Art comes to life in Lower Ormond
New beginnings for historic Milford House
A performance art festival based at historic Milford House took place in Lower Ormond last week.
Organised by the seventeenth century home's new owners in conjunction with Belfast-based performance art outfit Bbeyond, the ‘Convergence’ festival attracted international artists for performances in Borrisokane and Cloughjordan as well as at the house itself. It was one of the first ventures for new enterprise Live Art Ireland, established by artists Deej Fabyc and MJ Newell with the view of running a centre for art research and development at Milford House.
They bought the house in April 2020 and made the move from London. Brexit had prompted them to seek new artist-in-residency programmes abroad. Deej had previously run such programmes from her home and wanted to try them on a much larger scale.
As is the case with many old rural dwellings in need of refurbishment, Milford House was more affordable than one might have thought, and Deej and MJ were able to purchase it after selling up in London.
And so began a campaign of restoration and improvement that will continue for some time yet. The new owners are adding to the considerable work carried out by the Hinz and Knapps families that had Milford House before them. The new series of works includes roofing, plumbing, installation of a new kitchen and rewilding the tranquil grounds that surround their ageing residence.
MILFORD'S NEW CHAPTER
Situated in peaceful seclusion just off the main road between Borrisokane and Carrigahorig, Milford (formerly Lisheenboy) House dates from around 1630 when it was part of the local O'Carroll stronghold. It was owned by the northern English Smith family following the Cromwellian Plantations. The house was sold through the Encumbered Estates Court in 1857 to a local farmer by the name of Murphy. There is evidence from graffiti revealed under layers of wallpaper in the house and from clearing the barns that there was possibly an old IRA cell present, or at least strong sympathy for the cause. The graffiti dates from around 1914 – '21.
Now the house and its 17 acres are home to the ‘Ealaín Bheo’ centre, the mission statement of which is - among other aims - “to foster outstanding and astounding multi-disciplinary research, experimentation and art production to create opportunities for both local, national and international artists working in the areas of live art and performance art, contemporary dance, participatory practice and artist film and video.
“We wish to create opportunities for local artists to help foster a committed and connected local art scene [and] to develop the contribution of contemporary live art performance to the social and economic development of rural North Tipperary.”
ARTISTS IN RESIDENCE
The present incumbents have sought a new purpose for the old building, one firmly rooted in the arts. They have plans for live-in artist studios, a cinema and performance room, dance and movement studio, library and a drawing room.
Last week they realised Milford House's potential as a unique setting for a performance art festival. Several international artists lit upon the opportunity to showcase their aesthetic talents in and around the stately mansion. A number of local people also attended workshops run last Thursday, and Deej is hopeful of widening the appeal for local artists in the future. She hopes to link up with local organisations in this regard.
The artist-in-residency concept is about providing artists with space and resources to support their artistic practice. The programmes involve a collaboration between artists and hosting organisations, institutions, or communities.
The artist-in-residency programme at Milford House sees up to six artists staying onsite together for a period of three to six weeks. The artists may work on certain themes; this week, for example, there is a focus on gender violence and the violence of war, artistic responses to the fate of Ashling Murphy and the conflict in Ukraine.
Coming up, Deej and MJ are delighted to welcome back Italian plaster caster Simona Pavoni, who worked on Milford House last year. She put together an art documentary on the process of refurbishing the house and then undertook to fixing the cornice in the hall herself - this was significant in that the original stucco in the house could have been done by an Italian-trained stuccodore back in the eighteenth century. Simona will be back at Milford House in September to deliver a voice and movement operatic work as part of Culture Night.
Moreover, Deej and MJ recognise the widespread local curiosity about their historical home. Should enough interest be expressed, they are open to offering small-scale guided tours of the house in exchange for a donation.
For information about this and all other happenings at Milford House, visit the website www.live-art.ie.