Arts and Communities


Otolith. Ruairí Ó’Donnabháin and the community of Cape Clear Island. Photo: Debbie Scanlon

Ruairí Ó’Donnabháin, Comharchumann Chléire and the community of Cape Clear Island

Funded by the Arts Council Artist in the Community Scheme

Otolith is the second in a series of works instigated by artist Ruairí Ó’Donnabháin under the title ‘Archipelagic Thinking’. The performance event and resulting sculpture is a collaboration between Ó’Donnabháin, composer Seán Ó’Dálaigh, goldsmith Helle Helsner, Comharchumann Chléire and the community of Cape Clear Island. Otolith engages the casting of a pair of cod otolith bones in 18 carat gold by and with the community as the beginning of a time based contract between language and place. Rooted in the economic and social history of the community and its relationship with the Atlantic as primary source of connectivity, commerce and communication.


The project was a collaboration between artists Ruairí Ó’Donnabháin, composer Seán Ó’Dálaigh, goldsmith Helle Helsner, Comharchumann Chléire and the community of Cape Clear Island. Comharchumann Chléire was established in 1969 to administer the new electrical system on Cape Clear Island and to create employment through the development and support of fishing, farming and tourism. The Co-op provides many basic services on the island as well as facilitating many social and cultural activities locally.

This collaboration was initiated by the lead artist Ó’Donnabháin as part of his ongoing Practice-based research through the Irish language on identity across the North Atlantic Arc.


The aim of the project was to continue research began in 2107 through what Ó’Donnabháin describes as ‘aesthetic practices of care’ embedded within the community of Cape Clear Island and more broadly across the North Atlantic Arc, in conversation with communities in Iceland, The Hebrides and Newfoundland. The culmination of this research formed a performance event in which two 18 carat gold cod otoliths were cast using prehistoric methods possibly local to the area. These gold artefacts created during the performance event were gifted to the island and will be displayed in the local history museum as an ongoing contract between artist and community.

A primary objective of this research was to facilitate and engage the community in a collaborative socially engaged process where Gaeilge was the primary language, to support and raise the profile of the language as a living, contemporary and vivid entity in line with the island’s Irish Language Plan.


At the time of completion the lead artist had been living on Cape Clear Island for a period of three years, throughout which he had developed a network of contacts within the community who were engaged in formal and informal interviews, walking tours and a range of different meitheal (meitheal; bain buíon ag obair i gcomhar le chéile; An Foclóir Beag, Ó Donaill & Ua Maoileoin, 1991). Particular focus was paid on the social and economic relationship with the surrounding Atlantic and traditional fisheries and mining.

The conversation and conditions produced working in and through the Irish language instigated a departure in the lead artist’s practice away from more traditional or formal performance making methodology to consider the legacy of live events and conceptual interest in play with material economies and contractual engagements. In this regard the artist produced a precious sculpture of considerable monetary value which demands a contractual engagement between artist and community to protect the object in trust.

Composer Seán Ó’Dálaigh focused during his time in residence on the island on making a series of field and studio recordings using materials that make up the landscape; rocks, chains, rope, plastic waste, moss… These were processed electronically and entangled with a recording of island resident Mairtín Ó Mealóid singing in the sean-nós style to create a final composition for the live event.

In order to cast the otoliths Ó’Donnabháin collaborated with local goldsmith Helle Helsner. Helsner’s methodology employs traditional bronze age methods for casting, using a combination of clay and horse manure for furnace and casting materials. The artists framed the experience in contemporary ritual; the wider community were invited to bring small objects from their homes which they cast in pewter to open the process, members of all ages of the community attended and witnessed the gold casting. Local poitín was shared in celebration.

The artists also produced an Irish language translation of LEFTOVERS / THE ORIENTING STONE Listening to our inner pearl by D. Graham Burnett which formed part of a performance text which was shared at the live event. The event was documented in conversation by a local blogger, photographer Debbie Scanlon and videographer Mickael du Cuoto. These documents form a digital document of the event for reflection.

Artistic Outputs

Two 18 Carat Gold cast Cod Otoliths

New sound composition by composer Seán Ó’Dálaigh

Digital Documentation in Video, Photography and Irish Language Text

Irish language translation of LEFTOVERS / THE ORIENTING STONE Listening to our inner pearl by D. Graham Burnett

Evaluation Methodology

The lead artist will facilitate a cíorcle cómhra / conversation circle utilising social dreaming methodology with the community to gather resonances and reflections from the experience as part of a dedication of the gold pieces in 2020 to mark the 50 year anniversary of the Comharchumann Chléire.



related programme
Artist in the Community Scheme

Watch video by Mickael du Cuoto