Cork children capture lockdown life through art

Two Cork winners of Making Memories, a national Traveller art competition for children, share their feelings on the Covid-19 lockdown with ELLIE O’BYRNE
Cork children capture lockdown life through art

Six-year-old Katelynn McDonagh with her prize-winning entry into the recent Making Memories art competition.

THEY say a picture tells a thousand words. And when you look at six-year-old Katelynn McDonagh’s prize-winning entry into the recent Making Memories art competition, the words couldn’t be clearer: lockdown isn’t easy.

Katelynn’s submission into the competition, Before and During Corona, is made up of two pictures of a little girl. In the first drawing, she’s playing outside in the sunshine, a smile on her face. In the second, she’s sitting inside a house, with a frown.

“It’s a girl inside over the coronavirus. She was sitting down, looking outside and pulling her hair because she misses her friends and going outside,” Katelynn explains.

“I’m in senior infants but when I go back to school I’ll be in first class. I was sad to leave school because I had to do schoolwork at home and it was very boring because I had to do loads and loads and loads of work.”

Katelynn, who has two younger brothers and another on the way, wants to be lots of things when she grows up, including a teacher and a Garda and, of course, an artist. Ask what class she misses most and she answers immediately: art.

And the budding artist has perfectly illustrated the challenges of lockdown for kids, not only within her own community and in Cork, but around the world.

Part of the artwork by Katelynn McDonagh
Part of the artwork by Katelynn McDonagh

Globally, 1.3 billion children have had their lives and routines upended by Covid-19 lockdowns, with researchers and child psychologists warning that the long-term impacts on their devleopment, confidence and mental health are unknown.

An international survey by NGO Save The Children in May found that 65% of children struggled with boredom and isolation during lockdown.

Katelynn’s mother, Breda McDonagh, says the lockdown was definitely a challenge for Katelynn, and for her younger siblings.

“Katelynn misses all her friends and her teacher in school, and her teacher Miss O’Brien is a much better teacher than her mummy; I’ve been told that a hundred times,” Breda says with a laugh.

Lack of social contact was the toughest thing for Katelynn, she says.

“It was hard not visiting anyone,” Breda says.

“We did a few car visits alright, where we parked up outside and waved out at people. That was really hard for Katelynn as well because she’s so used to being with all her cousins and her grandparents, so just seeing them from a car was hard. Now that visits are allowed again, we’re not doing too bad.”

“I want to say a big thanks to the organisers of the art competition. It was a great experience and it really helped take their mind off things and give them an activity.”

The Making Memories online art competition was the brainchild of artists Marie Lee and Leanne McDonagh, with the support of Involve Youth Services, CIT and Traveller’s Voice Magazine.

Aiming to showcase the talents of young Traveller artists in age categories all the way from six to 21, it also captured the memories made by children in lockdown.

With stunning artworks in a range of ages from all over Ireland, the competition had two Cork winners: Katelynn, from North Cork, in the Six and Under Category, and Mary Kate O’Sullivan, 10, who was one of five winners in the Visual and Conceptual category relating to Covid-19.

Mary Kate O’Sullivan, 10, who was one of five winners in the Visual and Conceptual category relating to Covid-19
Mary Kate O’Sullivan, 10, who was one of five winners in the Visual and Conceptual category relating to Covid-19

Mary Kate’s artwork, Angels, is a colourful tribute to frontline workers.

“My aunty Linda is a frontline worker because she works in home help and that’s what inspired me to make this,” explains Mary Kate, who will be going into fifth class this autumn.

“I traced the angel and then I coloured in all the colour with special art markers and then I wrote in all the words to say thank you to all the frontline workers.”

Mary Kate missed school, and in particular contact with her friends, during lockdown. But there were some positives, she says: “It was definitely boring sometimes, but there were fun things to do like playing with my siblings and going outside for a walk and drawing.

“Art is my favourite subject in school because it’s really fun.”

Mary Kate’s mother, Helen O’Sullivan, says the challenges of lockdown were made easier by the fact that the family of six had recently moved in to a new house, just weeks before the Coronavirus crisis.

While there had been news reports during lockdown with concerns for Traveller families trying to practice social distancing in crowded halting sites and unsuitable accommodation, the O’Sullivans can count their blessings, she says.

“We had been staying with a relative in a group housing scheme and we moved in January so it couldn’t have happened at a better time that we got a house,” Helen says.

“It would have been very challenging to keep them separate if it had happened before. We were confident enough when the lockdown happened that we’d be safe because we’re in a private housing estate. We were very lucky, one of the lucky ones really.”

Mary Kate, like Katelynn, is full of ambition; what does she want to be when she grows up?

The angel artwork by Mary Kate O'Sullivan, aged 10
The angel artwork by Mary Kate O'Sullivan, aged 10

“An artist or a doctor or a teacher,” she says. “I’ll have to work hard in school, and in college.”

Helen doesn’t think the lockdown is going to have long-term impacts on Mary Kate. None, at least, that ambition and hard work can’t conquer: “I tell my girls they can be anything they want to be when they grow up. Just aim high, and they’ll get there.”

Making Memories online art competition entries can still be seen at: https://www.facebook.com/Making -Memories-106910087682326

Two Cork winners of Making Memories, a national Traveller art competition for children, share their feelings on the Covid-19 lockdown with ELLIE O’BYRNE

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