The Freebirds M.C.C. Project: Brigid Mulligan and the Freebirds Motorcycle Club
Funded by the Arts Council Artist in the Community Scheme, managed by Create
The Freebirds M.C.C. project is a year-long project by artist Brigid Mulligan and twelve members of Freebirds Motorcycle club from county Longford. The project crossed various artforms including film, archiving and sculptural installation. The project focused on taking time to look back at the motorcycle club’s shared histories and the significant loss of three of the club members due to road traffic accidents.
Twelve male members of the Freebird’s Motorcycle club took part in the project during the year including Stephen Mulligan, Nigel Mulligan, Kevin Mulligan (siblings of artist Brigid Mulligan) along with Cathal Reilly, Kieran Martin, Michael Allen, Philip Mulligan, Trevor Martin, Patsy Halton, Padraig Donoghue, Paddy Gray and Michael O’Rourke. With over 25 years of friendship this motorcycle club is more an extended family built on friendship and the common interest of motorcycles.
Throughout the year the club members collaborated with different artists including film maker Bruno Pierucci and ceramic artist Martha Williamson. The group organised a memorial motorcycle run that over 60 motorcyclists participated in. Although the work focused on the perspective of the men in the club, family members were involved at the larger group meet ups. The project reached across borders and oceans, with club members Kevin Mulligan and Paddy Gray in Darwin Australia filmed by Darrol Reynolds, so they could be part of the project.
The original aims for the project involved reuniting the motorcycle club members through the process of co-creating a film to tell the story of the Freebirds Motorcycle club, while allowing this group an opportunity to process and share their personal perspectives off grief through creating art. Each participant’s idea of who or what the project was for varied. Artist Brigid Mulligan’s aim was to focus on the twelve club members and giving them a creative voice. The club members’ primary aim was to help their little sister which then developed into organising a motorcycle run to pay a tribute to deceased club members.
The main method for collaboration was meaningful conversation in bi-weekly meetings. The project developed organically, beginning by looking back with a slideshow of old photographs from motorcycle rallies and nights out. The audio from each meeting was recorded and planning for the motorcycle memorial run began. The group had a meeting that focused on the subject matter of the film and decided that they wanted to give an insight into biking culture while addressing the experience of loss. The club members devised a list of questions that they thought were important to include to form the film. These questions related to what it means to be a biker in Irish culture and then focused on harder questions about personal perspectives of loss.
Five members of the group travelled to County Galway, hosted by artist Brigid Mulligan engaging in a weekend of activities including a workshop creating wreaths made from motorcycle disc brakes and indicators. Each member was miked up and interviewed by Brigid Mulligan, with the assistance of filmmaker Bruno Pierucci. Although the club members decided on the theme of the questions they had no prior input into the wording and arrangement of questions this methodology allowed for a personal and raw response. The artist’s position as interviewer and little sister meant the ability to customise questions for these meaningful conversations and delve into the story on a deeper level.
The project and process connected the rural and the urban, with the Freebirds M.C.C Project holding a motorcycle run that 60 bikers participated in. This tour across Cavan and Longford paid tribute by visiting fives sites where fellow bikers and club members had lost their lives. The memorial motorcycle run was filmed by Bruno Pierucci and Ronan Harrington. As the potential of the collaboration grew so did the plans for filming days and as the rain interrupted filming plans a second memorial run was organised just for Freebirds Club members. This second motorcycle run was an intimate ritual of remembering. The group continued to the Mulligan house in Crott where they had a screening of old home videos from over twenty years ago.
The ‘Freebirds M.C.C Project’ collaboration outcomes include a 35 minute film, an archival exhibition, alternative shrine sculptures and ceramic artwork.
The film titled ‘Freebirds’, co-created with the Freebirds M.C.C, Bruno Pierucci and Brigid Mulligan, based on the club members’ lives, friendships, what it means to be a biker in Ireland and the experience of losing three club members. The process of creating this film has strengthened existing friendships and formed many new ones.
An exhibition showcased the year of process based engagements, including documentary photography and three indicator wreath sculptures that the club made in a workshop facilitated by Brigid Mulligan, an archival wall which the club members build and embellished with hundreds of photographs from the Freebirds’ archive, and ceramic artworks made by artist Martha Williamson designed in collaboration with the club members. Each of these three pieces serve as individual tributes to the three lost members Kevin Mulligan, Sean Mulligan and Noel Sheridan. These artworks will be placed on their graves when the exhibition tour ends.
A Freebirds M.C.C Project publication acts as an insight into the year of collaboration with behind the scenes photographs, the making of the film and artworks, a dip into the archive and tribute pages to each of passed members. Artist Lorraine Mulligan also participated in updating the club’s logo and designing the Freebirds M.C.C Project t-shirt. Bara Skokanova engaged with the club members and designed the poster and catalogue cover for the project.
Dessie Harrington, Bruno Pierucci and Dylan Connolly formed a band called ‘Burnout’ to write the movie soundtrack. Moises Más Garcia created the musical score for the film. Dylan Connolly mixed and mastered the sound for the film and the movie soundtrack. Stephen Mulligan, Dessie Harrington, Turlough Mulligan, Donal Mulcahy, Danny Kiernan formed a band called Lazarus Brother to play at each Freebirds M.C.C Project event.
The evaluation methodology involved debriefing with each participant individually and receiving personal feedback on the project as a whole. The result was resounding pride in the work achieved together. At the beginning of the yearlong engagement some of the members claimed to have no creativity – those same members later curated the finer details of the exhibition. A short survey was also taken digitally from the participants all admitting that the project and end results exceeded their expectations.
One of the most important outcomes of the yearlong project was this group of people having the opportunity to spend quality time together. Aside from the artistic outcomes outlined above, this project created a profound opportunity for the club members to connect in their grief, through art.
“Well it worked, she has us talking about our grief!”
Kevin Mulligan, club member
The Freebirds M.C.C Project archive contains hundreds of photographs collected from club members showing over thirty years of friendship during family gatherings and biking events.
Freebirds M.C.C Project t-shirt was designed as a lasting memento for the year working together and people can also purchase it to support the project’s continued touring.
Documentation & Dissemination
Freebirds M.C.C Project dissemination involved sharing the work in an exhibition at the Backstage Theatre in county Longford on October 1st 2022. On opening night the film screening had an audience of over 200 family, friends, fellow bikers and neighbours. Thirty bikers arrived to the backstage theatre together on their motorbikes and created an atmosphere to welcome the bikers to the theatre space that many had never experienced before. The exhibition ran for three weeks with the film shown on a screen in the gallery, with an estimated hundred people attending over the duration.
The Freebirds M.C.C Project has crossed cultures and communities bringing a taste of the Irish biking scene to the theatre and in turn welcoming non art communities into a new creative space.
The Freebirds M.C.C Project was also shown in an Taidhbhearc theatre Galway city on Nov 11th 2022 where eighty people came to the film screening along with the people who made it.