They Gathered Rushes


“She gathered rushes in the bog and peeled them and kept the soft part. Then she got some sheep’s suet and melted it in a metal burner, and she put the rushes into it. After a while she put them in a cool place to stiffen, and then they were ready for use”. Dúchas, The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0734, Page 411

The above quote is taken from the Irish Dúchas archives and specifically the Schools’ Collection of folklore and memories of how people lived in Ireland in the 1930s. Compiled by teachers, who recorded in handwritten journals pupils accounts, the Schools’ Collection covers topics such as  supernatural lore, hidden treasures, diseases, cures and herbs, local crafts and customs, famous local people and information regarding holy wells, fairy forts, local fairs, and games. Running from 1937-39, over 50,000 schoolchildren took part.

The above description relates to the practice of making candles from bog rushes. Working with similar extracts “They Gathered Rushes’ continues a line of work that examines connections between local materials, making practices, infrastructure reliance, network ecologies and energy sources.

Specifically drawing on accounts relating to candle making and its associated kitchen economies in the midlands county of Westmeath, Ireland, “They Gathered Rushes” gleamed what was possible from archives to create a homage to the the areas boglands and their historic positioning as a source of energy (rush lights, peat turf fires, briquette factories, peat powered electricity stations). Employing the aesthetics of DIY instructables, alongside music video, object and image manipulation techniques, a meditative rendering of the reverse engineered recipes emerges, that connects the practice of making candles to a wider set, of entanglements and relations.

Funded by Creative Ireland Grant Scheme 2023 and Westmeath County Council.

Direction and research: Teresa Dillon. Camera and editing: Matt Boyd: Music: Kelly Wyse. Special thanks too: Ben Goodman, UWE and Westmeath County Arts Office, Miriam Mulrennan, Elizabeth Kerrigan and Kim Magee.