Looking at the Abbey Hotel from a new perspective

Whether it’s a wedding, a race dance or a meeting of irate farmers, the Abbey Hotel in Roscommon is somewhere most people are familiar with, but two artists on the Art@work project have recently used the family-run hotel as the inspiration for an installation and interactive multi-media piece as part of this year’s Art@work project which will be launched on Saturday afternoon.  The two artists involved are Joanne Beirne from Roscommon town and Ciarda Tobin from Limerick. The paths of the two women have crossed on several occasions, and having worked together previously, they met again this year at the launch of a new theatre company in Limerick and decided to take part in this year’s Art@work exhibition in Roscommon.             Joanne studied Drama and theatre studies in Britain and completed a masters degree in Irish Theatre Studies in Trinity College, while Ciarda studied Theatre Studies and Art History in Trinity and did her post graduate in Theatre Studies in Cork.             Joanne, as a daughter of Tom and Phil Beirne of George’s, The Square, Roscommon, is very familiar with both the town and the Abbey Hotel. ‘I had a certain awareness of the Art@work project from Roscommon and I saw some previous exhibitions. I knew Noel Molloy and some of the other artists and Ciarda knew Michael Fortune. My parents have the pub, George’s, so I come from a service industry background and we see the other side of things, being behind a bar.’             Speaking of the approach which the duo took to the project, Ciarda said, ‘We figured we were interested in a documentary approach which is becoming popular now. It centres on documentary theatre performance based on testimonial from a living speaker. The aim of the project is to respond to the workplace and what that produces and make a piece of art out of it.             ‘What a hotel produces is service and that’s made up of people and we were really interested in people and the stories and the life experience of the people who work and live here and the fact that it’s   family-run hotel is central to that.’             Background work on the project was conducted through interviews with people involved with the hotel at all levels. The project is a twin approach, with an installation piece described ‘as if you’re sitting down to a dinner at the Abbey’ and an interactive multi-media piece.             The Art@work exhibition opens on Saturday next, July 28th at 3 pm and runs in Roscommon Arts Centre for a month. Ciarda and Joanne started working on their project at the end of May and have been working on it at intervals since.             ‘There are very few people in Roscommon that haven’t been there, so people can relate to things and I think the pieces will elicit a response and we think people will enjoy it,’ said Joanne.             The work was split between the two artists, Joanne did most of the recording and interviewing of people and Ciarda took photos and did some interviews. The interviews involved members of the Grealy family and staff, both long serving staff from Ireland and staff from other countries and took in all departments within the hotel.             ‘It was very important to the Grealys that we got a sense of the whole hotel, that we would recognise all the departments, it’s not just about the bar or the rooms, or reception,’ said Joanne.             The Abbey Hotel is a family-run business, but the story of the Abbey Hotel is mixed up with the story of Joanne’s own family. Her father Tom worked at the hotel and it was there that he met his wife Phil.             Concluding, both Joanne and Ciarda thanked the Grealy family and the staff of the Abbey Hotel for their co-operation in relation to the project. ‘The staff and family have been so supportive and positive about it and we would like to thank them for their support and enthusiasm.’