Event looks to lift confidence on Skellig coast hit by emigration

Muinín, or confidence, is the theme of an international conference taking place on the Skellig coast this week.

A LightTipi art installation, the work of Cheryl L'Hirondelle of the Cree indigenous people, marks the start of Muinín. Pic: Madeleine Weber
A LightTipi art installation, the work of Cheryl L'Hirondelle of the Cree indigenous people, marks the start of Muinín. Pic: Madeleine Weber

Around 40 students are present for the international SMARTlab PhD conference, having come to Caherciveen, Co Kerry, from countries such as South Korea, Uganda, and Turkey, but also including four students based in the local area.

The conference has been organised with the support of NAISC, the Skellig Coast Diaspora Network.

Education and learning have always been respected and encouraged in the region, and the local community has warmly embraced the seminar which is based in Caherciveen library.

June O’Connell, chair of the diaspora network, believes such events “can lift muinín in a region that has been decimated by emigration”.

Usually, doctoral research students are based within institutions, but the practice-led approach allows people continue with business, trade, and family, and stay within the locality.

“We lost so many young people, we can’t afford to lose those who want to stay here,” says Ms O’Connell.

Marine biologist Lucy Hunt, from Waterville, who set up a company called Sea Synergy, is one of the students taking part.

“It’s an amazing and unique opportunity as it allows me to continue to live, work, and study at home in south-west Kerry, a place I love,” she said.

“I established a marine awareness centre in 2014, Sea Synergy, in my home place of Waterville.

“This PhD will now give me the platform, knowledge, and skills to raise awareness of how the marine environment can contribute to the wellbeing of our community.”

Professor Lizbeth Goodman, of UCD and founder of SMARTlab, said: “SMARTlab and the UCD Inclusive Design Research Centre of Ireland are delighted to return to Kerry for the sixth time in five years and to be bringing the plan for a vibrant research hub and creative technology innovation centre to fruition in Cahirciveen.

“Our practice-based interdisciplinary Thematic PhD has graduated over 40 successful PhDs to date, from five universities over 25 years.

“We currently supervise 24 PhDs, four of whom are local experts from south Kerry and we have a highly qualified cohort of additional PhD applicants from the region as well.

“We are setting up a research and training centre for Virtual Reality and Creative Tech, including a Makerspace and community technology hub for use by locals and visitors to the area alike.”

Prof Goodman said: “We are also setting up visiting student and staff exchange programmes with top universities from the SMARTlab network worldwide, and hope that the arrival of new groups of experts in both scholarship and community engagement will add to the already diverse and exciting opportunities here in the Skellig region.

“We are hugely grateful to the community here for the years of invitation and welcome, for support and encouragement, and for inspiration.”

A special ceremony took place within the walls of Caher Gael ring fort, near Caherciveen, to mark the opening of the conference.

The LightTipi art installation is the work of artist and PhD candidate Cheryl L’Hirondelle, of the Cree indigenous peoples of North America. The artist recreated a traditional Cree tipi with high-resolution torches and used sage smoke to highlight the beams and shape of the tipi.

Each of the poles that would hold up a tipi represents a core value of the community. June O’Connell said the symbolism has many similarities to the values that have been holding up communities on the Skellig coast for generations.

“The 15 poles/light beams were held by people in the community — from Kells to Castlecove — who have been minding the essence of our own place for many years, and we’re very grateful for their ‘heavy lifting’,” she said.

The conference concludes today.



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