Hidden Histories

Hidden Histories is an exhibition of 11 invited artists with a connection to Tipperary, to produce work in response to ideas and interpretations around the discovery of a horse’s skull and what it means, which was found in the foundations of The Old School in Drangan county Tipperary, which is now an artefact concealed in the history museum in Clonmel.

Before I talk about the four paintings I produced for the exhibition, I will tell you a little about my connection with Tipperary and escentially delve back into my chiodhood years.

I grew up in a small community just outside the town of Nenagh called Rathmartin, in Tyone to be more specific. In the summers I would spend a lot of my school holidays at my auntie and uncles in Rosegreen just outside the town of Clonmel. We would often venture into Clonmel or to the small village in Rosegreen for treats on Sundays, it was a big deal as a child!

Other memories I have of living in Tipperary are of the small town halls I would be brought to where first aid classes were given by my father during the winter midweek evenings, to groups of people who were members of the Civil Defence. I often played the role of ‘casualty’ to demonstrate on with bandaging mock-up broken arms or legs etc. The classes were always carried out in town and village halls which would span from Cloughjordan, Thurles and Nenagh to name a few.

During my early childhood school plays that I used to love being a part of, in my old primary school in Kilruane, the school plays took place just a few meters up the road at the local hall of Kilruane otherwise known as The Floating Ballroom. I distinctly remember the echoing sounds in this big empty hall on rehearsal days and how the atmosphere completely changed on the nerve wrecking performance nights. Making work for this exhibition has taken me back to these places and in a way you could call it my own hidden history and so here is why.

My work is in response to research I carried out on the horse skull that was unearthed in the foundations of ‘Old School’ building in Drangan, Co. Tipperary during renovations. It fascinated me to realise that the skull was purposefully buried and was a ritual carried out dating back through to the eighteen hundreds. The idea of a horse’s head being buried in the foundations of buildings in past history was almost an absurd thought to me but also a very interesting one on learning why.

Horse Skulls, Archiology

The work I produced for the theme ‘Hidden History’ focuses on one and perhaps the most probable theory, where horse skulls were buried in the floors to help the acoustics in function halls and in churches for example, where they were often buried near alters to help the voice of the preacher to sound better over the rest.

I was drawn to the idea that the acoustics in a house or a hall of people at parties were heightened as a result of the buried horse heads. I immediately imagined a celebratory atmosphere of dancing shadows from a time long passed and I could imagine the echoing sounds of talking and laughter, over rhythmic sounds of feet moving and gliding across the floors with music echoing through.

Here’s a quick pencil study of a horses skull I did to familiarise myself not so much with the detail but to spend time as such, studying the features and shapes of the horse skull and to get a sense for it really.

Horse Skull Study

I listened to music while producing this work as I always do when painting and the music I chose was uplifted energetic sounds to suit the vision I had in my mind at the time. In the work I wanted to create a sense of dance, movement, flight and float in a bright atmospheric surrounding where colour plays a significant part.

Here are the works that came from it all.

The exhibition runs from July 3rd to August 27th 2022 in the Narrow Space Gallery, Clonmel, County Tipperary.

Published by Derval Freeman

Graduate of Limerick School of Art and Design 1996 Fine art painter and photographer

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