Temple Bar Gallery + Studios is pleased to present 10th President, a project by Irish artist Seamus Nolan.
As a way of honouring the survivors of institutional abuse in Ireland and of recognising those who died in institutional and state care, Seamus Nolan has invited President Michael D Higgins to hand over, for the period of one day, the Presidency of Ireland posthumously to Willie Delaney, a child who died whilst under the care of the state. William Delaney, 13 when he died had spent the preceding three years in St Joseph’s industrial school Letterfrack. His name has been put forward as a representative of the children who have suffered abuse, neglect and fatal injury throughout the history of the state.
On the 20th of May an event organised by Seamus Nolan will take place to both commemorate the publishing of the Ryan report and to confer posthumously the role of president upon Willie Delaney. This coronation will take place regardless of whether the proposal is accepted or not by the office of the President.
The exhibition at Temple Bar Gallery + Studios will include, alongside documentation and artefacts from the process and development of the project, a film work by Seamus Nolan which touches on the story of Willie Delaney’s short life and death. Free texts about Willie Delaney and the legacy of his story by Fin Dwyer and Francis McKee will also be available. Also on display will be a version of the Presidential seal re-designed by Jim Fitzpatrick
By presenting this material in a public exhibition space, the project seeks to address the unquestioned acceptance of state and religious authority over the rights of the individual and the welfare of the most vulnerable. In conferring the highest authority in the country on to William Delaney, Nolan aims to activate a dialogical, cultural and historic relationship between those that are honoured and those who have the power to honour.
Willie Delaney (1957 – 1970) was 10 years old in 1967 when he was sentenced to six years in Letterfrack, Industrial School. At the end of June 1970, he was sent home to Kilkenny to start his summer holidays two weeks before the official recess. The young boy complained of terrible piercing headaches, and collapsed at his home. He was admitted to a local hospital but never regained consciousness. He died two days later. His death was, according to the attending doctor, caused by encephalitis. Those who lived alongside Willie Delaney in Letterfrack didn't believe that their fellow inmate died from natural causes. They remembered that the 13-year-old was knocked unconscious by a blow from a broomstick yielded by a Christian Brother.
As a result of these statements, the body of Willie Delaney was disinterred as part of a police inquiry into allegations of physical and sexual abuse at Letterfrack. The initial post-mortem did not reveal conclusive evidence that the young boy died as a result of alleged head injuries.
- The vital legacy of Willie Delaney, by Geraldine Niland Irish Independent 21st April 2001
The case of Willie Delaney is the first time that any Garda inquiry into such allegations at such an institution has resulted in an exhumation in a search for conclusive evidence of foul play. The original cause of death was upheld but the case had the effect of making public the debate around issues of memory creditability and the instrumentalisation of the victim by the media, the church, the state and the survivors.
The role Willy Delaney’s life has played in both the state appropriation of power and the victims search for justice and accountability has been unprecedented in the history of our state.
This project is supported by the Delaney family.
Seamus Nolan studied sculpture in the National College of Art and Design, and went on to develop his practice based on a critical reading of the role of the artist in society.Recent work includes 'Every Action' for Newtopia, the state of human rights, Mechelen Belgium, Contours of the Common, CCA Derry-Londonderry, 'Trades Club Revival' with CREATE and The Model Sligo, which saw the revival of the traditional working man’s club, the attempted hijack of a Ryanair flight for St Patrick's day, Flight NM7104, for Terminal Convention, an off-site exhibition and seminar situated in the abandoned Airport terminal building at Cork Airport, and a refusal to participate in Dublin Contemporary 2011. Other works include Corrib Gas Project Arts Centre, Dublin 2008 Nature Reserve, Brussels 2007, and Hotel Ballymun 2007 which saw the transformation of a residential tower block on the outskirts of the city transformed into a boutique hotel by a group of local participants and organisations. Seamus Nolan is based in Dublin where he has a studio at Temple Bar Gallery + Studios.
Seamus Nolan and Temple Bar Gallery + Studios would like to thank the individual survivors and support groups for survivors, and all those who helped with researching and mentoring for this very sensitive project. With special thanks to the Delaney family.
10th President is commissioned by Temple Bar Gallery + Studios with the support of the Arts Council of Ireland and Dublin City Council. It is also part funded under the National Culture Programme marking Ireland’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union.