Official address by Minister for Education
Official address by Minister for Education, Norma Foley T.D, at the official opening of Mise, le Meas on Thursday 16 February 2023
A dhaoine uaisle,
I am honoured, beyond measure, to join you all for the official opening of this unique visual media exhibition which, as you are aware, is based on original documents and accounts from people directly involved and impacted by the Civil War in Kerry. This thought -provoking exhibition is an integral part of the upcoming conference on the Civil War which takes place here in Siamsa next weekend. I cannot think of a better or indeed more appropriate, precursor to the conference than this insightful and impressive exhibition.
I am reminded of the observation of the actress, humanitarian and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Audrey Hepburn: “People, even more than things, have to be renewed, restored, and reclaimed. Never throw anyone out.” I think these words beautifully capture the very heart of what this exhibition seeks to achieve. Especially mindful of the importance of never throwing anyone out, brought to life here in this exhibition are the voices, the stories, the lived experiences of Kerry people in a time of Civil War.
As a county we are indebted to the hands and hearts of our very talented students who have ensured that those of the Civil War in Kerry are once again remembered, reclaimed and reborn into the 21st Century.
I am conscious of the many months of research and preparation undertaken by the students resulting in both large format and small-scale exhibition works, in both printed and digital format, all based on the lives of local and known individuals. Real stories about real people.
What makes Mise, le Meas particularly poignant for so many of us in Kerry is the manner in which it cultivates and curates the historical experiences of local people, acknowledging what was, for them, the most traumatic and challenging of times. Included are well-known local figures such as Stephen Fuller, the sole survivor of the Ballyseedy Massacre and Private Joseph O’Brien, who was seriously injured in the trip-mine explosion at Knocknagoshel.
There is also a particular emphasis on the inclusion of women and their experience of the Civil War. I am especially pleased to see this. The writer Virginia Wolff once remarked “for most of history, anonymous was a woman”. This wonderful exhibition seeks to right this wrong, correct this injustice and restore balance to the narrative.
And so the stories of Cumann na mBan members, Elizabeth Dunne, Sally Sheehy and Mollie O’Shea to name but a few are explored, with a graphic novel format illustrating the story of the Power sisters from Tralee. This creative format promises to be of enormous interest to a wide audience and of particular interest, I am sure, to local schools.
Although it is the older generation who may have a more emotional connection to the events surrounding the Civil War in Kerry, it is through the collaboration of students of MTU and Kerry College that artefacts of our history and past have been restored and brought to life and now made available to the next generation through this project.
The Civil War holds a complex yet pivotal place in Irish history and through artistic endeavours like Mise, le Meas, a community’s legacy is reinvigorated as a new generation takes on the mantle to preserve, to properly engage and understand Kerry’s key role in the formation of our state.
Through unique and personal visual explorations, this exhibition seeks to recapture and indeed re-positon Kerry’s role in the Irish Civil War. It presents archive material and the accounts of those affected by the conflict in an accessible, inclusive and innovative way. It emphasises the importance and the richness of the material held in the country’s archives, particularly in the Military Services Pensions Collection in the Military Archives.
Importantly, this exhibition has allowed young students to connect with their history in a tangible way by focusing on individuals and their families. It truly offers us a refreshing way of looking at the conflict and its many nuances. In short, it affords us all the opportunity to experience and relive the challenges that became part of daily life in Kerry in the 1920s.
On a personal note, let me say how very taken I am by the title of the exhibition, Mise, le Meas (Yours, with respect). With honour, respect and gratitude this exhibition brings to life the trials and traumas of the Civil War in Kerry. I am reminded of the famous Blasket Island author, Tomás Ó Criomhthain, who, in his autobiography An tOileánach/The Islandman, wrote: “Go mbeadh a fhios i mo dhiaidh conas mar a bhí an saol le mo linn agus na comharsain a bhí suas liom mo linn” (That my life and that of my community will be known long after us).
For their commitment and endeavour in realising the vision of Tomás Ó Criomhthain , I would like to pay a heartfelt tribute to the students in Animation, Visual Effects and Motion Design at the MTU, alongside students of the Digital Design and Visual Communication Programme in Kerry College for collectively ensuring the life lived by those in Kerry during the Civil War is once again remembered, revived and indeed reclaimed.
With talent, tenacity and truthfulness these students have preserved for today, tomorrow and always the voices, stories and lived experiences of the people of Kerry in a time of Civil War.
Go raibh maith agaibh go léir.
Minister for Education, Norma Foley T.D