Art show gives aspect of Ireland after emulating 1,300-mile cycle trip

Artist and writer Ruairi Fallon McGuigan and Phil Bell whose collaboration has produced the Strait On art show
Joanne Sweeney

TWO school friends from Belfast inspired by an early 1900s Irish travel writer to cycle 1,300 miles around Ireland have produced an art exhibition from their experiences.

Artist and rugby player Ruairi Fallon McGuigan and writer and teacher Phil Bell are behind a literary and visual show called Strait On, which is a collection of paintings, writing, wood cutting and video based on their exploits.

Their travels took them to a rare meeting with east Belfast poet Derek Mahon at his Kinsale home as well as staying with environmental activist Mark Boyle, 'the Moneyless Man', who eschews money and technology.

The man who inspired them to making the four-week trip was William Bulfin, who cycled around Ireland at the turn of the century. His travel memoirs Rambles in Eirinn, which Omagh writer Benedict Kiely described as “among the best travel books written about the island of Ireland” was written in 1902 and went on to achieve classic status.

Ruairi explained: "It was Phil who came across the book by Bulfin, who lived in Argentina for a while. We are both interested in Irish history so were interested in the approach taken by Bulfin who had intended his book to be a cycle guide.

"The things that he came upon along the route can seem trivial on their own but when collated together, start to paint a picture of the social and political feelings of the people.

"We thought that was a really great approach to making art, not going hunting for specific things or pulling answers out of people, so we decided to ramble and pick up fragments here and there.

"We called the show Strait On, as we didn't use a map all the time and the most common direction we received from people pointing the way: 'Straight on!'"

The pair, both 23 first met at Methodist College and met up again in London where Phil works as a school teacher and Ruairi is an artist and plays for Blackheath Rugby Club.

Their exhibition is varied in content and medium. For instance there is a wood cut depicting Kilkeel harbour where the pair were offered fresh scallops in the British Legion pub, along with prose from Phil.

:: Strait On will be shown at the Crux Belfast, The Mount, east Belfast on Friday December 23, 9am-3pm.

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