Drawing inspiration from the ‘coffin ship voyage’ of Irish immigrants during the Great Hunger (1845- 1852), Claire Sheridan’s final year collection closed the Dublin Institute of Design Fashion Show. Entitled Honora’s Voyage, Sheridan’s work draws largely on the use of dark and light colors. However, far from binary, Sheridan’s collection is an emotional journey encapsulating the complexity of the six – eight week transatlantic passage. Among the many words that could be used to describe Honra’s Voyage are despair, darkness, disease, death. And yet, one could also use optimism, renewal, opportunity, triumph and, most importantly, hope.
The poignancy of Sheridan’s work is further increased by the current socio-economic climate. At a time of high emigration, Honora’s Voyage highlights the similarities and divergences between contemporary Irish society and the emigrant culture of the Great Hunger. While the journeys themselves are entirely different, Honora’s Voyage serves to instill in the audience an ominous awareness of what is happening in Ireland today and an insight into the frame of mind of those who have left.
One of the most powerful pieces in Sheridan’s collection is entitled ‘Despair’. The garment was influenced by the perception of the many emigrants who saw the coffin ships as a means to cast aside the shackles that bound them to the land, poverty and destitution, and the heavy sense of foreboding found in the technical elements of ship design. The black lace reflects the rigging of the gigantic coffin ships and the side panel is shaped in the manner of a ship bow.
The final garment in Honora’s Voyage is nothing short of a breath-taking piece that heralds the triumph of optimism over the despair of the past. Entitled ‘Hope’, the garment found its muse in the faith and hearts of the emigrants, who cradled the fragile dream of survival and a bright, new beginning in America. Painstakingly pleated and twisted into a rope pattern, the piece carries a distinctly Celtic design. ‘Hope’ simultaneously foreshadows and remembers the generation of Irish immigrants, who walked, emaciated and huddled together, into the warmth of the New World’s sun.
Sheridan’s work serves to perfectly illustrate how the art of fashion can reflect both the current moment and the historical past, creating an emotional canvas that transcends the boundaries of time.
By Sam Malone
Claire Sheridan can be contacted at clairetsheridan [at] gmail [dot] com
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