Celebrating trailblazing Laois woman on Culture Night in Portlaoise

Leinster Express Reporter

Reporter:

Leinster Express Reporter

Email:

news@leinsterexpress.ie

culture night

The life and work of Helen Roe is celebrated in an outdoor immersive audiovisual projection by artist, Caroline Conway for Culture Night in Portlaoise.

The video work will be projected onto the Old Fort wall on Friday 18 September, 8-11pm at Fitzmaurice Place Plaza. It aims will introduce audiences to the life of Helen Roe, illuminating the significance of her historical achievements and contemporary relevance to Laois.

The artwork is commissioned by Laois County Council Library Services, Heritage Office and Arts Office and supported by Creative Ireland Laois as part of the Creative Ireland Programme 2017-2022 in partnership with Laois County Council.

Helen Roe was born in Mountrath, County Laois in 1895. She was educated in the local national school and Preston School in Abbeyleix. During the First World War she joined the Order of St. John and enlisted in the British Red Cross as a Volunteer Aid Detachment. She served in military hospitals in Cambridge, Aldershot and Bray, County Wicklow. 

Following the war, Helen Roe was one of the few young women of her time to enter Trinity College. She studied Modern Languages and was conferred with a Masters Degree in 1924. She spent time travelling and teaching throughout Europe, an experience which reinforced and deepened her interest in education and art history.

On return to Ireland Helen worked briefly as a teacher, before accepting the position of library assistant with the Carnegie Trust in Coleraine. When the position of Laois County Librarian arose, she was a perfect fit, bringing to the post, her knowledge in and passion for books, education and her native county.

From 1926 she worked in a small apartment in the Old Gaol (now the Portlaoise Courthouse) to establish and develop the Laois County Library. The service was funded by an initial donation of £2000 by the Carnegie Trust, with ongoing financial support by Laois County Council.

As with everything, Helen’s approach to her job was forward-thinking and democratic. She ordered books on a wide variety of subjects to support and facilitate all sections of Laois society. To engage the wider community with the library service and education, she organised lectures on the history, archaeology, nature, placenames and folklore of Laois. Her Magic Lantern projector and slides brought her subjects to life, illuminating schools, local halls and the minds of ordinary people.

Helen Roe had a passion for pre-Christian art and antiquities. In her Ford Model T she travelled throughout Laois and Ireland studying and documenting archeological sites and collecting samples. When she retired from the library service in 1940, she dedicated herself to researching full time.

Her study and publication on topics such as the ‘David Cycle' and Irish High Crosses earned her national recognition. She was a member of the Royal Irish Academy and the Royal Society of Antiquarians of Ireland. In 1965 she was given the additional honour of becoming the first female President of the Royal Society of Antiquarians. The society also named its lecture theatre the Helen Roe Theatre in her honour.

On Culture Night 2020, this outdoor audiovisual experience at Fitzmaurice Place Plaza, Portlaoise will shed light on the life and work of Helen Roe - highlighting, illustrating and celebrating the impact she had on education, locally and nationally. Thanks to Laois County Library Services for access to the Helen Roe Archive and also to Regina McGinley Laois County Library Services, Historian in Residence, for her knowledge and insights on Helen Roe.

Artist, Caroline Conway has been generating Heritage related video mapped projections, ‘Vintage Luminaries’ for the past three years with Offline Film Festival and in 2018 projected an audiovisual work about the life of  Mary Ward, a naturalist, astronomer, microscopist, author, and artist onto the Courtyard of Birr Castle as part of the Herstory Light Festival. Working
with Caroline is technical expert John Johnson, bringing 3D wizardry and design support to the artworks.

As part of Laois Culture Night 2020, Creative Ireland in partnership with Laois County Council says it is delighted to showcase a number of funded projects, including, local artist and photographer, Annie Holland’s photographic exhibition ‘Children of the Free State’ currently open to the public at Dunamaise Arts Centre until Saturday, 19 September with a late opening until 11pm on Culture Night. The exhibition features photographic portraits of older people from rural Laois born before or just after 1922. 

A short video ‘The Impossible Dream’ directed by Naoise Kettle documents a suite of music inspired by the life of Colonel James Fitzmaurice, a pioneering aviator from Portlaoise. In 2020, Music Generation Laois commissioned, composer and musician Martin Tourish to collaborate with Music Generation Laois Trad Orchestra to create this new piece of music. The piece owes its existence to the research and dedication of Teddy Fennelly, who has worked for decades to ensure that the achievement and legacy of Col Fitzmaurice are celebrated in his native Laois. Teddy is the author of a biography of Fitzmaurice called “Fitz and the Famous Flight” and he generously shared his knowledge and archive with Martin Tourish in the early stages of the development of the commission. 

The Laois Series: A Sense of Place video commissioned for Laois Cruinniú na nÓg 2020 will be available to watch again on Creative Ireland Laois YouTube channel. The video features 26 young people from Laois Youth Theatre, Laois Youth Dance Ensemble, Laois County Library Service, Music Generation Laois and Laois / Offaly Wildlife Trust.

For full details on Laois Culture Night 2020 programme, go to https://culturenight.ie/events/. Culture Night is brought to you by The Arts Council in partnership with Laois County Council.