Promise is the story of a school, of lessons on bar stools, pupils and politicians, a rat named Elvis, classes on the green, stifling heat in summer and damp in winter, singing, dancing, protests, rituals and a labyrinth of bureaucracy.
Gaelscoil Bharra Primary School was established in 1994 and is housed in a series of prefabricated units. As far back as 2000 an inspector from the Department of Education recommended that planning permission for a permanent school should be initiated due to the “deplorable state of the temporary accommodation”. In 2012 the Irish government announced that it was allocating 35 million that year to replace prefabs with permanent classrooms at over 200 schools. Gaelscoil Bharra was included in this development plan.
When O’Neill started this work it was with the premise of documenting the last year of the prefabs, as building was due to begin in 2013. In March 2016 the first builders finally arrived. This work is the result of the four years she has spent documenting the everyday and not so everyday happenings at the school.
It speaks to the great potential of these young people while posing questions about the frameworks in place to help realise it. In a broader sense it queries the ongoing rhetoric of ‘recovery’ in Ireland, and why it has taken so long to begin to resolve such basic issues.
Mandy O’Neill is a Dublin based photographer. She has a BA in Photography from the DIT School of Media and is currently doing an MA in Public Culture Studies at IADT. She has been a guest lecturer at the National College of Art and Design and Griffith College Dublin. O’Neill’s practice involves explorations of the local and the everyday, which often resonate globally. It borders the genres of social commentary and the constructed image, with a strong emphasis on the portrait. She has received support from the Arts Council of Ireland and Culture Ireland and her work was featured in the publication New Irish Works 2013. Her work has been shortlisted twice, in 2014 and 2015 for the Hennessy Portrait Prize and for the Julia Margaret Cameron Award in 2012 and 2014. She has exhibited extensively nationally and internationally, and is held in both public and private collections. Most recently O’Neill has exhibited at the National Gallery of Ireland, RHA Dublin and VISUAL Centre for Contemporary Art Carlow.
Founded in 2009, PhotoIreland was conceived as an organisation that would stimulate a dialogue around Photography in Ireland by developing a varied array of initiatives and events with a strong participative approach.