Jessamine O'Connor from the Hermit Collective reflects on their year to date after being awarded the Epic Award for Ireland 2016. The Epic Awards 2017 are open for applications until 12th January 2017. For more details and to apply click here.

When we traveled from the west of Ireland to Cardiff Castle to collect our Epic Award, there was a part of me that half expected someone to jump out and shout “April Fool!” in the airport. It was April Fool’s Day, and it also seemed incredible that we were the winners. But no one jumped out at us, and we had a great stay in Cardiff; loved the place and people we met at, and around, the awards. It was inspiring to see so many kick-ass voluntary groups, all doing such eclectic things.

On our return home we held a party for Hermits and friends in Spells Rum+Black Music Club, where we all got to hold the award and have a night of music and poetry. We have passed the award – framed certificate and a gorgeous carved ‘lovespoon’- around between us like an Olympic torch since; every member eventually will have had a turn at showing it off in their home, passing it on at events.

April was a really busy month for many of us, with National Poetry Day and other things, but we got together again in May for Voluntary Arts Week and put on our pop-up show (and exhibition) in the Rathcroghan Heritage Centre, