As Irish people our relationship with the land is deeply embedded in our culture and history. The idea of it as a preserver of the past connecting us with our ancestors is one aspect of this complex relationship that inspired artist Ciarán Taylor’s latest work. Known for his site-specific and interactive projects, Taylor’s ‘Rock to the Top’ is engaging the local community to collectively reenact the feat of the mythical hero Oisín, son of Finn McCool, who once lifted a giant boulder that 300 men were struggling to move.
This display of super-human strength is said to have taken place in Glenasmole in the Dublin mountains, not far from where the monthly Rock to the Top expeditions set out at Rua Red in Tallaght. Participants are each given pieces of a boulder to carry to the top of the Dublin mountains where they are being assembled into a Cairn. It’s long-term project that Taylor and his volunteers have been labouring over for the past year. With the goal to have the Cairn completed in June, Taylor is rallying people to get involved in its final stages.
Rock to the Top is essentially about creating a community sculpture. I sourced a glacial granite boulder from a local man who was doing up his ancestral home to give to his son, and wanted to clear the boulder off his land. I had it transported to where it’s sitting now outside Rua Red and started to gradually break it up, then carry the pieces up onto the mountains to build a Cairn, with whoever was willing to lend a hand. It’s grown organically from there. The idea was to start off with a small group and let the word spread slowly about what we were doing. There’s only one section of the rock left now so it’s slowly reducing down. The people who had been using it as a seat must think it’s odd that its been shrinking each month! The last of the pieces are on display now in Rua Red until they’re carried up.
The actual ritual of creating the sculpture is a nod to one of Irish folklore’s most famous legends, the tale of Oisín, Niamh and the land of Tír na nÓg. It’s also an exploration of mortality and the idea that we can live on through what we create, like acts of extreme heroism or endurance, as our ancestors have with the passage graves and Cairns that they left behind;
“Oisín and Niamh is a very universal story in essence as it explores one of the great mysteries of life, mortality. With the walk we’re emulating the feats of both our mythological and and ancient heroes. The Cairn we’re building is going to be small but there are at least 8 quite large ones dotted around the Dublin mountains. One of them is 12 metres wide. Two are 5,000 years old. We don’t know much about our ancestors, but the fact that they put so much effort into building these enormous structures is quite incredible. This would have been at a time when survival was very difficult. People would have started working on these monuments knowing that they may not live to see them completed. The building of them may have been passed down through generations. Our effort is much smaller in comparison. We’re not building a pyramid, but its the same process – the repetition, treading the same ground over and over again. In a way I’m trying to rediscover our heroic past in the present with this. That heroism that runs right back through our history and recurs in our folklore, that came into popular consciousness again during the Celtic Revival and eventually led to revolution and the foundation of the state. It’s all woven in there.”
Although a 22 kilometre round-trip might sound arduous, participants need not worry about possessing the strength of Oisín in order to take part;
“There’s a natural pace for humans. If you don’t take off too quickly we’re well able to walk all day. In some cultures they do! The walk itself is relatively easy. There’s a bit of a climb in the middle but its very gentle overall. We had one walk that was orientated towards families and had kids as young as 7 completing the whole route, including my own two. We’ve had people in their 70’s carrying rocks! However if people can’t do the whole journey they have the option to meet us at Bohernabreena or double back at any stage. As for the rocks themselves, they’re roughly hand-sized so people can take as little or as much as they are able to. I really do need people to start at Tallaght to help with the rocks though. I tend to give them a bit extra too. It is a challenge after all, and it’s a big boulder!”
The coming together of a diverse group of people, some strangers, some families or some who have come from abroad to take part in the ritual is an another aspect that interests Taylor;
“People can feel very dis-empowered and distant from each other these days. The whole idea is to bring people together, get them to slow down and to be in the place that they are while connecting with the environment and others around them. When you spend a day walking with people, you start to get to know them. You build up relationships with each other along the way. There are moments created on the mountain. I interview people and ask them questions as we walk, like why have they come? Some people do it for the exercise, to experience the Dublin mountain way or just to do something different. Some have come back months after they were first there to see how much the Cairn has grown. Others have brought relatives along to see it. There’s a real sense of camaraderie and solidarity about it. It’s great to have that time to network and meet different people.”
“Also by walking you really get to know the landscape. What’s great about Dublin is that you can see the mountains every day. I’ve always been drawn to them. Now I get the chance to be there once a month. It’s been amazing to go through the valley each time and see the seasons changing, watch the water rising and falling in the reservoir and the leaves changing colours on the trees. There are deer running wild up near the Cairn site. On the first walk we clocked a temperature of 28 degrees up on the mountain, and on the last one we had our first rain in 8 months. It poured all day and we had 40 people braving the rain!”
The project has evolved to incorporate elements of performance also;
“For Seachtain na Gaeilge I worked with the local Irish language group, Gaelphobal in Tallaght on a short bilingual performance which took place on the mountain itself and recently we had an Uilleann Pipe performance up on the mountain. That just came about from meeting up with people and telling them about the project. As we’ll be finishing in June I’d like to have some sort of celebration on the mountain linking in with midsummer and the Celtic calendar.”
Having been commissioned as one part of South Dublin County Council’s 3 year public art programme called In Context 4 with a brief of ‘the artist as citizen’, the concept of time, how little we have but how much we can do with it has evidently crept in to the project;
“Time is definitely a theme here too. We are working with a four hundred million year old boulder, that was moved down the valley in the last ice age (about 10,000 years ago). We’re bringing it up the mountain in a year. We’ve been inspired by these 5,000 year old Cairns and ancient legends. Then there’s the future of the sculpture to consider. It will be interesting to see what happens to it. In 10 or 20 years will it have disappeared? Will it have grown? And what will people be saying about it? What new stories will be being told?”
Photos by Ciarán Taylor and Felipe Jóia
The final three Rock to the Top walks will take place on the following dates:
Saturday May 12th
Sunday June 10th
Saturday June 23rd
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org to to take part
Visit: The website here…