Sneem is a tiny village, but it is brimming with beauty and creativity. The town itself is like a fantastic work of art. If art is about taking raw materials and turning them into something beautiful and meaningful, then Sneem is a village full of artists. What’s more, Sneem is artistic and beautiful in a simple, unpretentious way. Here, creativity reflects the personality of the place and its residents. For example, children’s artwork can be seen all over the town. The school children made posters for the JFK 50 Mile Walk Challenge and displayed them in nearly every shop window in the village. The interior of the Catholic church is decorated with the children’s artwork as well.
A few of us got the chance to talk to Rosemary Bradshaw, a local artist here in Sneem who has had exhibits all over the world. Rosemary showed us a lot of her work, including the hand-painted tiles that go all the way up her staircase. I thought that these tiles were a perfect example of how she used her creativity to make something special out of something ordinary. This is yet another example of how art is simply built into the everyday lives of Sneem residents.
The tradition of story-telling is another form of creativity that I have encountered her in Sneem, particularly through Batt Burns’s stories and workshops. I have always been aware of the importance of telling and retelling personal or family stories as a way to pass down history. However, I haven’t thought as much about the importance of passing down folktales as a part of cultural identity. Batt Burns gave us an excerpt from a short story about the tradition of storytelling. I found this passage especially relevant:
“Your minds are like rooms that are dark or brown. But somewhere in the rooms, if only you can pull aside the heavy curtains, you will find windows – these are the windows of wonder. Through these you can see the yellow sunlight or the silver stars or the many coloured wheels of a rainbow… The windows I speak of are the legends of our people.”
I agree that stories and legends can bring meaning to our lives. They connect us with the past and are an important part of our identities as individuals, families, and communities. The line about a “rainbow” lighting up “rooms that are dark or brown” reminds me of the brightly colored buildings in Sneem. The colors of the buildings make something beautiful out of something otherwise ordinary. The importance of stories also reminds me of Eavan Boland’s poem, “Legends.”
“ they begin the world again,
making the mountain ridges blue
and the rivers clear and the hero fearless—
and the outcome always undecided
so the next teller can say begin and
again and astonish children.
Our children are our legends.
And the world
is less bitter to me
because you will re-tell the story.”
While talking to local residents, we learned that Sneem experiences economical struggles – much of the younger population leaves the village, and tourists tend to pass through quickly. In the off-season, many businesses have an even more difficult time. Despite all of this, Sneem residents have made something incredible out of less-than-ideal circumstances (if I were to ask my parents, I believe they would say that that is the Irish way).