Alternative Ulster is the record of a journey to a fantasy American homeland
I wanted to think in a different landscape about questions that had arisen in my own: about the concentric circles of identity formed by memory, the body, the family; by the community, tribe or ethic group; by locale, nationality, language and literature – and about the wild tides that have washed and wash over those neat circles, tides of invasion, colonization, emigration, exile, nomadism, and tourism.
Rebecca Solnit ‘A Book of Migrations’ 2011
I have always had a difficult relationship with my native Ulster in the north of Ireland, not unlike an unrequited love affair. Sometimes I yearn for it, other times I’m glad I left. In 2012 I got to know another place called Ulster in upstate New York and it felt like I was cheating on a lover.
A relaxed, liberal place that was free from violence and conflict - in other words everything my native Ulster wasn’t - this other Ulster quickly became the fantasy home I desired it to be. Of course it was, because I discovered it through the dreamy desire of a corporate IBM recruitment film that was subliminally loaded with the outdated ideal of the American dream. Originally made in the late 60s or early 70s the films purpose was to encourage young American professionals to move to Ulster County, New York and work in its new plant. Curious about this far away utopia, named after the region of my birth, I made a beeline for it.
During several visits to this alternative Ulster I found familiar but out of place references to my history, folklore and culture; connections preserved and clung to by early immigrants as a way to maintain some threads to their origins. Some of these were artificial, commercially manufactured as part of a thriving heritage industry that leaned heavily on myth and romantic folklore. Others where authentic, and bore witness to the shaping of the land by early Irish immigrants. These immigrants toiled in jobs that stimulated the growth of New York City and the surrounding locales; quarrying stone that paved the city streets; digging a canal from the Pennsylvania coal fields to the Hudson River; logging and mining the materials for building.
It is easy to find Irish references on the east coast of America; street signs, flags and Celtic festivals. However this affair wasn’t about how hard or easy it is to find such connections, it was about what happened when I did. Even though physically present in one place our minds are always assessing it in terms of where we come from and where our past experiences occurred. While distance is an important measuring stick for finding out where we are, it can also be used to evaluate who we are. And that was the point of this flight of fantasy, to think, as Solnit says about my old landscape, my old lover, in the contrasting desires of this new one.
Kingston, Ulster County, New York, 2014
Altered vintage OS map.
Dated 1949, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland
The land has been removed from the map as a way to represent the removal of land from Irish ownership during the early British occupation of Ireland . This act was a contributing factor to reshaping of the land, the resulting famines and mass migration to North America
The D&H canal (immigrant work site)
High Falls, Ulster County, New York, 2013
Found photographs of American Homes and Homesteads
from an on going collection
Cement mine (immigrant work site)
Snyder Estate, Ulster County, New York, 2012
76.2x60 & 152x121 cm , C-type
Rosendale, Ulster County, New York, 2012
76.2x60 & 127x101.6 cm, Silver gelatin