This little video connects Petals of Hope, with Seeds of Hope-Remembering Forward and invites the listener to consider doing something that leads them to remember forward. Thank you for taking time to watch it.
One of the groups that I have had the pleasure of working with recently is the Omagh Community Youth Choir. The choir was set up by Daryl Simpson within three or four weeks after the bomb in 1998. This was just about the same time that I first met John McKinney, Chief Executive and Frank Sweeney, Culture and Arts Manager, both from Omagh District Council and we developed the idea for Petals of Hope, Rays of Light. Since then, I had heard the choir at some of the key anniversary services but never had the chance to meet or work with them until now. This, has been a pleasure.
During my Masters, one of my lecturers, Melinda Ashley Meyer endorsed creative collaborations when working in the Expressive Arts (EXA), particularly in the context of Conflict Transformation and Peacebuilding. As creatives from different disciplines work together, new ideas are incubated and this leads to opportunities that would otherwise lie untapped. This advice resonated with the planning for creative process associated with the 20th anniversary.
When I had previously returned to work in Omagh with Malachi O'Doherty after the fifteenth anniversary, there was a strong sense that the community still needed to be soothed. Keeping this in mind for the 20th anniversary, a choir of this musical strength and vitality holds an important role as they sing back into their own community.
So, when it came to the recent arts workshops, I was keen to facilitate a different approach with the choir than with other groups. As their Haikus suggest, we walked in the workshop space, merged together and apart as we sang, improvised with our voices and then wrote within the boundaries of 5,7,5 syllables. The Haikus provided inspiration for the visual art-making.
We were inspired by the words from the titles of the large pictures in Petals of Hope, “...believe that a further shore is reachable from here”. Seamus Heaney wrote a verse from the Cure of Troy, in the book of condolence in Bellagy Bawn not long after the bomb. When asked by Council, he kindly gave permission for these lines to be used as the title for the three large art pieces.
The first time I met the choir, I was very conscious that these current singers are made up of young people who were not born at the time of the bomb yet none of them are strangers to the effects from that awful day in their history. I could see traces of some of their parents in their faces and family names were familiar from my earliest involvement in the community. These young people live in a different world and have much potential.
Their visual art also influenced the shape and direction of the display in the library. Here are some of the 50+ Haikus written by the members of Omagh Community Youth Choir...
Water flows among
The mystery becomes known
Unity will grow
Stuck for too long now
Believe, strive for greater things
With one good, one song
Sandcastles from shores.
Building a tower of hope
for us to live in.
When brought onto earth,
Equilibrium in all,
Don’t panic and sink
Sail again, another route
Water knows no bounds
A stone throw away,
lies a still serenity
that song can take us to
Flowers are blooming
and people are singing
We are in Omagh
The display of “tags and bags” is complete and open to the public in Omagh Library Headquarters from now until the 11th August. Visual artwork and Haikus have been made by children, young people and adults from the communities in Omagh and Buncrana. Some made collages while others painted together and made tags from their collective artwork. These “tags and bags” will be distributed during the week of the 20th anniversary of the Omagh bomb, August 2018.
The bags carry wild flower seeds. Once scattered into the earth, in time, they should catch root and grow into a covering of different textured and colourful flowers. The tags, will be gifted as keepsakes for the sower.
Since February, in ten workshops, over 150 people made almost 100 tags and wrote over 50 Haikus. This work forms a display which is part of the 20th anniversary commemorations taking place in the Tyrone town in the next couple of weeks. These workshops are a follow on form the initial creative response, Petals of Hope, Rays of Light which occurred almost twenty years ago. At that time, 150+ people came together and made paper from the carpet of colourful, delicate flowers carefully laid on the streets of Omagh by hundreds of compassionate onlookers.
Many of those who recently came together to make art will not forget the fateful day of 15th, August 1998, while others, were not born at that time. All who took part in the workshops caught sight of the theme and process associated with remembering forward and remembering differently. Their intention was to relax control, by shaking out seeds into the future.
