Silent Witness

Photo credit: C W Borthwick

This installation began out of a long-standing desire to make a piece of artwork about a phenomenon in Irish History called the coffin ships. When I was about 9 yrs old I did a school project on this and my imagination was captivated and unleashed with images of ghostly vessels and haunted spirits sailing on the seas into eternity.

As an adult I am aware of people fleeing as refugees from a variety of constraining contexts. They, like the Irish people who emigrated in the 1830s, seek only a better chance at surviving and reaching some degree of achievement in life. This piece is a memorial or tribute to that desire…… but mainly it’s a communion with those who lose their lives in the process.

In about 1999 I began collecting Aran jumpers and have amassed quite a number of these. As signifiers of identity - I have embossed these onto the coffin boat surfaces. The Aran islander (families) off the west coast of Ireland, are said, to have had their own individual patterns, so that when bodies were lost at sea - eventually they could be identified.

For me a coffin has always had a visual relationship to a boat or a ship and in the context of this installation I have used it with that metaphor in mind. 

The autographic figurative images, which I developed for the piece, are resting on the surface of the coffins intentionally unsecured. 
The central motif of the piece, where the individuals face inward towards the beautiful but treacherous blue water; represents that moment where they all sense that they are doomed. 

Their means of communication is blocked hence- they will never be able to tell their story.

Initially exhibited in 2005, ‘Sculpture from Many different Angles’ curated by Andrea Tierney. at the Jersey Galleries, Osterley House, Osterley park,, London UK

ref: article on Wikipedia re aran sweater clan patterns


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