A Place Where Ghosts Dwell

It is exactly two years ago since I graduated with a PhD in Art and Design from Manchester School of Art, completing my doctoral research practice film A Place Where Ghosts Dwell, a film I would loosely describe as an essay film. Where Ghosts Dwell explores the relationship between my hometown Longford as a marginalised place, and post-property collapse unfinished housing estates and vacant commercial property as troubling spaces. I refer to them as ‘ghost developments’, and their prevalence in Longford is what drew me back to my hometown to conduct fieldwork research and film production in the historically significant year of 2015 (the year of the same-sex marriage equality referendum). Whilst there, I finally came to terms with my personal history, reconciled and fully embraced my sexual identity, and learnt to rediscover my birthplace – a place that had deeply damaged me in the past. Indeed, while some people in Longford have read the film as a negative portrayal of the place, I feel it is anything but. A read through my PhD thesis will confirm my nuanced but ultimately positive appraisal of Longford, a town which is fascinating for very many reasons. (see PhD text here: https://goo.gl/kfVJTo )


A Place Where Ghosts Dwell from Paddy Baxter on Vimeo.

What the film is critical of is the political and social economy of Ireland in relation to property and our understanding of what it is to dwell; what home means. Some people were disappointed the film did not go the typical expository route of laying blame for Ireland’s financial crisis and property collapse at the door of developers, speculators, bankers, and politicians. This was not what was interesting to me, we know the role all of the above played in the traumatic events of 2008. What was of interest to me was to make a piece of art that reflected back to the Irish public/body politic the country’s regressive attitudes to property. The house is almost solely viewed in Ireland as an asset or investment rather than as a home.

Unfortunately, things have deteriorated in Ireland since I made the film. The government continues to pursue a housing policy that singularly favours the market as the sole provider of housing in Ireland despite the glaringly obvious fact that it was neoliberal free market economics that caused the collapse in the first place. Evictions are a daily occurrence in Ireland and homelessness has gone beyond a crisis. Rents in the capital are spiralling out of control. There is very little in the way of social housing, zero housing co-operatives, squatting is outlawed entirely, the government refuses to introduce even modest rent controls, and the country is still littered with vacant houses.

At the base of this is the problem of social attitudes to housing. Property ownership is considered almost the sole route to citizenship in Ireland, and any alternative to the model of owner-occupancy is ridiculed and/or dismissed. Some public hostility to the tactics of the housing/social justice activist group Take Back the City is evidence of this. We desperately need to have a conversation about the future of housing and look into alternative models of living because basing economic policy on endless construction, property speculation and zero tax for FDI companies is not a sustainable model.
Ireland will find itself back in 2008 very soon. What is needed is a revolution of public consciousness, a radical transformation of the lived experience in Ireland. We have shown we can do it when it comes to embracing same-sex marriage and reproductive rights for women, why do we stumble so badly when it comes to housing rights? A Place Where Ghosts Dwell goes some way to unpacking this problem and at the very least is a contribution to this debate.

The film is available online for free below, and I will repost several times over the coming weeks as I feel it still needs to find its audience. I have moved on to an artistic research project called Manchester Penetrated and that, coupled with work in sexual health and Queer activism consumes most of my time and leaves very little room to promote Where Ghosts Dwell and find its public. I am very happy for activist groups, social organisations, academics and other interested parties to screen the film publicly – if you would like to do this simply contact me directly and I will get you a high-resolution copy of the film, and where possible come speak at your event. If you want to screen from the below link and are based in Guatemala for instance just let me know and I’ll see how best I can help you. I hope that the film will help you explore housing as social space in your home place and contribute to a global perspective that sees access to housing for all as one of the most pressing social justice issues of our age.


1 thought on “A Place Where Ghosts Dwell

  1. Bernard Canavan

    Just watched the film right through and there is much that resonated in the memories i have of the place. Im from at least one generation, possible even two generations ago, but that world is still there, still giving off its echoes. Im from Edgeworthstown – my family had a little shop on the top of the hill – ‘ a yard of counter’ – but in the great exodus from 1950s Ireland, most of my school friends left and we followed them. in fact, in the 1950s 60,000 small shops failed, three out of every four children born in the 1930 left for England and we followed them on the ‘boat train’. Much of your life is a reenactment of my own life, though things were probably even bleaker in the 50s than in the 2010s. I left whenI was just 16 with my father who was in in his mid 50s. No education, no skills, nothing to offer anyone except muscles and sinews a few Irish phrases and long litanies of different types of sins, gifts of the Holy Ghost, beatudes, the names of the priest’s vestments (knowledge that takes on a kind of comic twist when one reads about the clerics in the church today) , but lucky post-war Britain needed just that . The master in the edgeworthstown was a brute – hated his pupils and floggged them in the morning when they first arrived, just to ‘settle them down’. The usual story. He was married to one of the relations of the local canon, and there was no way his behaviour could be criticised or modified. He wasn’t without teaching ability, but so long as he catered for the sons of the strong farmers and the town merchants there was no criticism given, so long as they could get into st Mels; the rest of the labourers sons stood along the school wall where in reality the boat queue began.

