“If the Ground Should Open” at the IMMA


Another journey over the Irish Sea to spend a week working in Ireland. I caught the fast ferry from Holyhead that would get me over to Dublin for 2 o’clock and planned to drive out a short distance for a walk along the coast. But after a rough crossing I arrived to heavy rain showers with bursts of sunshine so decided to change tack and instead drove over to the Irish Museum of Modern Art.


It wasn’t so long ago since I last visited the IMMA and one of the main exhibitions of works from their collection was still running. The exhibition in the other wing had finished and the next one hadn’t been installed. Two small exhibitions, The Plough and other stars curated by Kate Strain and Historica – Republican Aesthetics curated by Sumesh Sharma, had recently opened. I had a look around and although there were some pieces of interest they didn’t particularly “rock my boat” (mind you I’d had enough of rocking boats a few hours earlier!)

The third new exhibition was on the ground floor in the Courtyard galleries (a series of four interconnected rooms).

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Described as a “new video and sound installation” I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. It was created by Jakki Irvine, an Irish born artist and

Her works in film and video, whether in single-screen format or in more complex multi-screen installations, weave together enticing, though ultimately elusive narratives in which image, voice-over and musical score variously overlap, coalesce and diverge.  (Source here)

Although there are some video art works that I have found I liked, in general I’m not a big fan of them. Too often they’re not done well. But that was certainly not the case in this instance.

It’s difficult to describe the work but I’ll try.


In each of the four rooms there were two “boom box” video screens. Music or spoken words were coming from the speakers with accompanying images of musicians playing their instruments, singing or speaking with occasional text. The sound playing and images showing from each “boom box” were different but were all part of a musical piece. It was as if there were 8 musicians spread out across the room. But the viewer/listener, rather than taking this in from a fixed position, could move around the galleries leading to different perspectives of the music and visuals.


There were 11 songs in all, played sequentially. They were inspired by the story of two working class women Elizabeth O’Farrell (a midwife) and Julia Grenan (a furrier and dressmaker), “lifelong companions” who were participants in the Easter rising along with more than a hundred other women who performed key roles as couriers, delivering dispatches and ammunition, and nursing the wounded. The majority of them have been ignored by history. Yet Elizabeth performed a significant role at the end of the Rising, delivering Padraig Pearse’s surrender to General William Lowe on Moore Street under gun fire. She stood beside Pearse as he capitulated in person to General Lowe.

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The songs are performed by 9 musicians – all women – and reference aspects of the Rising counterpoised with references to meltdown of the “Irish Tiger” economy, in particular, the collapse of the Anglo Irish Bank.

The eleven tracks were composed by Irvine using the canntaireachd system – originally developed as an oral scoring system for Scottish Highland pipes. The basic musical motif in classical piping (piobaireachd) is called ‘the ground’ of the piece, which is then built upon with additional notes and melodies. In If the Ground Should Open… the names of women involved in the 1916 Rising, form the ground. In this way they are performed and remembered, becoming part of the ground we walk on in 2016.  The project was also developed from the leaked Anglo-Irish bankers taped conversations. (IMMA website)

and Jakki Irvine tells us

“the legacy of 1916 is reconsidered in the light of a contemporary Ireland broken by corporate greed. Both the past and the present are reflected through a lens that is complicated, joyful, furious and hopeful”.

I found the work very moving and inspiring, and enjoyed picking up different aspects of the songs as I moved around the galleries.

Unfortunately there are no recordings of the work available – but there will be a live performance in the Chapel at the IMMA in December. I’d love to see this, but won’t be in Dublin. However the exhibition is on until January and as I’m likely to be over in Ireland again before then, and would like to see the Lucien Freud exhibition that opens there at the end of October, there’s a good chance that I’ll revisit.


There’s a recording of the introductory talk by Jakki Irvine on the IMMA Soundcloud channel and an interview with Jakki who talks about Elizabeth O’Farrell, Julia Grenan and the other women who participated in the Easter Rising in the Irish Independent.

The performers are – Vocals Louise Phelan, Cats Irvine, Cherry Smyth, Bagpipes Hilary Knox, Piano Izumi Kimura, Violin Liz McClaren, Cello Jane Hughes, Doublebass Aura Stone, Drums Sarah Grimes.


4 thoughts on ““If the Ground Should Open” at the IMMA

  1. I’m trying to imagine what this experience would have been like. I’m not a musician, but I would guess that musically, this would be very challenging to accomplish well. Sounds interesting!

    • It was very interesting.
      Imagine going to a concert by a chamber group of musicians and singers spread out in a big room and you could wander between them as they played. That’s my best description of what it felt like

  2. Pingback: Dublin GPO – Witness Revolution | Down by the Dougie

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