News, Stories | 18 February 2021

My 12 weeks with The National Neighbourhood

The National Neighbourhood session with the National Gallery of Ireland on Zoom

The National Neighbourhood session with the National Gallery of Ireland on Zoom

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The National Neighbourhood builds cultural projects with communities, connecting artists, groups and villages with libraries, museums and creative places across Dublin City.

Over the last year we have been bringing people together through a series of online exploration projects with our cultural partners and artists - discovering all that the city has to offer, and keeping us connected through creativity and conversation.

The latest edition of The National Neighbourhood has just begun, but if you’d like to know more about the project and how you can get involved next time, you can find out more here.

Below, dancer and choreographer Muirne Bloomer, who worked with a group last autumn, recounts her experience of connecting and collaborating through The National Neighbourhood.

Saying yes

Never before have I so readily said "Yes Yes Yes" to a project. To be free to meet up with a diverse group of individuals from my own living room at 11.30 am every Thursday morning - sure what could be nicer. I am delighted to be at my computer, Zoom in and connect with a newly formed group for the designated one hour, fifteen minutes. My job is to listen and observe, help keep the chat going, reflect and reframe and lend any of my expertise while learning about our city’s wonderful national treasures - the cultural institutions.

I am sitting at my computer, it’s 8pm and I am preparing for the next day’s session that I am to lead. My fella is beside me on the couch swishing through the news on his iPad. He tells me a little anecdote from his house the previous night. His eldest son has a new girlfriend and she had dinner with him and his lads. He laughed when he related the loveliness of the expression she used when she was leaving "... thanks for having me." "I haven’t heard that in years", he says, "it’s a real old Dublin turn of phrase." I chuckle in recognition. It’s comforting to hear snippets of past lingo, a warm reminder of more carefree, innocent times gone by.

Making together

It’s 11:30am on week three and it's my turn to lead the session. We do a movement warm up and a little meditation and then we do a group question and answer game. It seems to be going well - everyone is open and responding to the tasks. I breathe a sigh of relief.

Towards the end of the session I set some homework of sorts. I encourage the participants to experience their environment with a sense of wonder. I ask them to pay attention to what they see, feel, smell, touch and hear in their everyday life. To find the extraordinary in the ordinary. I ask them to use their senses, breathe in their surroundings, smell the wet leaves in the garden, touch the fabric on the couch with a sense of awareness, to look closely, and see. Then they have to choose an object that means something to them, and show it to the group next week. I choose a tiny little ornate key to my beautiful antique post box in my lovely new home in Fairview. Lucy shows us her heirloom rocking chair. Ruth shows us her proudly painted finger nails, Nicholas his impressive collection of lighters. It is touching and a treat to hear everyone speak.

Fast forward to a few weeks later and I introduce phase two of the task which is to create something, a work of art - an artistic response in any medium like photography, painting, writing, knitting in response to the chosen object. There are thoughtful and inspired responses - a lovely piece written by Marie, Cathy’s photograph of clouds, Nuala’s beautifully knitted bábóg.

Now let me tell you about the Session 11 Special. Evan, from the engagement team at the Culture Company, is a wizard of information about Dublin’s street art and heritage buildings, so he designed a video tour of various sites around Dublin (in response to interests that emerged in previous sessions) which was then presented to the group. We recorded Evan’s take on some of Dublin’s hidden monuments, pop and street art and also the fabulously self- advertising friezes on the Sunlight Soap building on the Quays.

Tea and chats

"We never once talked about the pandemic", says Lucy in a lovely sum up of the sessions on week 12.

Never has tea and a chat been so relevant, never has it been so vitally important to reach out and talk, to escape from loneliness or isolation, from ennui, from disconnect. There is an innocence to first encounters when we all put our best foot forward, try to be liked, to fit in, to be noticed, to hide or to merge with one another, to feel a part of something. It’s nice too, not too stressful to commit oneself to this momentary connection, there is a camaraderie in sharing, discussing, investigating common interests with a group for a brief while and then afterwards to go about your business and later to reflect.

It is a gift to find connection through a cold screen and share snippets of our everyday life, thoughts, ideas and opinions - to learn something new together about the National Library’s collections or discuss in detail excerpts from the Abbey’s online play series. It is a joy to share our experiences and expertise, our observations on art, history, life and a little bit of our personal taste. I love that warm feeling when we crack the artist code and understand and feel something about their work, communicate with them through the ages, that eureka moment where you feel like you connect with them.

Now that is an hour or two a week well spent and a beautiful thing to do.

Thanks to all at Dublin City Council Culture Company and to everyone who tuned in from their sitting rooms, kitchens, cars, back gardens and even once from the Luas for The National Neighbourhood at 11.30am every Thursday on Zoom.

"Thanks for having me."


Muirne Bloomer has had an extensive performance career in ballet, contemporary and dance theatre in Ireland and abroad. She holds an MA in Dance from University Limerick and her work has been commissioned by Dublin City Council, CoisCéim Dance Theatre, Dublin City Arts Office as well as receiving Arts Council funding for her own original work.

Muirne has been a major contributor to large scale spectacle and pageantry in Ireland and her choreography and staging include prominent events such as The World Festival of Families, the Opening Ceremony of the UEFA Europa League Final, the Ryder Cup, and the Special Olympics.

She annually directs a large-scale community project for St. Patrick’s Festival and is Artistic Director of the Dockers and Demons festival; a Community Arts festival in the Dublin docklands area.