Sainfield Artist Inspired By Women Deported To Australia

Unique Art Installation Opens at Down County Museum

Unique Art Installation Opens at Down County Museum

A new art installation, created by renowned Saintfield artist and ceramicist Alison Lowry, and inspired by the experiences of some of the women prisoners in the old Gaol, has been opened at Down County Museum.

The pieces, of fused glass and pate-de-verre were commissioned to mark the 40th anniversary of the museum. Alison Lowry was chosen to create the work based on the beautiful and thought-provoking pieces she had installed in a number of other locations.

Based in Saintfield, Alison is probably best known for her work on the ‘(A)dressing our hidden truths’ exhibition at the National Museum of Ireland, which examines the experiences of women in various institutions including orphanages and ‘Magdalen’ laundries.

Saintfield artist Alison Lowry with Cllr Terry Andrews at Alison’s glass exhibition in the old gaol at Down County Museum.

Alison has won numerous awards including first place in the category, ‘Glass Art’ at the Royal Dublin Show in 2015 and 2009, the Silver medal at the Royal Ulster Arts Club’s Annual Exhibition in 2010, the Warm Glass Prize in 2010 and 2011 and more recently the Bronze Award at Bullseye Glass’ ‘Emerge’ exhibition.

As part of the preparation for work on the pieces for the museum Alison decided to examine the ‘transportation’ of prisoners from Downpatrick to Australia. From 1796 to 1830, whilst the old Gaol of Down was operational, approximately four hundred prisoners were transported. Among those were sixty-six women, and it is their experiences that inspired her work. Women were sentenced to transportation for a range of crimes.

Saintfield artist Alison Lowry, centre, with Friends of Down County Museum who part sponsored the glass exhibition in memory of the female deportees from the old gaol in Downpatrick. From left, Cllr Terry Andrews, Ann Curran, Lesley Simpson, Noreen Napier, Dr Paddy Moore, Anne Liggett, Joanne Cummins, Keeper of Collects at Down County Museum, and Noreen Cunningham, Down Museum Curator.

Some women stole objects encountered whilst working as servants, for example silver spoons or china plate, or, items from working life, typically linen or yarn. Some women were accused of handling stolen goods, Elizabeth Dogherty was sentenced to seven years transportation for passing two forged bank notes. A petition appealing for leniency was sent to the Lord Lieutenant.

In the letter it was stated she was a mother of five children, one a baby under 9 months old. Elizabeth was allowed to take her youngest child to Australia with her, but nothing is known about what happened to her other children.

The art installation opened on 21 January. The commission was co-funded by the Friends of Down County Museum to mark the museum being in existence for 40 years. Later in the year an exhibition about the museum’s collections, built up over 40 years, will open.

The Chairperson of Newry Mourne and Down District Council, Councillor Cathy Mason, said: “I am delighted that the work of this local artist has been acquired and displayed in the museum.

“The pieces allow us to reflect on the experiences of some of the women who passed through the old Gaol, women who faced transportation to the other side of the world, who were forced to leave their families and embark on a dangerous and confusing journey. The pieces created by Alison are striking and thought-provoking and I would encourage as many people as possible to come along to the museum to see them.”