A warm welcome in Laois for Free Market architecture exhibition

Lynda Kiernan


Lynda Kiernan

Mountmellick in Laois is the focus of six ambitious Irish architects who are determined to bring life back to rural Irish towns.

The Free Market group of architects includes Miriam Delaney from the Rock of Dunamaise area. The group was commissioned to represent Ireland in the Venice Biennale last year, a prestigious worldwide exhibition.

They chose to focus on four Irish market towns and how to revive them and similar towns. The other three studied were Castleblaney, Macroom and Ballinrobe.

This year their exhibition is touring the four towns. Last Thursday September 6 they arrived in Mountmellick to launch a three day exhibition.

It was attended by local traders and residents, Minister Charlie Flanagan and craft group Mountmellick Yarn Bombers, who were thanked by Free Market for keeping their latest art installation in place until the exhibition arrived.

Portlaoise native, poet Pat Boran formally launched the exhibition.
He said that rural Ireland is fighting a war with planners.

“There have been unbelievably stupid decisions by people who don’t understand the evolution of towns, the purpose of towns. They think they are only about trade,” he said.

Mr Boran recalled living above his family's shop, watching life through the shop windows he likened to giant screens. He read his poem “Immigrants Open Shops”.

Ms Delaney said they are campaigning to change how rural towns are funded by Government.
“We have met Minister Michael Ring. At the moment there is a difficulty with how decisions are made on small towns, it is piecemeal. It happens in isolation because too many different bodies are involved, with layers of bureaucracy. We want to change how decisions are made,” she said.

The group say that people of all ages need to be incentivised to live in town centres, schools and shops must stay there, and market places must be again for trade, not cars.

Their exhibition included vox pops to gather local opinion, an exhibit in O’Connell House, walking tours of the town, a project with Transition Year students in Mountmellick Community School, and a talk by architect Giulia Vallone who redesigned Clonakilty town.

The group also gave out free postcards of Hanlon’s Shop, and a free newspaper showcasing the towns, also featuring Portarlington's Market building through the years.

Their project was backed by local authorities of the four towns, the RIAI, Creative Ireland and many Irish education institutes.

View our gallery of photos from the launch, taken by Denis Byrne.