Mass Paths is a series of handcrafted photographs, landscapes of the Irish countryside embedded with absence. They portray the traces of paths walked by Catholics to reach illegal mass during penal times.
The Penal Laws were imposed on Catholics in Ireland in 1695 and religion was prohibited. The Church was kept alive by operating under great secrecy. My aim is to visually unearth the history behind these paths and the people who walked them.
The locations of these sites were passed on by word of mouth. This local knowledge was handed down through generations. The oral tradition in Ireland disappeared gradually around the 1960s alongside land exchange and redevelopment.
I spent years researching mass paths and other penal sites, piecing the information together, scouring through word searches on the Internet, finding little snippets posted by schools, regional newspapers and walking clubs. These fragments led to maps, hunting for locations, hidden in the landscapes.
I followed in the footsteps of the thousands of people who walked to penal sites across Ireland. Then recorded these reenactments in an attempt to capture their stories of resilience, courage and commitment so that they are not lost.
I have been experimenting with converting the digital photographs of my walks into contact negatives, creating and then toning cyanotypes, opening up a dialogue between photography, painting and etching. I am engaged by how this multi-layered process echoes that of a landscape which has been coated over the years by the complexities and tensions of politics, society, religion and people.
Selected images from Caitriona’s Mass Paths series are shown below
ABOUT CAITRIONA DUNNETT
Caitriona Dunnett is an Irish photographer based in the UK. She has been exploring memory and narrative through nineteenth century photographic techniques crossed with digital technology to produce handcrafted images. She graduated from Nottingham Trent University with BA (Hons) in photography and has a MFA from Rhode Island School of Design, USA.
Recent exhibitions have included: Impressions Biennial, Galway; PhotoIreland’s New Irish Works, the Library Project, Dublin and the Centre Culturel Irlandais, Paris; Nottingham Castle Open 2016. She was awarded a Grain Bursary 2016, a grant from the Arts Council England 2015 and was shortlisted for the Remote Photo Festival 2017 and the Ashusrt Emerging Artist Prize 2015.
Dunnett was awarded an AA2A artist residency at the School of Art and Design, Coventry University 2016. She was selected for PhotoIrelands New Irish Works programme, which resulted in the publication of her project Mass Paths.
Unless otherwise stated, all words and images in this article are © Caitriona Dunnett