Artists at Ballinglen Arts Centre, Ballycastle, Co Mayo. Left to right: Helen Comerford, Patricia Hurl, Carole Nelson, Catherine Marshall, Barbara Freeman, Garda Teljeur, Therry Rudin, and Maria Levinge. Photograph: Keith Heneghan. Image Ballinglen Arts Foundation, September 2020

Na Cailleacha Artists Collective. Founded in October 2019 

Irish Times Reporter, Rosita Boland, Reports: 

I’m sitting round a large table in the village of Ballycastle, Co Mayo, with a collective of eight women who call themselves Na Cailleacha, or, the Hags. Between them, the Hags have an accumulated age of 589 years. Eight of them are visual artists, one is a jazz musician, and one an arts curator.

I’ve just asked the group: What is one important thing you know now at this age that you wish you had known as a younger woman? One by one, they all answer the exact same thing.

“Self-belief,” says Barbara Freeman (82). As does Gerda Teljeur (77); Patricia Hurl (76); Therry RudinMaria Levinge, and Helen Comerford (all 73); Catherine Marshall (71); and Carole Nelson (64). There is a bit of laughter as the same replies keep being repeated, but there is steel behind the laughter. We’ve been talking about the invisibility, real or perceived, of older women in society; particularly artists.

“And being proud of myself,” Rudin, a documentary maker, adds. “Confidence is so vital. In younger days, I would have said, ‘I hope to be an artist’, but men would have said, ‘I am going to be one’.”

“We were told not to be proud of ourselves when we were girls,” Hurl, a performance artist, says. “I came to feminism at 37. My mother and my sister were strong women but they were not feminists.”

There is a murmur of recognition around the table at this.

“We are the generation who grew up with women being objects of the gaze instead of being the gaze itself,” Marshall says. An art historian and curator, she was invited to join the group as a kind of mentor and anchor. Each evening, after a communal dinner, she throws out topics for everyone to discuss. Some of the topics they have discussed prior to my arrival were: friendship, death, fear, success, vulnerability. “I am very political about being over 70,” Marshall says now. “I want to be an activist for women for this part of our lives.”