Participating groups included Omagh Support & Self Help Group, WAVE Trauma Centre, Omagh Academy School and Gibson Primary School. Other volunteers met in Omagh Library Headquarters. Members of Omagh Community Youth Choir also made art and wrote Haikus which are displayed alongside the visual artwork. They will be singing a new song composed by Choir Musical Director Daryl Simpson, at an anniversary service on the 12th, August in the town.
A big thank you to all who have participated in making art and contributing their pieces. Thank you also to the staff at Omagh Library Headquarters, for their continued support, assistance and allowing this creative response to be included in their premises.
Funding towards the workshops has been provided by the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade. Their support is greatly appreciated.
Two final art-making workshops are being held in Omagh Library Headquarters on the 27th, July, 9.30am-12.30pm & 1.30pm - 4.30pm. We will meet in the conference room. You don't need to be an artist to take part. Just come as you are...
These workshops are a continuation on from Petals of Hope, Rays of Light which took place in 1998. At that time, 150+ people came together and made paper from the carpet of colourful, delicate flowers carefully laid on the streets of Omagh by hundreds of compassionate onlookers. This is a special creative response beyond the face of horror, spanning time and gently echoing into the future. All of the art has been made by the community in response to what has been going on around them. Their fingerprints are all over the work and it belongs to them.
Visual art tags and bags of wild flower seeds are being made and have been added to the installation which has started to grow in the conference room in the library. This, like any peace work, is a "work in progress". It will conclude on the 27th after the second workshop and can be seen by the public up to the 12th August.
I am grateful to the Library staff, Ann Duffy and Julie Gibson, for their continued support and assistance in including this creative response in their premises.
If you would like to know more or would like to register, please contact Julie Gibson on t: 028 8244 0733 |v: 6420 4004 |e: or contact me directly on email@example.com.
Funding towards the workshops has been provided by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Thank you for your support.
Since February, I have been back in Omagh facilitating Expressive Art-making workshops. People have come together in a range of locations and they have caught sight of the theme and process associated with not forgetting but remembering forward... relaxing control and shaking out seeds into the future.
Groups have met in the WAVE Trauma centre, Omagh Library Head Quarters, the Omagh Support and Self Help Group, Omagh Academy School, Gibson Primary School. I have also spent a little more time with the Omagh Community Youth Choir who will be singing new and familiar pieces at the service on the 12th August in the town. A big thank you to all who have come to the sessions and contributed their art pieces to the installation.
The art workshops are being designed with the participants in mind. Each workshops is different, as they use a range of art forms towards a similar collective outcome.
Two more sessions are being hosted by Omagh Library Headquarters on the 27th July. We will meet in the conference room. This room and I go back a long time, as it's walls held the original artwork from the Petals of Hope, Rays of Light exhibition in March 1999 and the Remembering: Petals of Hope book launch in March 2014. Now, they will frame the creation of more artwork and show the finished pieces in the next few weeks. I am grateful to the Library staff, Ann Duffy and Julie Gibson, for their continued support and assistance in including this creative response in their premises.
If you would like to know more or are interested in attending the workshops, please contact Julie Gibson on t: 028 8244 0733 |v: 6420 4004 |e: or reach me via this website.
Funding towards the workshops is greatly appreciated and has been provided by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Over recent months, I have returned to Omagh to facilitate further art-making workshops in the local community. These sessions have already started and are taking place in the lead up to the 20th anniversary of the atrocity which lead to the initial phase of Petals of Hope (described in the facilitation section of this website).
During the following weeks, I hope to add information to this news session of my website to show a little of the wider art-making process, together with a snippet of my personal experience of working as an Expressive Arts Facilitator at this significant time. For now, here is an initial press release which was kindly written by journalist and writer, Malachi O'Doherty (who came back to Omagh with me just after the fifteenth anniversary).
20th Anniversary of the bomb in Omagh
Plans have been announced to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Omagh bomb.
Public events will begin with the annual service held in the Memorial Garden at 3pm on Sunday 12th August 2018.
