Mary Shannon: Irish Names Quilt, 2019
Produced and edited by Gavin Woodruff / The National Museum of Ireland
Courtesy of The National Museum of Ireland
The Irish Names Project was created in honour and remembrance of those who died in Ireland from AIDS and HIV-related illnesses. Quilts made by the project were inspired by the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, founded in San Francisco in June 1987 by the gay rights activist Cleve Jones.
The Irish Names Project was initiated in 1990 by Mary Shannon (1947-2020), a leading member of the Quilt Group, which is one of the longest running community groups in Dublin. The workshop gathered on Tuesdays, often working late into the night with friends and families. Building a community in this way created a space to share personal stories and grief over loved ones lost to HIV/AIDS within a climate of stigmatisation and secrecy. The community was seminal in educating people about HIV/AIDS and safe sex.
A single quilt is divided into eight panels, with each panel dedicated either to an individual or a group of persons, and decorated with stitched-in personal fragments and memorabilia. At annual memorial services families and friends would hand over their own panel in order that it be included in a quilt. Each panel measures 6’x 3’ (183 x 92cm), the size of an average grave.
The first tour of the All-Ireland Names Quilt was launched on 13 January 1991 in the Mansion House in Dublin. Traveling to Cork, Limerick, Galway and Belfast, the tour exhibited 15 quilts, of which two were Irish, with others originating from the USA and Britain.
There currently exist more than 20 quilts, with most of them on perpetual loan to the National Museum of Ireland (NMI). Here, the late custodian Mary Shannon and her partner Christy Shannon were in conversation with art and LGBTQIAP+ historian and NMI registrar Judith Finlay who, together with Kate Drianane, founded the LGBTQIAP+ History Network in 2019.
In the framework of Active Archive–Slow Institution: Queer-in-Progress Timeline, we had the honour to present one of the first quilts, which included the very first panel dedicated to Joe Carthy who died of an AIDS related illness on 17 January in 1990, aged only 29. Carthy’s patch was stitched by friends who were assisted by Mary Shannon’s children. The quilt includes panels for several individuals identified by their first names (Philip, Brian, Grace), as well as a panel representing the lost citizens of Limerick City. The Irish Names Quilt was launched as part of the 35th Cork Film Festival in October 1990.
 Information on the making of this panel and Joe Carthy sourced from conversation with Mary Shannon in early March 2020, and in Gisele Eugenia O’Connell’s Cultural and Political Geographies of the AIDS Crisis in Ireland, M.Litt (Master of Literature), Maynooth University Department of Geography, February, 2017. http://mural.maynoothuniversity.ie
Photo: Ros Kavanagh
Image courtesy: Project Arts Centre, Dublin