Project Arts Centre has invited a number of artists, curators, and social activists, with a lived experience of intersectional discrimination, to discuss their practice and share ambitious and provocative new work, encouraging crucial dialogue around the impact of social and economic inequality. In this tenth installment, Al Bellamy shares their interest in Irish folklore through a neurodivergent lens.
Al Bellamy is a neurodivergent, working-class director based in Dublin, with a love for horror and reimagining folklore. They are passionate about accessibility, specifically looking at making space for the neurodiverse within the process of art-making. They recently completed the X-Pollinator Elevator programme and in January 2022 they were selected to be part of the Short Cuts programme with Project Arts Centre.
“Folklore and storytelling are some of the oldest forms of art, allowing us to examine all aspects of the human experience through familiar narrative structures. Folklore gives us a ‘plot’ through which to safely contextualize our values, culture, and ethics. The listener is afforded the space to place themselves in the lead role and to explore that position emotionally.
Inspired by the rich Irish story-telling tradition, I’m interested in how these narratives can be reimagined to encourage equality and speak to the voices that are historically left out. I also want to source new material to create work that is uniquely Irish, and socially responsible. As a neurodivergent artist, I am consistently seeking out other disabled and neurodivergent artists. I want to connect with others and change the way art is made and experienced, in favour of a more accessible and equitable landscape.
The Lady of Gollerus, by Thomas Crofton Croker, is a story that I have told many times when working as a storyteller. The story follows one Dick Fitzgerald, who discovers a merrow (mermaid) combing her hair upon the rock of Ard na Caithne and decides to steal her cochailín draíochta (magic cap) preventing her from returning to the ocean. The merrow expresses fear of Fitzgerald when he states his intent to marry her. Fitzgerald carries the merrow to a church against her will and they are married once he offers the priest financial compensation. The merrow bears Fitzgerald children. After a term, Fitzgerald leaves on a trip, and the merrow discovers her hidden cochailín draíochta and, with it in hand, returns to the sea and to her family.
I began by writing the merrow’s side of the story, centering her emotions and her voice. Her experiences are sense-based and disconnected due to their traumatic nature, and draw from my own experiences of trauma and isolation. Despite the many strong female characters within Irish folklore, there are very few fables that divert from the male perspective in any consequential way. In my version of The Merrow, the Fitzgerald figure does not appear at all but is represented through her voice, as an ever-present predator.
Ultimately, I’m interested in how we construct and devise Folklore in 2022, as I believe this work has so much potential to create space for ethical discourse, outside the restrictions of modern living. We are now creating the fairytales of the future, our 21st-century folklore, and we must ensure that it stands firmly for empathy and equity.” – Al Bellamy
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