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Kathleen McKenna Award

As part of the Decade of Centenaries Programme 2012-2023, Solstice Arts Centre and Meath County Council Cultural Services announced Margaret Fitzgibbon, Leah Hilliard and Nicola Sheehan as the winners of the award that commemorates the Irish republican activist and journalist Kathleen Napoli McKenna, born in Oldcastle, County Meath. 

Artists of all disciplines were invited to submit a proposal for a work, or research for a work, that reflects on Kathleen McKenna, and/or, in relation to related feminist themes within the Decades of Centenaries.

This award is supported by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media under the Decade of Centenaries 2012 - 2023 initiative.

Scroll down below to see the outcome of their projects!



Supported by

Her arms reach out to us | Margaret Fitzgibbon

In the body of work titled Her arms reach out to us, Fitzgibbon draws on early feminism and the Irish fight for independence. To do this, she researched main archival sources, namely: The Kathleen McKenna Napoli Papers 1917-1979 held in The National Library of Ireland and Kathleen’s own memoire titled "A Dáil Girl's Revolutionary Recollections". (2014) which was edited by her daughter and niece, as well as a range of online articles mentioning Kathleen’s participation in the fight for independence. This research builds a picture of the professional and personal life of Kathleen McKenna to finally edit a series of approximately 10 text snippets.

McKenna's memoir is most striking as it gives a great insight into a long, vibrant full and varied life spanning England, Italy and Ireland - where she dies in 1988. McKenna was acutely aware that she lived in an era of modernity and female emancipation and her decision to take secretarial studies offered her, and many other young women at that time, a range of unheard of benefits in direct contrast to the traditional homemaker, domestic or shop assistant roles prevalent at the time e.g.: financial independence, skilled secretarial training; female friendship and solidarity; daily 9-5 rather than long, labour intensive work. In 1919, it allowed Kathleen to directly approach the Nationalist movement in Dublin and offer her services as a trained secretary to work on the layout and editing of the Irish Bulletin. As an Irish woman from a well known Nationalist family she was, from an early age, embedded in the ‘Irish struggle’ from the oppressive regime of the British Empire and was determined to participate in some way, as contextualised in her memoir…  “I was born in the year Arthur Griffith, father of Sinn Féin and first president of the Independent Irish State left Dublin to go to South Africa, 1897." 

The artist states: "Browsing through over 250 documents that feature references to the Irish Bulletin and the papers of “Kathleen Napoli McKenna” in the NLI was very illuminating, with the minutiae of so many typed and hand-written official documents, letters and small notes brought me into the daily web of administration and efficacy needed to promote and pursue the ongoing struggle for Independence. However, Kathleen’s own voice and intimate recollections in the memoir were extremely powerful as they highlighted the day to day personal affect on one person’s  life and safety including the later drama and bitter divisions that the truce treaty brought in 1922 e.g. “The effect of our widespread propaganda was deadly. But deadly too were the reinforced of Auxiliaries, Black and Tans and intelligence agents, to locate the lair of the ‘lying vipers" (1920). Her life was hugely informed by these early years informing her sense of pride and identity and desire to comment on social issues. By commemorating this remarkable Irish woman through a range of embodied memories; facts and personal anecdotes I hope to create a fitting tribute to the brilliant professional skills, personal courage, loyalty and integrity of Kathleen McKenna in her role in the fight for Irish Independence." - Margaret Fitzgibbon

Margaret Fitzgibbon’s practice fuses narrative modes including poetry, text, and collage. She recalibrates the tensions between reality and fantasy, unsettling designations of gender and identity, art and craft.

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KATHLEEN | Leah Hilliard

KATHLEEN celebrates the remarkable story of Kathleen Napoli McKenna (1897-1988) born in Oldcastle, Co. Meath, witness and contributor to one of the most significant times in Ireland’s history. In her work producing the Irish Bulletin for the Propaganda Department of the first Dáil, she showed bravery, resourcefulness and dexterity. During the War of Independence, the London treaty negotiations, and the Civil War, she had confidential and volatile information at her fingertips. She was twenty-two.

This bespoke textile work, realised in a billboard located at the roundabout on Railway Street, uses a QR code to link to a video spoken word piece. Digitisation of the original textile work draws attention to the evidence of the human hand; KATHLEEN is an individual act of making, just as the Irish Bulletin was. Hilliard was particularly struck by the references to the skill and dexterity of Kathleen McKenna in laying out type. So much of the labour and success of campaigning involves intense and repetitive tasks that not only reinforce the bonds of the cause but also foster the comradeship needed to sustain commitment. KATHLEEN explores how the back of a piece of embroidery can be as revealing as the front, symbolising the way in which history often doesn’t give the full story of a campaign.

KATHLEEN goes on the Luas!

In late 2022, Kathleen will be reproduced as a 'poster advertisement' for the Luas in Dublin - just as Kathleen McKenna's work on the Irish Bulletin had her criss-crossing the city. Passengers of the Luas will be able to scan a QR code on the posters to access the video and learn more about this historical figure from Meath.

