The Western Ways exhibition at the North Mayo Heritage Centre allows us to revisit moments from the Mayo past in photographs taken by Helen Hooker and Ernie O’Malley in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Organised with the collaboration of Mayo County Library and Cormac O’Malley, it runs from 25th June – 27th August 2017. It is free of charge to the public and is a unique and special event, not to be missed.
Photography possesses a touch of magic in that it allows an image taken by a photographer years ago to retain for us today all the freshness and vitality that the artist perceived originally in that scene. Yet we see it years later when we live in quite a different world, where sometimes the subject matter of the photograph no longer exists or has been forgotten.
The photographs of County Mayo included in the Western Ways exhibition are such special and magic images. As the 1930s gave way to the 1940s, they were taken by Helen Hooker, an American sculptor and photographer, and by her husband, Castlebar-born Ernie O’Malley, who was a notable military leader in the Irish struggle for independence after 1916.
The scenes which they captured are country scenes, mostly from South Mayo, while some show life on the Mayo coast. We wonder what these two photographers must have seen as they travelled around South Mayo. Did they find it special? Why did they want to document and capture it?
They chose to photograph scenes that must have been very ordinary, of countryside, and of life and events in a community, which had a simple organisation. In Western Ways we see moments where people come together for religion or for leisure, moments in which people are accompanied by animals or are at work with crops, and occasions in which there is a meeting and melding of generations, where old people, young people and young adults stand side by side.
The Western Ways photographs are stunning and poignant. Through the eyes of an American photographer or of an onlooker from the year 2017, these images of everyday life look very beautiful. As one responds to the photograph of the Regatta at Clare Island, for example, one is wonder-struck by something in the traditions and ordinary ways of doing things.
These little pieces of civilization, when looked back upon from this different vantage point, and visually, seem to contain an uncanny beauty. The ordinary rituals depicted in Western Ways seem to occupy a space all of their own, with their own shape, dignity and symmetry.
The skill and appreciation of beauty of the photographers is also evident in how they have captured a glance or a posture, or adopted a certain vantage point. We see something of what they were looking for and of how they looked.
The Western Ways exhibition is special. It is full of magic for the photographs it displays, and as regards the circumstances of its making. It is really not to be missed.
Contact: The North Mayo Heritage Centre, Enniscoe, Castlehill, Ballina.
00353 (0)96 31809
About the North Mayo Heritage Centre
One of the most special things to do in Crossmolina, the North Mayo Heritage Centre aims to preserve and promote the precious heritage of the North Mayo region. It is located on the grounds of Enniscoe House and gardens, close to Crossmolina, and a short distance from beautiful Nephin Mountain.
The Heritage Centre is home to a museum and a Family History Centre (it provides genealogical research for parishes in the northern part of Mayo). There are three charming gardens and a looped walk. The Organic Garden is a jewel of the Centre.
There is a rich catalogue of exhibitions for 2017, which are unmissable cultural experiences. They provide an opportunity to understand our heritage and ourselves, local and visitor alike, in a greater roundness.