Friar to unveil artistic response to clerical sex abuse

An Athlone-born priest will reveal his artistic response to sexual abuse in the Church. The art installation by Fr Joe Walsh, who is Guardian of the Franciscan Friary in Multyfarnham, will be among the exhibits. At the week-long arts festival which gets underway in the Westmeath village on November 27. Fr Joe is currently working on the project, which he described as "a visual response to the Ryan report." Discussing its controversial subject, he said the work was not intended to create a stir. "We've already had thousands of words on the Ryan Report," he said. "I'm trying to go beyond the words in an effort to reflect in a deeper way on the issues involved." He stated that the work will attempt to engage with fundamental questions about how children, power and responsibility are viewed. The piece will be included in the 'Straying Closer to the Truth' exhibition in Multyfarnham, which includes workshops, musical performances, and displays from over 20 artists. Work by Eddie Ryan of Athlone IT's Department of Design will also be featured at the exhibition. Fr Joe, the son of Joe and Eileen (nee O'Grady), was born at Athlone's Custume Barracks where his father was stationed. He moved to Dundalk at an early age and went on to join the Franciscan order in 1968. He returned to spend six years in Athlone in the 1980s. For the last four years he has been based in Multyfarnham, and he enjoys working among the "small and quiet" community there. He stated that his involvement in art is something he came to later in life. In 1999 began a course in fine and applied arts at the University of Ulster's Art College in Belfast. Asked what motivated his decision to take the course, he said: "I am not sure that words can grasp the mystery of life so I started to explore the possibility that the visual could have more power than the word." He stated that the course encouraged him to take more risks and he now tries to respond to the moment when he's addressing his congregation, rather than reading from a prepared script. Last year, small groups of artists began taking up two-week residencies among the Franciscan community in Multyfarnham. A total of 23 artists have since undertaken residencies there, and the majority will display work at the upcoming exhibition. "It's hard to get anything done in two weeks, so the residency was largely about setting a seed in their mind. This exhibition is a tendering and nurturing of that seed," said Fr Joe. The Friar's own work has largely been in the area of sculpture, and in the past he has displayed at a number of exhibitions in the Royal Ulster Academy. He stated that, since his installation in response to the Ryan Report is in progress, he can't disclose many details about it at this point. "It has been in my mind for some time, and it's something I felt I had to do," he said. "When you create something like this you're asking people to engage with it on an emotional level. People's response to it might be good or bad but you're seeking a response of some kind."

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