CAAKE Winter Residency – December reflections PART 2 TARA J MURPHY

‘Walk, talk and gather workshop’

A collaboration with Kerri ní Dochartaigh, Simon Mills and Tara J Murphy.

This participatory workshop took place on the Winter Solstice, acknowledging the turning of the year by walking ‘out the line’ in Derry.  It introduced participants to CAAKE’s December winter residency – FL*OOOW Orient_Ornament_Order – reflecting the processes Kerri ní Dochartaigh (poet-writer), Simon Mills (Film-photographer) and I (Tara J Murphy – mixed-media jewellery artist and educator) had developed collaboratively.

It began at the circle, where the line begins.  Kerri read words to the group that she had written, a way of setting the scene; words to consider as we walked, talked, gathered and immersed ourselves in this experience.


‘An Grianstad’, Winter Solstice

We find ourselves, together, perhaps for the very first time; perhaps for the only and the last time – at a circle that holds an old, rusted line in place; softly.

We find ourselves, together, at the turning point of the year; the circle has met herself in the echoing darkness – the light has taken to the wing; soon it will arrive with us – a newly born, celestial gift.

We find ourselves, together, following a line made of steel, made of history; made of all that came before – is here – of all that still will come. A line that meets the circle, a circle that meets the line; a circle and a line that meet the river at every hidden part of her meandering journey.

The light that the day has left is growing smaller, like the ice, like the plants and creatures, like the empty space; I want to do my best to make the most of it all while I am able. The longest night will be here soon –in all of the parts of this beautiful, ancient Island that we share. The earth is spinning, still; on an axis that is tilted; on the same axis it has spun on since it all began.

In our Celtic landscapes, the Winter Solstice is an ancient seasonal rite of passage that is of deep importance and meaning. We do know not when our ancestors first stood together and paused in harmony at midwinter. Some sacred sites are aligned to the morning’s rising sun. They tell us a story of Winter Solstice as being important enough, over 5,000 years ago; to build a temple in its honour.

In Irish, the Winter Solstice is ‘An Grianstad’, literally translating as ‘the stopping of the sun’. These days around Winter Solstice time are precious, the pinnacle of a darkening that calls us to rest, to be still, to heal and to hope.

The dark has been painted – over much time– as being a negative thing; a part of existence to be wary of; a bringer of fear and things best not to be thought of. Yet nature tells us a different story. The earth tells us, over and over; as each year turns the circle of itself around – that it is in the dark where beginnings are found. Life first is dreamed, birthed and shaped; in the absence of light. The seeds sown in autumn germinate underground through winter; before appearing as shoots in spring.

Our ancestors intuitively understood this phenomenon, and held the time between Samhain and the dark-full Winter Solstice as the biggest gift of life; the safe place in which it all begins. In many traditions, Winter Solstice, also known as Midwinter, is a time for ritual and celebrations. In a sense, this was a turning point in the battle of dark and light in the world. On the island of Ireland, our ancestors did not see Winter Solstice as a sad, sorrowful time, but a turning point in which the reverence of the equally vital energies of darkness and lightness are understood and honoured.

The light is waning quickly. The swans are long gone from the sky above the line, and the river looks a way that I have not seen before this exact moment. The moon has settled into a different part of the sky –  metallic grey has been laid on top of mauve –  streaks of a much lighter grey run through it all like a collection of thin sky-rivers; the morning is making ready for the middle part of this cold and quiet day.

It is close, so close, to the winter solstice. The year is getting itself ready to turn, the land that you are held by is holding its breath; you and that land are making ready to wait. The December sky above, for the most fleeting of moments, has turned to lavender; it is a world all of its own moment in time, it is a place unlike any you have ever known before. The land that you are being held by breathes out, there is delicacy in the air; like the moths are making winter on your skin. You breathe out, too, slowly; letting every single part of it go, watching as it all dances in the emptied sky.

You watch until you see that everything else has gone, there is nothing left here.

You are completely alone under this feathery, new sky; there is nothing there anymore to hold you in place.

You are at the point where the circle meets the line, the line meets the circle; you are held in the still-point, in-between.

– Kerri ní Dochartaigh




Our walk led us to Art Arcadia where we laid out the treasures we had gathered along our journey – natural, man-made, discarded, overlooked – to use as starting points to inspire visual and written memoir responses exploring these in relation to self and a sense of place.

Kerri, Simon and I talked about how our collaboration had unfolded, why we were exploring ‘out the line’ and the relationships each of us has to the place.  This led to the group discussing their experiences, the objects, images and films gathered along the walk.

Discussions continued as we began to engage with what we had brought into the space from ‘out the line’.  Responses included words, drawings, playing with the objects, printing images, projecting films in the space and interacting with these.





Thank you to all the wonderful participants for taking time out to join our collaborative workshop.