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A reflection on ‘Ships Passing in Night’

Co Author:
James Ó hAodha

As lead artist for the community engagement project Ships Passing In the Night, part of ‘Dublin’s Culture Connects’, I had the special privilege of getting to know two unique community groups based in Dublin’s South-East. Welcomed into their spaces and activities, I was shown aspects of the city previously unseen to me, and shared in the bringing together of these two groups, who though very differing in nature, had a great deal in common.

I was able to spend time with brilliant young members of the Sikh community, and their families, in their homes and at the Dublin Gurdwara – the Sikh temple. This was a very new, and heart-warming encounter with a unique culture and faith I had yet to learn so much about. I was also able to join the 4th Port Dodder Cub Scouts, who opened up their hall and their weekly sessions to the project, and brought a buoyant energy and curiosity to every stage of it.

Tying together themes of light and connection, between people, and to the sea – Ships Passing In the Night took maritime signalling tradition as its starting point. Reach, across distances, and beaconing through darkness, became the first tools and the focal point of engagement. The project also drew heavily on the presence of Poolbeg lighthouse as both a practical and symbolic landmark relevant to Sandymount, Ringsend and Irishtown.


From September through January, I travelled to Dublin on a weekly basis, hosting a series of workshops with the two groups, working at first separately and then together at key points towards the project’s completion. Through these workshops, beginning with an introduction to International Morse code, we covered a great deal of ground together, learning to create messages and eventually signal them to each other in light and sound with improvised Morse keys.

From the two groups’ exciting first meeting at the Gurdwara in Sandymount, through the weeks that followed, the project developed towards the creation of a moving image piece, drawing inspiration from the children’s illuminating visits to the Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane, explorations of collaborative scene-making and photography, and the creation of a custom lighting-rig made to mimic the rhythmic effect of a lighthouse’s pass. The workshops culminated in an intense day of shooting and collaborative group work at the Scout Hall, using darkness and light as a medium, and building on ideas gathered in previous weeks.

The finished video work, seen above, is a series of glimpses – into an engagement between communities. Bringing together fleeting portraits, group scenes created with and directed by the children, and half-caught messages sent between them – the piece is tied together and punctuated by the image of a lighthouse, the sweeping motion of its light revealing and temporarily holding these images of togetherness and connection.

This project could not have happened without the time, enthusiasm, and dedication of all the children who took part, the parents, scout leaders, community leaders at Gurdwara Guru Nanak Darbar, project manager Cleo Fagan, Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane, and Pembroke Library.

A short documentary by Jenny Brady following the project can be seen HERE

By James Ó hAodha

Ships Passing In The Night is a community engagement project led by artist James Ó hAodha, that ran from September ‘16 through January ‘17 in South-East Dublin as part of Dublin’s Culture Connects: The National Neighbourhood. The resulting video work was screened at the Hugh Lane Gallery throughout March this year and continues on long term exhibit at Pembroke Library.

Dublin’s Culture Connects aims to connect Dubliners to their city through culture and conversation. We develop activities and events that bring communities together, and to life: all based on people’s stories, wishes and experiences. It’s all about making and taking part in culture.
One of our programmes is The National Neighbourhood. We want every neighbourhood to know and ‘own’ their city’s cultural resources, so we connect artists, groups and villages with libraries, museums and creative places – including our National Cultural Institutions – to make cultural events in their communities.



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