
By Michele Horrigan
Stories of Saint Patrick’s time around Limerick are many. Establishing holy wells in the region, he heard about a pagan witch who lived in Carrigogunnell Castle nearby. Reputably, she regularly placed a lit candle in a window there. Anyone who glimpsed this flame would instantly die. Before long, Patrick was on a mission of redemption. His eventual intervention, converting the witch to Christianity, meant the liberation of all such fears, and the candle was eternally extinguished. A low point of his time in the region occurred when his donkey was allegedly stolen near a river crossing at Abbeyfeale, thus preventing his passage to the west into Kerry. Instead, he stood up on a hill, now known as Knockpatrick, and blessed everything off in the distance before heading back east on a busy schedule of pagan conversion.
In recent years, and based on the same ground as Patrick’s whitewashing of Pagan Ireland, a “contemporary art intervention” has been part of the annual March celebrations of the national saint– in reality, and outside of the implied artspeak, it is a representation of just another part of the community alongside everyone else. Clubs and societies such as the Pioneers, girl scouts, resident groups, boxing club and GAA, with activities such as the emergency services, Irish traditional music and dancing and hunting hounds all rub shoulders with the local tractor repair man, vintage cars and a loud brass band. For anyone who hasn’t been to a rural town on March 17, its worth mentioning that virtually anyone can turn up and join in, there is no pre-registration, and is far removed from the strict admission policies seen in parades in cities.
The Askeaton parade has run for the last thirty-nine years. It’s normally an easy sell to an artist – its format guarantees an audience of between a thousand to twelve hundred people for whatever they conjure up, and they might even win a prize for their entry. There will also be a big party in the town afterwards.
In 2014, Jeronimo Hagerman presented Mirrormen, with a group of artists and Askeaton inhabitants donning reflective acrylic panels and walking in formation, complete with a choreographed dance in front of the parade’s viewing stand. Leading up the to the parade, Hagerman posted research images on our website contextualising the work – everything from Mexican streetscapes to Chaplin films featured, and his wearable sculpture reflected parade onlookers’ own image back at that them, thus including them in the procession that day.
The next year, Susan MacWilliam’s entry celebrated the Limerick meteorite fall of 1813, an incident she encountered when on residence here some months before. Dressed in glitzy costumes designed and made by the artist, a large group made their way through the town equipped with a wide variety of sculptures evoking the formal grammar of the space age. Titled IC ITE OID, a wonderful pun on the various linguistic manifestations of a galactic phenomena, MacWilliam’s project also interweaved characteristics of her audio installation placed in the local Franciscan Friary the previous summer, where she incorporated elements of Aldous Huxley’s seminal 1954 novel The Doors of Perception - our press release read, “expect a psychedelic cosmic sensation on the streets of Askeaton”.
In 2016 Askeaton welcomed aiPotu (that’s utopia backwards with a capital P), the collaborative work of Norwegian artists Anders Kjellesvik and Andreas Siqueland. Their sculptures and performances often involve absurd and surreal interventions and so their project, Potatoman and Death, featured invented characters that played out a drama weaving in and out of the parade, and ending with a ceremonial burial ritual involving the planting of potatoes in a field at the back of the local supermarket. A small brass plaque installed at the recycling centre nearby now alludes to these actions, placed there in the spirit of their wanderings.
An extended version of this text features in 2016’s Paper Visual Art Journal.
Jeronimo Hagerman's Mirrormen
Susan MacWilliam's IC ITE OID
aiPotu's Potatoman and Death