Caught by the River

Mass Paths

Brian David Stevens | 16th January 2018

Brian David Stevens chats to fellow photographer Caitriona Dunnett about her ‘Mass Paths’ series

Tea toned cyanotype of path to Bishop’s Cave/ coastal path (2015)

Recently our friends at Inside The Outside ran an incredible set of photographs from Caitriona Dunnett. The series, called ‘Mass Paths’, traced the pathways walked by Catholics to reach illegal Mass during penal times.

The Penal Laws were a series of laws imposed in an attempt to force Irish Roman Catholics and Protestant dissenters to accept the reformed denomination, as defined by the English state-established Anglican Church and practised by members of the Irish state-established Church of Ireland. The Catholic Church was kept alive by operating under great secrecy.

The locations of these sites were passed on by word of mouth. This local knowledge was handed down through generations. The oral tradition in Ireland disappeared gradually around the 1960s alongside land exchange and redevelopment.

I asked Caitriona a couple of questions about the series.

Tea toned cyanotype of Path up Masshill/ cross amongst the trees (2015)

Your photographs have a wonderful quality which suits the subject here perfectly, could you talk us through the processes of making them?
Thank you, my photographs were shot with a digital camera and converted into negatives using Photoshop. The negatives were printed onto acetate, then contact printed onto paper coated with the cyanotype formula using a UV light box. The prints are fixed in a bath of vinegar and water, and then washed in water. My prints are left for a minimum of 24 hours to dry. The cyanotype is an early photographic technique introduced by John Hershel in 1842. The cyanotype print has a blue Prussian colour, which I subsequently tone in tea. This requires the prints to be soaked in water before going into a bath of tea for a few hours. They are washed again and let to dry. I then give them a final coat of acrylic glaze medium.

Was using some historical working methods to create the photographs important to the project?
Yes, using a historic printing process has given the work a timeless quality. This project has developed over a few years and it took a bit of experimentation to find the right printing procedure. The cyanotype printing and toning became important. I related the layering of this process to that of the Irish landscape, which has been coated over time by personal and national narratives.

Tea toned cyanotype of Conakilty Mass Path/ path with tree and shadow (2013)

What plans do you have to take the work further? You seem to be creating an incredibly important historical document with it.
I am excited to be working with Dr. Hilary Bishop from John Moores University. We are currently looking for funding to work on a joint project on penal sites in Ireland. Mass Paths will also be exhibited at the Custom House Studios and Gallery in Westport, Co. Mayo, Ireland from March 22nd to 15th April 2018.


The Mass Paths series can be seen on Inside The Outside here.

See more of Caitriona’s work here.

Brian David Stevens on Caught by the River/on Twitter