The KATHLEEN Luas project is made possible through the support of Creative Ireland


Leah Hilliard is an award-winning artist and educator whose work is based in performance, engaging with public space, and involves spoken word, fabric and installation. With a background in event management and public art commissioning, her practice explores her long-standing interests in technology and society, particularly in relation to the lives of women and the ways in which women create formal and informal networks for the transfer of information. 

Hilliard has exhibited extensively in Ireland, the UK (including Digital Show at the Liverpool Biennale), France, and Australia. Selected recent projects include: Knowledge Flow 2019 (solo show, Ballina Arts Centre, 2019, funded by Digital Transformations bursary, 2018); Room Autumn (Arbour Hill Dublin, 2016); Homework performance at the Glitch Festival (Rua Red Tallaght, Dublin, 2016). Recent research projects include the Mothership Satellite project (2019; funded by the Arts Council, 2017 project award); Close Captioning Technology & Performance research (grant-aided by NCAD, 2016); In Public, In Particular, an international project using participatory art methods to create situation specific art (2014 - 2019)

Recent awards include the Kathleen McKenna Award 2021, Solstice Arts Centre and Meath County Council Cultural Services; Arts Council Agility award, Arts Council Professional Development Award 2020; DRLCOCO Creative Ireland Mentorship award, 2020; Cowhouse residency, 2020; DRLCOCO grant, 2019; the inaugural digital society bursary, Digital Transformations, 2018.

 Photography below by Anthony Hobbs. 

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Leath Hilliard Kathleen tapestry

Dear Little Box | Nicola Sheehan

The body of work titled Dear Little Box commemorates Kathleen Napoli McKenna’s time working with the Irish Bulletin, and her devotion, both to the Bulletin - which she fondly refers to as her “god-child”- and to her country. During the Irish Bulletin’s two year lifespan, McKenna worked to physically type and duplicate each issue from various hideouts across Dublin, using printing apparatus including mimeographs and Gestetner brand duplicators. The digital prints reference McKenna’s work, acknowledging at the basest level, the physical feat of carrying the heavy duplicator between hideouts in Dublin to ensure the timely production of each issue of the Bulletin. The prints hold a slight green hue, which references McKenna’s distinguishable green tam o shanter cap, which had been known to the Black and Tans.

The artist book contains McKenna’s first hand accounts of her time with the Irish Bulletin. These are extracted from her submissions to the Capuchin Annual 1970 and 1971 as well as from her memoir. McKenna was a thorough researcher and editor and in her later life worked to correct historical inaccuracies about the War of Independence and the Civil War by giving spoken and written accounts of her time working for Ireland. The book’s pages feature digital prints as well as typewritten quotes from McKenna, which have been duplicated via scanning and reprinting. This act is a nod to McKenna’s actions. The text in the original typewritten pages, the text in the final book (to a lesser extent due to its reproduction), hold a purple hue. This is in reference to the distinctive purple tone of mimeograph ink.

The photogram of the Gestetner roller once more acknowledges the laborious tasks undertaken by McKenna, whilst in its creation of being exposed by the sun, captures and demarks a moment of Irish sunshine during the Decade of Centenaries.

The work will be on display in Studio 12, Backwater Artists Group in March 2023.

Nicola Sheehan is a visual artist based in Cork, Ireland. She received a First Class Honours BA in Fine Art in 2021 from MTU Crawford College of Art & Design. She is currently based out of Backwater Artists Group in Cork City. She works primarily with expanded printmaking techniques, utilising a combination of both digital and analogue processes. Her body is the subject matter in the work which studies women from history and mythology who have been inaccurately or unfairly represented. The work is heavily research based, and aims to empower these characters by studying and re-telling the narrative in an unbiased manner. For her degree show work, Nicola was awarded the MTU Graduate Residency Award (Printmaking), the MTU Graduate Residency Award (Materials Store), the MTU Student Engagement Exhibition Award, the Cork City Council Arts Office Purchase Prize, the Tyndall Institute Purchase Prize and the MTU Purchase Prize.

Recent awards include the Kathleen McKenna Award 2021, the Valerie Gleeson Development Bursary 2022 and the Limerick Printmakers Award 2022.

Collections include: Tyndall Institute, Office of Public Works, MTU Arts Office, and Cork City Council Arts Office.

Nicola is a member of Cork Printmakers, Limerick Printmakers, Backwater Artists Group, Visual Artists Ireland and the Institute of Conservation (ICON).

Detail of Kathleen Balancing Digital Print on 70gsm Awagami Inbe Thin paper 78  x 44  2022 .
Detail of Kathleen with Roller and Board Digital Print on 70gsm Awagami Inbe Thin paper 78  x 44  2022 .
Detail of Kathleen with Roller and Board Digital Print on 70gsm Awagami Inbe Thin paper 78  x 44  2022.
Gestetner Roller Photogram on Somerset paper 22  x 16  2022.
From left to right  Kathleen with Duplicator Kathleen with Roller and Board and Kathleen Balancing v2.
Installation shot  from left to right  Kathleen with Duplicator Kathleen with Roller and Board Kathleen Balancing Photogram of Gestetner Roller
Installation shot of work with Gestetner Neo Cyclostyle Duplicator
Installation shot  Kathleen Balancing and Gestetner Roller
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Memoir Artist Book 26cm x 20cm 2022 9