Photography > Messengers of Yesterday

This project explores the legacy of Ireland’s 1845-1851 famine, also known as An Gorta Mór (The Great Hunger) and the perpetual migration narrative that has shaped Ireland’s identity since that great catastrophe.

This work began as a journey into my family archive as well as a journey to Ireland-- and is an attempt to understand my Irish American identity in the midst of that trauma. This work seeks to validate the cultural memory of a community, explores the lineage of colonization, and examines a legacy of dislocation.

Photographs of my ancestors, evictions, engravings from the London Illustrated times and quotes taken from the“1937 Schools’ Folklore Scheme,” commissioned by the Irish Folklore commission have been transferred to transparencies and re-photographed in the contemporary Irish landscape. Often photographs are created in diptychs or triptychs using quotes from the archive (with permission). The quotes give privilege to folk memory and those who attempt to remember this great trauma in Irish history and the Illustrations from the London Illustrated Times (published between 1845-52) demonstrate the significant changes to the land since then.

While it is an unrealistic scenario, by taking images of my ancestors back to their native country, I symbolically complete the circle of their migration pattern. I am the first in five generations to return to Ireland. This work explores the gap between what is and what could have been; it is a search for a universal home.

This project begins with the question, “What would Ireland be like today without its great history of migration?” One cannot possibly know with any certainty, of course, but my goal is to explore how the death and migration of millions from Ireland can be translated artistically. As a child, my own family’s narrative was one of dislocation, due to lost homes, expulsion from rental properties and disrupted family dynamics. This prompted a nostalgic longing for a vague Irish heritage. This early life experience, combined with stories of ancestors being forced to leave Ireland, drew me to the Famine as a topic. Ultimately, I am attempting to convey loss while also exploring the redemptive and beautiful qualities of the Irish landscape, within an autobiographical and historical structure.

Paupers Quay- Kilrush Ireland-Illustrated London News 1849