Last week we were honoured to be asked by the “Welcome to Roscommon” Movement to create the artwork for the welcome wall project. As some of you know already, Ballaghaderreen has been selected to host a number of Syrian Refugees in a transition centre, where they can rest, recuperate and get to know their new country a little bit before being moved to permanent housing across the country. You can read about the many wonderful projects the Welcome to Roscommon movement are initiating to make this transition as positive and easy as possible on their Facebook page.
We find it almost impossible to imagine what these families and individuals have been through, having had to leave their homes, communities, friends and many loved ones behind. For the last few weeks or months they have been staying in camps in Greece, many in very poor conditions and with little shelter from freezing temperatures. About half of the refuges set to arrive in early March are young children.
In a meeting with a few of the Welcome to Roscommon coordinators we settled on a tree as a symbol of welcome and friendship. Ballaghaderreen translates in Irish to Bealach an Doirín, meaning “the way of the little oak grove”. The oak is also the symbol for the Celtic Tree of Life. We found it appropriate to use the Tree of Life symbol on this welcome wall as it is a universal symbol, for example in Norse mythology it is Yggdrasil, the mighty ash and in Persian culture it is often pictured as a closely related beautiful flowering World tree.
At our disposal we had five room diving panels that a local business kindly donated. They are made from foam backed material and at first we made a mistake trying to put down white emulsion as a base coat. They looked alright for a while, but soon all the paint seeped through the fabric into the foam and we ended up having to dry them out overnight and try a different approach. We used undiluted PVA on the second day and managed to get a layer on in the morning, dry the panels out and add one more layer in the afternoon. On the third day it was finally time to get a basecoat of white emulsion mixed with PVA onto the panels and a sturdy paintable canvas had been created.
We put down light blue and green for the sky and ground. A big circle was drawn and we lightly sketched the tree shape in place. We had decided to use stencils and masking tape for a lot of the work as it speeds the process up immensely when working on something as large as this.
We wanted some rays of sunlight to shine down through the tree as rays of hope at the end of a long and tiresome journey. We put on masking tape and stippled gold, silver and iridescent paint along one side of each strip to create the rays of hope shining through from behind the tree. We also added some shades of green paint with a big natural sponge to create a hazy effect.
One of our teenagers created oak leaf templates and cut them out of cereal boxes. We then stippled green paint in many different shades to create a mass of leaves on our tree.
It was then time to work on the trunk and roots in many shades of brown.
We used masking tape to add more rays of hope, this time with white and iridescent paint to travel through the front of the tree and hit the trunk and ground in several places. We also worked on the roots to thicken them up and added some lovely ferns.
As another symbol of hope and happiness, we added a swallow. We wish all the refuges a happy, safe and prosperous life in Ireland. All around the tree we have added hundreds of circles that will be filled with welcome messages from the local and extended community on Saturday next, the 11th of February. You can read about the event here. Underneath each circle there is space to write a translation in Arabic.
It is now our fifth day working on the project and although we initially thought it would be done sooner, we are very happy to have been given the opportunity to partake in this project. It has given us plenty of time to reflect on how lucky we are to be living in a place, not ravaged and torn apart by war. We believe it is our duty to reach out and support the less fortunate. We can’t wait to see the finished wall, filled with messages of welcome and love. It will be placed in the lobby of the building the refugees will be living in.
You can read about when the wall filled up with loving messages here.