31 July 2022

Doon Shore

Co. Roscommon


Mayflies are an ancient order of insects dating from the Carboniferous and Permian periods. They are totally reliant on water habitats where they live most of their lives in streams, rivers, ponds and lakes. They emerge as adults from their aquatic habitats to reproduce and die, usually within 24 hours. The full life cycle is species dependant and varies from 2 years to several hatchings per year.

These freshwater invertebrates represent a key component of our freshwater biodiversity, numerically and in terms of biomass contributing hugely to the diet of fish in our rivers and lakes. When the adults emerge from the water to mate and lay eggs, the energy returned to the terrestrial ecosystem significantly supports biodiversity, the adults are consumed by a broad variety of animals from birds to spiders.

Ephemeroptera in Ireland are species poor compared to mainland Europe and are represented by only 33 species, of which some 8 are named on the Red ICUN List of Endangered Species 2012* as Threatened, Near Threatened & Critically Endangered.

Mayflies are very sensitive to water quality and temperature and as such are classed as an indicator species of the health of water bodies and changes to the weather systems that govern the flow of water in the landscape. 

Threats to the survival of this indicator species include water pollution, predominately from agricultural run-of, municipal and domestic effluent & climate change.

Research and direction of travel for Eco Showboat Project.

My research to date on Lough Key has focussed on this body of water as a site of refuge & contemplation, as a trade route economy and a place of recreation. For millennia human communities have lived on the shore and on the 32 naturally occurring & man-made islands, reliant on a robust ecosystem in healthy waters.

A starting point for a new body of work will look at the life cycle of the Mayfly as metaphor for the the precariousness of existence in the Anthropocene & as a symbol of survival and renewal.

This will involve a number of approaches, A series of drawings and small sculptures towards a performative lough shore walk documented through still image and video.

Working with 6th class children in Cootehall National School to celebrate the phenomenon of the Mayflies life cycle and its contribution to biodiversity. 

Collaborating with fellow artist Padraig Cunningham to revisit our work Lough Key: A portrait 2017/8 to produce sculptural and video works of and on the waters of Lough Key.

Commissioning musician and composer Shahab Coohe to write and perform a short piece on the temporality of the Mayfly and of suspension of time in watery worlds.

Anna Macleod, January 2022

*Ireland Red List No: 7 Mayflies (Ephemeroptera).  Dr Mary Kelly-Quinn and Eugenie C. Regan. 2012.