A visual artist has photographed harvest thanksgivings in parishes around West Cork, as well as documenting one farmer’s experience from ploughing, through to the final cutting of sheaves
THE year-round work of a busy farmer has been captured in a documentary which is part of an exciting new exhibition.
Artist Debbie Godsell worked with mixed farmer Richard Wood from Inniscarra for her exhibition with explores the meaning of custom through the lens of the Church of Ireland tradition of the harvest thanksgiving.
It’s a custom that has been taking place among the Church of Ireland community since 1899, and it sees congregations come together to decorate their church with produce to celebrate the end of the harvest season.
Debbie documented from when Richard started ploughing his land in February, growing his oats and barley, working on his combine harvesters, to finally cutting sheaves to take to his local church for the harvest thanksgiving. Richard, of West Cork descent, has been marking the tradition all his life.
As well as being part of the exhibition in Cork Printmakers in Cork city, the documentary will now also be part of the National Folklore Exhibition in UCD where it will be seen by generations to come. In fact that’s where Debbie got the idea to embark on the unique project first day.
Living in Macroom for the past 20 years, she is very interested in narratives around the land. That interest brought her to the national folklore collection based in UCD archive, specifically its schools collection.
That comprises around 740,000 pages of folklore and local tradition compiled by pupils from 5,000 primary schools in the Irish Free State between 1937 and 1939.
‘They also have a great podcast and I heard an author called Deirdre Nuttall speaking about Church of Ireland folk history, which would be my own background. In particular she spoke about the fond memories that people had around the harvest thanksgiving, and how it was a tradition unique to the Church of Ireland.
‘I didn’t know that, even though I would have been at them as a child. But I just thought it was a tradition that everyone did,’ said Debbie.
‘It would have been very big in West Cork and as the national archive had no actual photographic record of the harvest thanksgiving, I decided I wanted to document it, more as a ritual to do with land and not in the religious sense, so that in 100 years’ time if someone goes looking for it, it will be there.’
Richard said he enjoyed being part of Debbie’s project, and their many discussions about growing crops, and much more. ‘Harvest Thanksgivings in September and October have always been an important part of the life of the Church of Ireland and still are, with people gathered in churches decorated with fruits and crops from the land to give thanks to God the Creator. I’m delighted the tradition is being documented,’ he said. There was also a huge archival aspect to Debbie’s project, which saw her make contact with clergy in the West Cork parishes.
‘I managed to photograph the thanksgiving in 14 parishes from September to the end of October, including Skibbereen, Clonakilty, Timoleague, Bandon, Drinagh, Baltimore, Caheragh and Ballydehob. I documented the decorated churches rather than the service itself, as I felt that may be a private thing,’ she said.
These images are part of a slideshow in the exhibition called ‘Flail’ at Cork Printmakers studio gallery on Wandesford Quay in Cork city.
Debbie, who also teaches art, said that she really enjoyed meeting up with people throughout West Cork as part of the project.
‘People were so generous with their time, and sharing their stories, and I’d like to keep that up and develop that side of things,’ she said.
‘This iteration, encompassing video, digital and textile works, will inform and expand further work and is generously supported by an Arts Council visual arts bursary and a Cork County arts office creative arts bursary,’ she said.
• Flail will run at Cork Printmakers at Wandesford Quay, Cork city, until April 6th, 10am-5pm, Monday to Friday, by appointment. Viewings on Saturdays by special arrangement.
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