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Inside the little houses of lockdown: How children turned to art to create a record of life during Covid

Exhibition at National Museum of Ireland, Collins Barracks, of striking tableaux by young Dubliners

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Paige McCloskey (11) created this model of a hospital ward after losing her uncle Joey to the coronavirus. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Paige McCloskey (11) created this model of a hospital ward after losing her uncle Joey to the coronavirus. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Paige McCloskey (11) created this model of a hospital ward after losing her uncle Joey to the coronavirus. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Like thousands of other children locked down during the pandemic, Paige McCloskey was bored, and more than a little lonely. Stuck at home in Stoneybatter, Dublin 7, with only her parents and older brother for company, the days dragged interminably.

I missed my friends,” Paige (11) recalled yesterday. “I was able to get out once a day for a walk, but otherwise, there was nothing to do.”

And then, at the height of the pandemic, Paige’s beloved aunt and uncle – May and Joey – both caught Covid. In their 70s and vulnerable, they were both hospitalised within weeks of catching the virus.

“They were in hospital for months, but we couldn’t even visit them,” said Paige.

“My auntie got better, but my uncle didn’t.”

After Joey’s death, because of ongoing Covid restrictions, a devastated Paige and her family were unable to attend the funeral.

There was no chance to say a real goodbye.

So when Paige was asked to take part in a community art project reflecting her life in lockdown, she created a model of a hospital ward.

Using glue, wood, clay, cloth and even a Barbie doll from her own collection, Paige’s model depicts a masked-up ICU nurse tending to a patient lying in bed. A model of a ventilator and bedside drip complete the scene.

It is a striking tableau that captures the difficult reality of Covid for so many. Paige’s model now forms part of the Little Houses exhibition, which is launched today in Collins Barracks in Dublin.

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A collaboration between the National Museum of Ireland and Stoneybatter Youth Services, Little Houses is a unique collection of artwork made by locals in Dublin 7.

Inspired by a similar project in the Netherlands, youth worker Johanna Visser had the idea of distributing art materials around Stoneybatter, in Dublin’s north inner city, during lockdown and asking young people to create something that would capture their Covid experience.

The resulting 3-D models of rooms and houses capture everything from the grief and loss of Covid to the little things that kept them going.

One young artist made a model of a swimming pool, to reflect how much she was missing her regular swimming lessons. Others celebrated the TV programmes, family scenes, games and schoolwork that made up their daily routines.

The collection offers an intimate insight into the lived experience of the city’s children throughout Covid – but the models also capture something of what was going on on a global stage, says Helen Beaumont, the education and outreach officer at the National Museum.

“The exhibition talks about loss and loneliness, about boredom and fun, about looking to nature or family for solace and comfort,” she said.

“It’s a very honest reflection from this community of what happened across the country, and across the world.”

As normality begins to resume for children across Ireland, it is only by looking back that the families realise the enormity of what they went through.

“Paige is still only still readjusting to school,” said her mother Annette.

“Lockdown took a toll on her. She is only settling back to normality now.”


Little Houses is running at the National Museum of Ireland, Collins Barracks, Dublin. Admission is free


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