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Dublin artist Sophie Meehan remains inspired despite Covid

The artist and poet talks to The Liberty about the political art she created during lockdown and her love of the city.

Pictured: Sophie Meehan by Vanessa Ifediora 

A hand-made magazine – a zine – might seem like a funny thing to create in a pandemic. But artist Sophie Meehan has told The Liberty how the time of Covid-19 gave life to her zine character Emmet Ó Gadhar Rua.  

Having grown up in Inchicore, Rialto, and near Patrick Street, Sophie Meehan now calls Dublin 7 home. She creates poetry and uses different art forms to create various kinds of work, such as illustrations, cartoons, films and writings.  

The character of Emmet Ó Gadhar Rua features in Meehan’s own personal zine, Liberty in the Liberties. Emmet is described as a ‘socialist fox’, born in the first year of Ireland’s independence (1922) in the Liberties.

Meehan herself was raised on stories of Robert Emmet and tales of many other iconic Irish heroes. 

Photo Credit: Sophie Meehan via Ko-fi 

So how did this socialist fox, who fights alongside anti-fascist movements against Eoin O’Duffy’s Blueshirts, come to life in the art form of zines?  

According to Meehan, Emmet was the result of a pandemic project started by writer and journalist Joanna Walsh. The project was to send in DIY mini zines (self-published mini magazines), which were subsequently posted on Twitter.

“I think it’s a good format for Emmet because zines are a great equaliser with a DIY punk ethos, and a really easy way to share information that might be ignored or censored by mainstream media,” Meehan says.

The Zines in the Dark account features numerous zines from people everywhere and vary from theme to theme. “Some are about people’s experiences and anxieties during the pandemic, and some are just about random things.”

“I think it’s a good format for Emmet because zines are a great equaliser with a DIY punk ethos, and a really easy way to share information that might be ignored or censored by mainstream media.”

Sophie meehan

Meehan says she first met the character of Emmet Ó Gadhar Rua lurking around the doorway of Vincenzo’s chipper on Thomas Street. “I love seeing foxes scampering around Dublin. I once said to a friend that I classified a good night out in town by whether I would see a fox out late on the way home.”

The socially conscious fox was also partly inspired by left-wing activist and poet Charles Donnelly. “He was killed in the Spanish Civil War fighting against Franco’s fascists.” Meehan says she holds a deep admiration for Donnelly.

“I feel like people forget that there were fascists and sympathisers in Ireland. That’s probably where the element of Emmet being ‘written out of history’ comes from. It’s just funny because he’s a fox. 

“Everything I do has a basis in my social conscience, with a twist of absurdist humour.  For example, my debut short film ‘Monday to Friday Person’ is a surreal comedy discussing the housing situation in Dublin.

“It’s about someone who has no human needs and evaporates on the weekends – so he’s perfect for landlords,” she added.

“Lots of my art comes directly from seeing, hearing, and feeling Dublin, especially the inner-city, Dublin 8, the waterways and the railways. I only really realised when I started working on my debut poetry collection, how many of my poems are about places and spaces in Dublin,” she says.

Along with illustrations, her experiences and memories of her life in Dublin take precedence in her poetry, particularly in “Emotional Transfer”.  

The poem recounts how she felt when Chris Forrester first left Inchicore’s St Patrick’s Athletic Football Club in 2015. 

“All at once you feel all the various disappointments and losses in your whole life come crushing in on you. It’s one of my favourite titles because it’s about both a football transfer and the psychology of emotional transference, where you misdirect feelings about someone onto someone else.”

When asked about her influences, she admits to being inspired by her time at Dublin Youth Theatre as a teenager and then her time studying at Trinity College.  

She said, “If there’s one person I’d love to mention, it’s my friend Paul Curran, a spoken word artist and musician who died a few years ago and whose presence I miss greatly in the world.

“His work, especially his perspective and authenticity in being an artist from working class Dublin, had a massive impact on me. As did his generous, warm nature and his indescribable presence.

“He had duende, what the poet Federico García Lorca described as the thing that connects a performer to an audience when they are really baring their soul.”

“I would encourage anyone reading this to listen to his poetry on SoundCloud (paulcurranspokenword) and his band ‘Burnt Out’ on YouTube. I love you, Paul!”

So,what’s next for Sophie Meehan despite the pandemic? 

Her next venture is working alongside researcher Emma Penney on a project, “collecting decades of poetry and prose from working class community writing groups into an accessible archive.”  

The website, which is launching later this year, will compile and exhibit all these works and make them accessible to readers for the first time.  

Meehan encourages anybody involved in writing groups in Dublin or anyone who has compiled their own memoirs/writings about working class community life in Dublin to get in touch at workingclasswritingarchive@gmail.com.

Her artwork is available at BangBang Café in Phibsboro and on her website.

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