The Heart of the Celtic Arts Too

storyJason McCarthy

Growing up in Drogheda, Co. Louth, Ireland, Jason McCarthy fell in love with photography as a teenager.

“My art teacher handed me a book of black and white photography, and its deep and gritty nature had a profound effect on me. I found it so compelling that I decided I would get involved in photography. The reason I shoot is the same today; I still love black and white portraits – there is something timeless about them.”

Though his calling hasn’t changed, McCarthy’s creative process has.

“In the past my work relied entirely on inspiration, but I learned that hard work and perseverance is the only way to get better at my craft.

“Inspiration is always the initial thing that gets me motivated to work, but without commitment and determination I would never finish anything.”

A good photograph, he shares, provokes emotion and carries an atmosphere.

“It’s not so much about excellent technique. Some of the most compelling shots are the ones that were taken with no thought of technique, but captured something special. Without artistic vision, shots can be technically perfect but quite monotonous.

“That said, a singular photo without any context is easily achievable by anyone. There is no hard work or sacrifice needed. Having a bigger body of work that is cohesive is what distinguishes the best photographers. The process of forming a wider body involves much thought and sacrifice, and will be sure to leave a more lasting impression. “

McCarthy’s latest book project is called Surface. It is a year-long effort to document his home town of Drogheda through portraits and landscape.

“I’ve been here for three decades now, and it’s the last place I want to be at times. The project is an exercise in overcoming this feeling of dissatisfaction, and digging deeper to see beyond the ‘surface’ level of things. It’s very much an exercise in determination, as I am aiming to take around a thousand portraits in total.

“When you’re in a place long enough, things get overly familiar and you start to take them for granted, and even get negative about what you see. Through the portraits -which will be the predominant force of the book – I want to present a positive theme of community that recognizes and highlights the everyday people of my home town.”

He notes that the once predominantly Celtic landscape of Drogheda has evolved over time.

“There is so much ethnic diversity, which did not exist when I was in school. I want to celebrate that through my pictures and bring about an awareness that I feel this generation is losing. It’s easy to lose sight of the profound depth of the everyday person and the everyday experience.”

Sophie Darley

Born to French parents of Irish descent – her father is from Lorient, Brittany, and her mother is from Paris – painter Sophie Darley has spent a lifetime trying to capture and convey the Celtic spirit of Bretagne’s people.

“The goal of my work is to uncover the essence of the modern Breton; someone who is cheerful, cheeky, feels good about themselves, and who loves their life and their environment. Actually, I think almost everybody can identify with my characters. A good painting is a reflection of the soul.”

Since first exhibiting her work a little more than five years ago, Darley has caught the attention of the region’s arts community for her colourful and playful paintings.

“I can’t stop working with my hands, and I have learned to work with a lot of different materials and techniques, including clay, metal, wood, resin… I guess I am just curious about everything in art.

“This is a wonderful place to be a creative person.”

“There are, and there always will be, great artists in Brittany in all disciplines. I may have my own little universe on the go with my work, but meeting people and having them share their world with me is very inspiring and important to my process.”

Modern technology has enabled her to do what was impossible just a few years ago.

“I use Photoshop all the time to manipulate photos that eventually become paintings. As well, I have made my website a virtual gallery, and social media networks have allowed me to have my work seen and known easily and quickly to large numbers of people.”

Carmen Hunt

Cornish dancer Carmen Hunt understands the importance on having an online presence also; she attracts an array of adults and young people to her workshops via the World Wide Web.

Hunt teaches three different types of Cornish dance; social, set and step.

Social dances are popular at feasts and special occasions. These include the “furry” dance – a processional dance which winds its way from one part of town to the other.

Set dances are similar to some Irish set dances and Scottish long-ways set dances, while step dances showcase solo dancers or sets of dancers in the same tradition as Scottish sword or pipe dances.

“Many Cornish dances are associated with a particular place, or with the farming, mining and fishing industries. I think this adds to the distinctiveness of this style of Celtic dance.”

A self-professed ‘choreologist’, Hunt is most interested in classic and contemporary cross-cultural collaborations between Irish, Scottish, Breton, Manx, and Cornish styles of dance.

“I love the music and rhythms, the similarities and distinctiveness, and the ‘feel good’ factor.”

Efforts to keep Celtic culture alive in Cornwall, she says, are paying off.

“St Piran’s Day is typically when you see young people become interested and get involved. In Perranporth, for example, a few hundred school-children join the annual procession, gathering with their parents and grandparents for singing and dancing. Also, when there are Cornish street musicians you will likely find young people joining in with the simple Cornish social dances. More recently, the annual celebration of Cornish Culture in London – Kernow in the City – brings younger generations together to celebrate our heritage.”

Una O’ Boyle

Growing up in West Belfast during the Troubles wasn’t easy. The peace and prosperity of recent years has brought opportunity to Northern Ireland silversmith Una Boyle, however.

“I have been in business for over two decades, and Banshee Silver has evolved from this in the last few years. With growing optimism in Belfast, and with the birth of my son, I decided to go back to college to study silversmithing. I experienced an overwhelming burst of creativity and ideas which have manifested themselves in my own particular take on jewelry design.”

”My work is inspired by my love of Celtic mythology, and our unique landscape and history.”

O’Boyle’s core products include pendants, earrings, rings and bracelets.

“While my own designs are very much inspired by Celtic Ireland, they reflect a more contemporary look. I design every piece of jewelry myself after immersing myself in a subject – ancient Irish legends, or after visiting the megalithic sites of Ireland. Every piece of jewelry has its own story, and I also design for clients if they have an idea or particular story themselves. My motto is “Deanta le croí agus anam!” – made with heart and soul.”

She believes it’s time to infuse some new energy into Celtic culture

”People are getting a bit tired and jaded of the “same old, same old” Celtic look. Ireland itself has moved on a lot since I was a kid, and I think that Celtic culture must reflect this in newer, bolder, contemporary designs and artwork. I think this also galvanizes an interest among the younger generation too. After all, they are the future.”

“I hope and believe that future generations will also value their rich and vibrant heritage,” agrees Jen Delyth. “Celtic culture has always been intertwined with the arts, and it will be for years to come. It is a living, breathing culture, and one whose blood flows to and from the hearts of people all over the world. Indeed, we are everywhere…”