This inter-denominational service will be accompanied by the Omagh Community Youth Choir and will include a song especially composed for this service by Choir Musical Director, Daryl Simpson. Local singer Leslie Matthews and St. Eugene’s Band will also provide musical interludes.
Michael Gallagher whose son Aiden (21) was killed in the bomb felt ‘it is a significant milestone for the community and those deeply affected. Communal prayer and solidarity is impotant not just for the victims and survivors of Omagh, but as an expression of cohesion in a world that unfortunately is infused with violent extremism’.
A reflective event will then take place on Wednesday, 15th August, at 2.55pm, at the bottom of Market Street. This occasion will mark the significant moments of the atrocity through creative approaches, quietness and a bell toll.
These events are being organised by a group of organisations, including Omagh Support & Self Help Group, Families Moving On and the Omagh Churches' Forum. They have been brought together in conjunction with Fermanagh and Omagh District Council.
This working group has also been provided with joint Artistic Direction by Carole Kane (Expressive Arts) and Daryl Simpson (Music).
Ms Kane said, “While it is important to not forget the horrific events of the 15th August 1998, the 20th anniversary marks opportunities for the community, so that they might remember differently, remember forward and more privately in the future.”
She says that on the week of this anniversary, the communities of Omagh and the surrounding villages are invited to gather together to remember those affected by this terrible atrocity. This invitation also extends to the wider public, especially people prompted by compassion, who sent flowers, wrote letters, and attended funerals 20 years ago.
In the run up to this event Carole Kane will facilitate public art workshops, culminating in Visual art tokens made by the local community, which will then be distributed on the day.
Throughout the anniversary week in August, quiet spaces for reflection will be open in a range of locations across the town. These will include several of the churches represented in the Omagh Churches Forum, the WAVE Trauma Centre and the Bomb Archive in the Library Headquarters which are all open to the public. People are welcome to visit these venues, if they chose to.
It is also recognised that this year will mark an end of an annual public commemoration.
Further information on events will be made available on a FaceBook events page, called ‘Omagh, 20 anniversary’.
Acknowledgements and special public thanks are made to the Victims and Survivors Service, Dept of Foreign affairs, Fermanagh and Omagh District Council and the generous public for their contributions towards these events.
I can't believe that it is seven months have past since I graduated from my Masters programme. The European Graduate School (EGS) has equipped me in realising the nuances of the Expressive Arts framework and how it clearly (in my opinion and practice) brings transformation to conflicts towards building peace. The exam period in June was like no other...only in EGS can students feel held, comforted, edified and nourished through the rigger of their "exam-initiation". For that experience as well as the support of the faculty who were present, I will always be grateful. I also appreciate the honours which was cited to me by the faculty of the school for my work.
I left bringing with me a tangible sense of the strength of the mountains and the support of those who have stood alongside me in this study journey (they know who they are). The mountains surround Saas-Fee rise like an open hand, cherishing, protecting and they still gave room for my growth and discovery in this adventure. This sense is what I bring to the field, wherever that might lead.
Eamonn Mallie starts his piece by “imagining”. As an artist, I do that too, “imagine”. What would things in the Northern Ireland current political landscape look like if they were different? What if alternative words and actions were used to bring another narrative? If we could stop the frame, as if in Forum Theatre, experiment with a different “take”, and another, and another (take 3…) until we found the “take” that feels just right. The one that holds dignity and grace beside courage and strength, that takes responsibility for the wrongs that we’ve all done. It envisages a farther shore beyond a predictable past that we should have learnt from rather than repeat in a different format.
What if the intention of the narrative was to go easy on ourselves and each other, because sure, have we not gone through enough? I feel as ashamed now as I did growing up with a backdrop of violence yet I still believe, believe in the farther shore.
Eammon quotes The Cure of Troy, by Seamus Heaney which I’ve been thinking about for a long time, since 1998 to be exact, when I was allowed to use these words following the Omagh bomb, in days when we realised that that kind of pain was no longer acceptable.
So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
And cures and healing wells.
