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Mary Murphy and Owenabue Arts Centre Shine Bright During Dark Year

Updated: Dec 21, 2021

Writes Ciaran Dineen

Over the last 18 months, there have been moments, where some people have gone the extra mile and approached the situation, head on. Whether it be the local GAA club offering to help the vulnerable, or a total stranger paying for someone’s haircut, moments of empathy kept us smiling during the pandemic.

There were however some people who have tried to benefit the community in ways unlike any other, in an attempt to make our towns vibrant and full of spirit. Carrigaline’s Mary Murphy has undoubtedly been one of those people, having brought so much energy to the Main Street of Carrigaline with her incredible personality and a drive to promote arts and culture in her adopted hometown.

Reading such words will mortify the mum of three, but the work she has done in Carrigaline, with the help of her husband Stephen, should be recognised and celebrated as we come to the end of a very long year.

In August 2020, Mary and Stephen, both originally from the City but now living in Carrigaline, decided to take a gamble with the backing of fellow artist Keith O’Brien, setting up a pop-up exhibition gallery in Carrigaline to brighten up the village and add a bit of colour and culture to the Main Street. She discovered through the help of local Councillor, Seámus McGrath, who has been a huge source of support throughout, (as have other public representatives in the area), that there could be an opportunity to open a gallery in the then vacant O’Crualaoi’s unit.

No sooner were the plastic sheets off the windows when people stopped to see what was happening, according to Stephen, who a few years ago left his job of 26 years and retrained as a frame maker. With funding from Cork County Council, and renovation work provided by Stephen, the trio were able to launch an exhibition from the unit, bringing an injection of life and excitement into a village that so badly needed it. The crowds flocked on opening night and three weeks later the Gallery showcased some top local talent from a collection of artists, who had successfully applied through Arts Officer at Cork County Council, Ian McDonagh.

“It was just an absolutely wonderful few weeks we had in our first unit”, Mary says, sitting behind her desk at the now named Owenabue Arts Centre (OAC). “We sold out our two opening nights which were free, but it was in the middle of Covid so we were delighted with the support.” Unfortunately, their time in the former O’Crualaoi’s site was cut short as the unit found a permanent lease even before the gallery was able to officially open.

Such was the initial impact however, Mary and co felt that they had to keep the momentum going and they couldn’t just “pack up and go home.” Things turned in their direction as they became aware that the former Bridge Medical Practice building was available to use. Another unit in the heart of Carrigaline presented the artists an opportunity that they could simply not pass up. “We were so appreciative that we had another home. The owner of the building was so accommodating and whatever we said we wanted to do, he has let us get on with it, there is fantastic trust between us.”

Mary Murphy, front right, with fellow artists, Andrew O'Farrell (Wood-turner); Linda Taylor (Mixed Media); Roser Perez (Jeweller) at the Owenabue Arts Collective Christmas Celebration Night, Thursday 18th November. Photo Siobhán Russell

The OAC opened its new doors before Christmas last year and just as everything looked to be going well, it was forced to close again due to the re-imposition of level 5 public health guidelines. They had a long wait before they could welcome people back and even when they could, a lot of repair work had to be done to their new home as it had been badly flooded during periods over the winter. With a lot of hard graft and help, the Centre was able to launch again on May 20th of this year and since then they have been able to stay open, growing bigger and better, with 31 diverse local artists and counting. The continual stream of new artists ensures a fresh influx of talent and keeps the Art Centre vibrant. Every time you visit you're sure to discover some new handmade creation.

A misconception that may be there is that the OAC purely focuses on selling paintings. While there are gorgeous works on display in the gallery that are available for sale, there is far more on offer, with a range of bespoke gifts for all occasions. From handmade cards to beautifully bound diaries, keyrings to hand-carved pens, the OAC has a good range of very reasonably priced personal gifts that make the perfect Christmas present.

The Gallery and Arts Centre are having an enormous impact on the community. Vacant buildings all across Carrigaline have at times been transformed to showcase wonderful displays of work from artists with the OAC.

This appears to be creating a knock-on impact as a result, with three units who have featured their work subsequently finding new tenants. “I think by adding some colour we have drawn attention to some of these vacant buildings. It has been fantastic for artists to display their work but more than that, we have reinvigorated spaces, added colour, creativity and uplifted people. I think with the difficult year we’ve had, the art has really given people a boost in the town and while of course we want to be able to sell our work, I think artists have a role in society to challenge and uplift the feeling around the place and I really think we’ve done that.”

Mary also spearheaded the Carrigaline branch of Culture Night in September, which was hugely successful, that brought people back out onto the streets for the first time since the pandemic. While it involved many volunteers who put in a lot of hard work, Mary’s passion and spirit kept the show on the road, when at times many would have packed it in and walked away.

For now, all of Mary’s energy is going into keeping the Owenabue Arts Centre open, with the aim of making it a mainstay on the Main Street of Carrigaline for many years to come. It’s not just the physical building itself however, as the positivity that it has generated appears to have reached into the community, adding colour and culture that the village and town so desperately needs.

So, the message once again this Christmas is to shop and support local, your community depends on it. Make sure to pop down to the Owenabue Arts Centre, located at The Bridge in the centre of Carrigaline.

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