A bell is meant to speak. Or call. It has a tongue, a voice. In mediaeval Ireland bells were invested with significant symbolic power. They were associated with saints and some of these early bells were guarded, hidden and passed down intact to modern times. This bell is based on the form of those early mediaeval Irish bells but rendered in lead rather than iron and bronze. Its voice has been stopped, its call trapped, the tongue held immobile in wax. I’ve used lead and wax before in my work. Lead for me is bound up in death, used to make bullets and to line coffins. Wax too has a hint of the mortuary, used to embalm. Wax however also connotes innocence and preservation, like the wax dipped flowers French brides kept as memorials of their wedding days and the waxy incorruptible features of glass casketed saints.
I first started thinking of making sets of silenced bells in the context of memorialising the dead of the Ballymurphy massacre, and those who were killed on Bloody Sunday but Fiona Donohoe’s raw grief at the loss of her son Noah moved me to make this standalone work.
If you aren’t from Northern Ireland, or don’t have connections there, you may not know of Noah Donohoe. On June 21st 2020, Noah, a fourteen year old, left his house in Belfast to meet some friends with whom he was preparing for the Duke of Edinburgh’s award. He didn’t arrive. Six days later his naked body was found in a storm drain. The autopsy findings indicated that he died by drowning and the Police Service of Northern Ireland were quick to assert that no-one was being sought in connection with his death but after ceaseless campaigning by his distraught mother CCTV footage emerged that showed him cycling naked through central Belfast. Someone tried to pawn his laptop. Some of his clothing is yet to be found. His body was recovered from a considerable distance inside a storm drain that was meant to have been locked. Obviously his death raises many questions but the official response remains that there is nothing further his mother, his family, needs to know. What, or who, is being hidden. And why?