The lines from the poem float in my head, continuing to create images and even more so, over these past few days as I’ve listened to voices in authority from all sides, hurling insults and blame like frenzied fistfuls of messy mud. One thing I learnt from working alongside those who have been hurt in the past, is that the deep, dark root of that level of pain, began at some point with harsh words. It doesn't have to be that way. There is a far side to revenge beyond the troughs of murk.
I feared that this beautiful verse had become a cliche until Mr Mallie used it in his piece. Then it dawned on me, that if that was the case, its familiarity would influence our actions and integrate our behaviour, enacting them as another “take”, even just to see what they felt like. This is the script. Imagine if these words set the scene or the agenda for today and tomorrows final talks to try to resolve the complex issues on the table? What if this kind of reconciliation was acted out in the chamber and applied to intentional grit to find resolution instead of another election? I may be a dreamer but let me imagine that…
At the end of October, there was a second gathering of the “Wisdom Pool”, which has been brought together by John Paul Lederach and Humanity United. We met in San Francisco last year and this year’s gathering took place in Upaya Zen Center, Santa Fe, where Roshi Joan Halifax hosted us for a few days. Peacebuilders from six continents and one island met to explore key questions in the light of our theory and practice.
We continued along the threads of discussion which began last year: loosely, how as peacebuilders, we can be more effective in the field? There was also the intention of narrowing the themes towards some kind next steps. This was another extremely rich, vibrant and inspiring time of conversation, paper making and walking.
I had the pleasure of leading the group in a paper making workshop, where we played in basins of paper pulp, water, flowers and petals, trying to sensitively yet firmly, make order out of chaos. In fact, we each made beauty from chaos and later considered how the process might have something to tell us in the wider context of building peace.
We also took a trip to the Tsankawi section of Bandelier National Monument, where we took a walk along the mesa, viewing cavates, petroglyphs and the Ancestral Pueblo village of Tsankawi. The trail finished up by overlooking Los Almamos, which is a very different place to the outstanding natural beauty of the walk before.
Conversations continue from this experience and gathering, as the words overflow in our hearts and thoughts. I am grateful for this experience and being included in this collection of people whose practice has much to inform the field.
A series of reflections on the story of Advent in visual art, words, audio, silence and moving image. Found in a calendar and online collection. I have created this and would like to share it with others who might be interested in the Christmas story.
I'm excited about this self-published venture and curious to see what happens with it.
To purchase or order your copy/ies, go to the Advent Life-Light of this website.
I coordinate the Landmarks Project for Community Arts Partnership (CAP). I was also the facilitating artist who worked at Carryduff Playcare Centre where we made collages based on Superheros in the group.
Further information (including a short film) about our work can be found on:
Further information about the full Landmarks Project for 2015-2016 can also be found on:
During the autumn and winter of 2015/16, another opportunity came up in my capacity of project co-ordinator and facilitating artist for Community Arts Partnership (CAP). This one was at the request of Belfast City Council and was a creative public consultation for a Public Art/Memorial in Belfast City Cemetery. The focus was the Baby Public Plot, Z1. I knew from first hearing that it would be a highly sensitive piece of work but that made it all the more attractive.
The remains of 7893 bodies, mostly babies, were buried within a plot in the City Cemetery, which is now known as the Baby Public Plot, mainly during the period between 1945-1996. The stories for each vary as much as their names and it is undeniable that all names have been known by at least their mothers.
The facts around these circumstances are difficult to comprehend and make this a truly harsh story which took place relatively recently. The little ones would have been stillborn or died having survived for a short period. Between 70-20 years ago, it was usual practice for hospitals and social services to “take responsibility” for their burials. Testimonies make it clear that mothers, parents, families did not get the opportunity to hold the little ones or their loss as their babies were literally taken from the mothers when they were born, sick or expected to die a short time later. The infants were never seen again despite anguished requests. The mothers were told to go home, “get over it” and “forget about their baby” which of course, is impossible. Families weren’t informed about the graves or had the change to contribute towards or attend the burials. It was usual that they didn’t know where, when or if the babies had been buried.
