For the Love of Birds.

Regan O'Callaghan Elijah and the ravens, oil pastel, wadi,"Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune without the words,

And never stops at all"       

Emily Dickinson


I spent part of my childhood on a farm a few miles out from a little town called Taihape in the North Island of New Zealand.  I have a very clear memory of asking my stepfather if there were any Kiwis in the surrounding countryside.   There were none.   Kiwis are forest dwellers and the forest had been cleared a couple of generations before to make way for sheep and cattle.   The trees that dotted the landscape were mostly introduced species like the plum trees in the orchard where I would spend time climbing and hiding or the big Macrocarpa trees behind the dogs kennels where Magpies roosted and sometimes dive bombed.

I loved birds.  One of my first pets was a Australian cockatiel named Joey.    He lived in a cage but was often let out and eventually when we moved back to Taupo released into a large aviary in our garden.  Around this time I also had a pet magpie who as a young bedraggled sick looking bird wandered onto our property.  I nursed him back to health.  He flew around our neighborhood and would return when I whistled.  One day he just disappeared.    I like to think it was the call of the wild.

I started painting birds at an early age.  Seabirds, parrots and owls all appeared in my work and I was fascinated by the very rare New Zealand birds most people hadn’t seen or even heard about.  The Hioho, Piopio, Huia, Takahe, Hihi and others inspired me and saddened me at the same time.  Some having become extinct.  In Maori culture birds have an important role.  Its not surprising they feature so prominently as Aotearoa was originally a land of birds.  There were no land mammals except for bats.  Birds ruled.  This all changed with the arrival of man and rats, stoats and possums.

Gone but nor forgotten.

On the day my father died I went round to my grandmothers.  A few of us gathered to share our feelings and begin to discuss funeral plans.  As we talked a Pīwakawaka ( a small bird with a fan tail)  flew into the room and flitted around us twittering before darting out.  To some including my superstitious grandmother this was a bad omen.  For me I saw it as a beautiful sign, a sign of hope.

Birds feature in my art often as symbols of hope and as representations of dreams of  fluttering wings and haunting birdsong deep from within forgotten forests.    The story of God promising that ravens would bring food to Elijah is a reminder of something we often choose to forget.  We need birds.  They remind us of the beauty of the world and its mysteries.  Their flight is inspirational their song heart moving.    Without them we are lost.  The now extinct Huia is a case in point.  There is a story that says the Huia was the first bird to sing at the rising of the sun and once it had started singing all the other birds would join in with the dawn chorus filling the land with song.    Today the Huias song has been silenced along with much of the song of creation.   The remaining forests in New Zealand are virtually silent.   Thankfully the conservation movement in New Zealand is working hard to protect what is left.

Gone but not forgotten.

 “Elijah and the ravens”Oil pastel on paper1996.   

Melkite Church, Israel.

Regan O'Callaghan Ibilin, Israel, Elias Chacour, Sermon on the Mount church

British Association of IconographersVoluntary project for the Melkite Church of the Sermon on the Mount‚ Ibillin, Israel.

In 2004/5 a dozen people from the British Association of Iconographers under the direction of Sister Bernadette Crook worked on an Iconostasis for a newly built Church in Ibillin, Israel.  The Iconostasis contains over 40 icons of various sizes. The BAI was approached by Elias Chacour a Palestinian Melkite Priest who has lived and worked in Ibillin for many years and is now the ArchBishop of Galilee.

Elias is the author of Blood Brothers - an account of his life.  From an early age Elias had a strong call to serve the Church and after years of study was ordained becoming the first Palestinian to earn a degree from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Elijah detail 1

Today Elias ministry is one of reconciliation and peace between Christians, Muslims, Druze and Jews.  The newly built Church in Ibillin is a Chapel of Peace with the Iconostasis reflecting the positive relationships between people of different faiths and cultures.

For example the icon of Elijah (written by Sister Bernadette) which traditionally shows a raven sent by God bringing sustenance to Elijah in the desert instead shows Bedouin bringing food. This is based on a translation of scripture which suggests the word raven has been mis-translated and should read Arab.

I worked mainly on the icon of Saint Andrew and Saint Peter and was privileged to be in attendance for the dedication of the Church and Iconostasis in 2005.