    But there were positives things there in that town that we could have built upon, but we had a policy of amnesia. We forgot everyting, and we still so so. The girl in your clip of film said that she never know an artist. Well when i was about 12, that would be about 1956, I saw my first art exhibition which was by Charles Cullen, who grew up on the Main Street (one of the family have a shoe shop there today) and he was just graduating then from the Dublin School of Art, and he put on a show of his Goldsmith ‘Sweet Auburn’ illustrations in the old Annally Hotel.
    I didnt ever go to art school, but i was good at drawing and I drew for all the London ‘Underground’ papers of the 1960s – the scandalous and the radical ones – and I still paint today. President Michal D gave me an award Presidential Award last year, not probably because of the quality of my art is great, but just because I remembered by painting the ‘ Forgotton Irish’.
    We have told ourselves too many fantasies – religious fantasies, political fantasies, all of which have blinded us to our own often shameful reality. Who would have thought that in our small town next to Longford have some at least seven people listed in the Dictionary of National Biography from there. Yet we seemed to have done our thinking in heaven, when, of necessity, we have to do our living on the earth. Patriots have told us the same old. post colonial story that our land was taken off us by ‘the invader’, yet show me a place that wasn’t invaded? Was England not invaded and subjugated? Did we Irish not invade places and brutally kill the aboriginal inhabitants. What were our Catholic missionas all about, except to wipeout other’s cultures? Ask the Indians of America. Ask the original people of Australia. Ask even some of the exiled patriots, like John Mitchell, who published a slave supporting paper in the Yankee South, whether we were freedom fighters. Im afraid we forget our own geniuses and remember those we call our ‘opressors’ . For instance I have long said to Marin Morrison he should encourage some monument to be put up in Granard for Bronterre O’Brien, the great Chartist reformer, and man who encouraged the reform of the British Parliament when we were part of the act of Union. And at Independence we inherited his beneficial legacy. Yet two histories of the county later, he does not even appear in any of the indexes of these books. At the the first, and last, Maria Edgeworth Conference held in Ireland last December, there were people from as far away as Singapore, Finland, France and Rome (see my reviews of that conference on john McGerr Edgeworth website) who knew more about her than most in the town would have known about her and could teach us a thing or two about her importance. I know that we are making amends now, and not a moment too soon.
    I applaud your film, but it is about time that all these so-called ‘Ango-Irish’ references are left behind and say that they were Irish women and men’. The Lefroys, and the Edgeworths, the Bonds of Newtownbond, the Aungiers and the Packenhams, have as much right to be included in our history as, for instance, the Baxter’s will have the right to be included in forthcoming histories of Manchester, or the Canavans of London. If it is identity based on which people were Catholic, now that we are shedding that religious identity today, and cease doing our thinking in heaven, we might overlook our Catholic bigotry of the past and be more inclusive. If it is based on a Gaelic speaking identity, which of the people in the town could discuss these philosophical matters in gaelic today? And ironically, the the reason Longford got what outside investment we got, was because we were the only part of the eurozone that spoke the English language. Isn’t that an irony. Let me point out another irony. When I first came to London, the Postal sorting office in my district in London used to employ casual workers for a couple of weeks before Christmas to deal with the rush, and in the years i took such work, there were four tables of Connaught men, fluent Gaelic speakers in one corner of the canteen. That was when Mr De Valera was boasting about what he was doing to restore our language. This was when our leaders and patriots were exporting our population, and forgetting about them.
    So what i would argue is that we ought to remember and discuss this forgotten past. Bring together, and open up a weekly history class in the town. To spread knowledge of such people. Break the old moulds. Put up monument to our interesting heroes . Longford people should get Longford artist Charles Cullen to talk in the town, so that that young woman in your film sees that she is not alone. I will speak is asked when im passing through the town next. Im working on the German Enlightenment and that age has many lessons to teach us. Keep up the good work! Excuse haste!


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