Reasons for the adults being buried in the plot would have been quite different to the babies but they could already be forgotten and that their lives have so far, gone unmarked.
The Council has records for all who are buried within this plot, which are hand written in journals and kept in a safe. No individual owns specific graves and therefore there are no visible exclusive headstones or memorials to serve as a touchstone.
Over the last few months, I have organised, delivered and overseen the creative public consultation for CAP, which so far has proven to be a precious and fascinating experience. We have gathered words, flowers, made paper and by using the Expressive Arts, we have found individual and collective voice about a situation which was often covered up.
The consultation report has been given to Belfast City Council and we await the next steps but further details about the project are seen on the link on the CAP website:
In the search for an image for my business card, I arrived with the following images..
In the search for an image for my business card, I arrived with the following images..
"Keepsake narratives by Travellers"...book of stories which I collated.
Not wanting to settle for the norm, the anticipated questions or rehearsed answers in the workshops with this group of Travellers, I used the Expressive Arts to set a scene for narration to evolve.
We painted, moved, used various forms of interpretation and had some fun. From this, common threads of themes emerged, prompting inquiry and discovery. “Listening” is important in storytelling.
Echoing the importance of the theme around “keepsakes”, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the parting words spoken or final messages are in actual fact, some of the most precious and these arrived towards the end of the workshops.
Also, the plan was always for us to launch the book as part of the Belfast International Arts Festival. I was also struck by the parallel of similar themes which were reflected in some of the programmed events and how close they were to my conversations with the Travelling community. Due to the Corners project at Festival, I was prompted to ask questions related to travelling, movement and observing travellers and this linked to some fascinating stories and comments from the ladies, allowing a weaving of inspiration.
Travelling is so important. It is necessary for all of us and it is good for us to do it as much as we can. The alternative is stagnation which becomes unhealthy, dull and indeed, poisonous.
I am grateful for having had time to work with the ladies from the Travelling community and through An Monia Tober. I am also grateful to Israel Hontavilla and Belfast City Council for supporting this work. Without your support, these stories would not have been gathered and this book would not be launched but most importantly, the voices of this group of Travellers would not be heard. As an artist, I am grateful for having the opportunity to show how an alternative approach has enabled us to unlock and delve into the richness of expression and creativity.
Please read and invite others to share our book and the link on the site. The messages in these keepsakes are being given away to be shared generously.
The book can be downloaded from this link:
Here is a follow up to Petals of Hope & Remembering: "Petals of Hope”: Artwork, made in response to the bomb in Omagh in 1998 and follow up fifteen years later, in 2013.
Two years ago, I was invited by John Paul Lederach and Scott Appleby to meet with a group of people for some significant conversations, based on the themes around the nexus of compassion, spirituality and creativity in trauma and peacebuilding. We felt that the conversations and case studies between this collective of artists, poets, musicians, writers, contemplatives and neuroscientists might interest others, so we gathered and made them into a format, so that we could share them. This work was made possible by the support of the Fetzer Institute http://fetzer.org
I’d like to invite you to visit our website to listen and watch the stories which explain how our practice addresses these themes. Both phases of the "Petals of Hope" experience are included.
Link to site:
Please feel free to forward this link to others who might be interested in the stories.
Don’t try to work it out.
There are layers that are seen
and many more which are unseen.
Layers beside each other,
under, on top of.
Narratives which hold the past
and unaware of the future.
Stay on the surface
as the new shades emerge,
the new way becomes clear.
Spicy colours beside coolness.
There’s room on the canvas
for all to exist and
borrow their own place,
for the canvas keeps changing.
Trust the process.
Watch as it takes it’s place.
Hold your corner as if it were a tent peg.
Stretch the space.
Hold it open.
I am the reeds in the river,
the blades of running depth.
Grass tips like swords
stretching beyond sight
into the air of clean blue
without end, before reflection
with roots unseen.
I am the reeds who sway
as breezes blow through lengths.
Water swirls, leaps,
spirals cooling in ebbs and lifts.
I am the repeated patterns
of different water,
lifting and lowering.
Steady, yet moving,
movement around me.