Divine Illumination Launch Speech
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Cathaoirleach, Members of the Oireachtas, Members of Dún-Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, Dominican Sisters, Ladies and Gentlemen, Thank you for your warm welcome this afternoon.
Is cúis áthais dom filleadh ar an LexIcon i nDún Laoghaire anocht.
I would like to congratulate everyone – and there are many indeed – who contributed to this publication and the exhibition.
I would like to mention especially the contributors to the book, including Sr. Margaret Mac Curtain, Professor Deirdre Raftery, Dr Síghle Bhreathnach-Lynch, Liz Clarke Pilkington and oral historian Sarah Greene.
The three editors, dlr Archivist in Residence David Gunning; dlr Local Studies Librarian Nigel Curtin and dlr LexIcon Librarian Marian Thérèse Keyes and of course I must not leave out the beautiful design work of Karen Vaughan and all the team at New Island Books.
Divine Illumination is a beautifully illustrated publication and the accompanying exhibition, shines a new light on the story of the Oratory of the Sacred Heart and the generous contribution of the Dominican Sisters to education and the arts here in Dún Laoghaire.
This time last year, we came together here at Moran Park to commemorate the centenary of the sinking of the RMS Leinster and all of those who lost their lives in that terrible tragedy – 564 people who never returned home to their loved ones. The RMS Leinster centenary commemorations highlighted the very important role that local authorities and local communities have in encouraging us all to reflect respectfully about the multiple identities, traditions and perspectives that are part of the overall Irish historical experience. Local research, scholarship and access to authentic local archival sources are vitally important in contributing to a greater understanding of our past.
This powerful book and the exhibition exemplify this spirit of sincere partnership and collaboration that underpins the Government’s Decade of Centenaries programme. The project grew from a collective vision – to share St. Concepta’s wonderful legacy with people of all ages, and to create a greater awareness of the story behind the Dominican Oratory of the Sacred Heart. I welcome the important – and I hope lasting – partnerships that this project has cultivated between a rich diversity of stakeholders.
I must mention especially the Dominican Archives in Cabra and the Dominican Convent here in Dún Laoghaire, the Dún Laoghaire Borough Historical Society and our National Gallery. Each of your respective contributions to this project have transformed it into a unique and very fitting tribute to the creativity of Sr. Concepta Lynch and the important contribution of the Dominican Sisters to our community.
I was very pleased to support this project under the Community Strand of the Decade of Centenaries programme. Under the Community Strand, I am encouraging a collaborative approach to the remembrance of our shared history – similar to that adopted for the 1916 centenary commemorations – between the State, local authority network and community organisations.
It is, I believe, very fitting that local authorities have a leading role in supporting inclusive, respectful and meaningful community-led commemorations which remember all of the lives lost and encourage measured and authentic citizen engagement, with sensitivity to the local context. This year, I announced a funding allocation of €10,000 for each local authority to support this important work.
The result of this collaborative approach has been extraordinary – local authorities went out into their communities and delivered commemorative programmes of great quality, depth, integrity and creativity. Projects, such as this one, are a reminder of the extraordinary capacity of local government to bring communities together for the greater good. When the right structures are put in place to combine all of our respective efforts and expertise, wonderful things can happen.
I would like to, if I may, say a few words about Sr. Concepta Lynch – known to her family as Lily. She was a talented and accomplished woman, who overcame great adversity in her early life, with the loss of her four siblings during infancy and both of her parents in her early teenage years. Her Father, Thomas Lynch – the ‘King of Celtic Art’ – was greatly respected as an illuminator. He nurtured his daughter’s creativity in illumination and heraldry at the Lynch Studio in Middle Abbey Street, Dublin.
By 1895, Lily’s talent as a gifted young artist and musician was recognised. In 1896, she entered St. Mary’s Convent as a postulant nun, the same convent where she had received her education and she thrived within that enclosed and supportive environment.
Sr. Concepta’s artistry in oil painting and illumination are evident in the recording of feast days, significant events and most magnificently in the decoration of the Oratory of the Sacred Heart. While remembered by many students as a shy and sensitive woman, Sr. Concepta channelled her creativity into drama, and we know that she enjoyed a little bit of fun and a good joke. Within the community, the Sisters called her Connie and many remarked on her contemplative nature and her superb singing voice.
In 1919, the Dominican Sisters dedicated their Oratory to celebrate peace at the ending of World War I and to commemorate all of the local men who had fought and died on the Western Front. Many of these men had attended primary school with the Dominicans and had learned songs in Sr. Concepta’s classes.
490 men from the wider Dún Laoghaire area died in the conflict. During the Decade of Centenaries, we have explored, with respect and kindness, the differing motivations of those from this island, of all traditions, who participated and who lost their lives during World War I. We will never know how they would have contributed to this land, had they not died before their time. The Decade of Centenaries has shone a light on their stories, many of which were never previously heard.
Sr. Concepta’s lesson plans, artworks, stencils and other material related to the decoration of the Oratory were donated to the National Gallery of Ireland in 1992. It is wonderful to see the oratory now restored and Sr. Concepta’s legacy preserved and protected for generations to come. Her creativity and generosity of spirit will continue to inspire, nurture and guide people of all ages.
The artist, Veronica Heywood, described the Dominican Sisters as “Guardian Angels to over 140 artists,” many of you have joined our celebrations here today.
So I will conclude with a quote from Sr. Frances Lally, the custodian of the Oratory since 1962, she said the Oratory was
“The quiet place at the heart of all this creative energy, a place for contemplation, for meditation and for renewal.”
Congratulations to you all, and míle buíochas.