Local People, Local Wisdom: Michelle Collins, Kilcoe

In this photo series West Cork photographer Aoise Tutty Jackson uses her informal and fresh style to connect with, and share the wisdom of, people in our community.

Michelle Collins grew up near Kilcoe in ‘a traditional Irish home’, the youngest, with four older brothers and lots of greyhounds. After finishing school she spent ten years studying, living and travelling internationally. She was always drawn to new cultures, with a natural penchant for exploration. Studying psychotherapy, music and eventually landing within the discipline of Anthropology, she is now living between Baltimore and Norway alongside her family, where she is finishing a PhD in Cultural studies focusing on contemporary practices of ‘keening’. Keening is the anglicised word for the tradition of the ‘Caoineadh’ – a lament which was practiced at wakes and funerals. Michelle has also been running the ‘Resonate’ festival (an Arts and Wellbeing festival) which runs alongside the Skibbereen Arts festival for five years. It runs for a week in the end of July-start of August in and around Skibbereen. 

 “I first came across the term ‘keening’ as a child. My father used the word to describe a sound the dogs made. When I was in Zambia, volunteering at a HIV hospice, I met a priest who was living there for 25 years. He took me into a room where  a child had just died, two women were lamenting and crying over the body – I immediately recognised it as a form of keening and it touched me deeply. 

 There’s a magic about keening. It connects me to Irish history and mythology, to the voice and expressing through the voice. Singing it of course connects me to a bodily practice but also to the past. And then the contemporary practice of keening is very much about presence. 

 I very clearly believe in something other, something unseen, something more than myself 

There are times of year that are very important to me which are also connected to keening, Samhain, Winter Solstice and Imbolc in particular. They are special times of year to reflect and connect with our dead. 

 Material things like having a house, car,  and so on never motivated me. I’ve never been good at planning what will happen next. I’ve tended to trust and go with the flow. This has meant that I’m often ‘in between’ things and spaces. There’s a challenge with that, it’s not always comfortable. There is safety and comfort in the norm.  

I try always to speak to others as my equal, no matter the social or cultural differences. In the past, I think I have forgotten that when speaking to people I felt lesser than, inferior to. I shied away. Now I feel I really understand what it is to talk to anybody as my equal, no matter what.

 I love travelling; it was a huge part of my life for 10 years before I started living in places longer term. I loved the challenge of talking to new people and finding some common ground. Initially you might think you have nothing in common but there’s never been a person I haven’t been able to find a connection with. It’s a good reminder to me now. 

 Modern society is fast paced, we are more divided and isolated now. Of late – being in nature and slowing down is a huge part of what supports me. I love creating spaces where you are invited to slow down, invited to connect with yourself and your body in a practice, as well as to connect with other participants. Many of the spaces I coordinate as part of ‘Resonate’ are traditional arts or heritage practices, which support connection to place and environment. This subtle experience of connectedness with another person can be really profound.”

 One of the things that frightens me is the polarisation in today’s world – the aggression that comes with that. Intimacy and empathy are very important to me. Maintaining that openness that you’re not always right, you’re coming from where you’re coming from. I try to consider everybody as just another me. If you had the same experiences they did, how much different would you be living your life?”

www.aoisetuttyjackson.com email aoise@92circles.com or call 086 3465373.

WCP Staff

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