Seeing Ireland

How do you or I see Ireland?

The impulse to be a historian can stem from a fascination with existing narratives. It can also stem from a desire to explore the possibility of creating a new narrative.

In the past, it was suggested to me to reprint my first book. Instead, I felt a desire to rewrite it. Later, I judged that the desire was really to write a book on a broader theme, encompassing the first and a lot more. Thus far, I have not pursued any of the three options. So, I necessarily wonder: what picture have I had in mind?

You see, even creating a narrative involves a degree of visualisation. No picture, no text. This historical imagination may not be an artistic imagination, yet perhaps the two are not worlds apart either.

If the historical imagination seeks a complete picture, the artistic often seeks a composite picture, of either the great or the small, yet how its parts blend, if indeed they do, is a matter of interpretation.

A century ago, there was an effort to promote the idea that a recognisably Irish school of art existed. A notable exhibition promoted the idea, although even the (French) art critic who wrote the introduction to the exhibition catalogue was not sure how an Irish school of art could be defined, if indeed it existed at all.

Incredibly, if you are curious what exhibition he saw while he was pondering this very question, it is now possible to see the exhibition yourself!

In a remarkable feat, an art historian has teamed up with a design technology firm and Trinity College Dublin to create a virtual exhibition of the same works as were displayed for the Irish exhibition in Paris during February 1922. Some are familiar. Some are not.

To be able to see all the exhibits is a privilege hitherto denied and is certainly most fascinating. For example, if you haven’t seen Constance Markievicz’s imaginary Celtic “Amazonian” women before, now you can, if you investigate fully the exhibits on this remarkable site: Seeing Ireland.

There are features to this site to show various other aspects of the 1922 Irish race congress in Paris. Its creation of a virtual art exhibition, however, is its crowning achievement. Even if it is still a work in progress, in my honest opinion, it probably deserves an award as a digital humanities project.

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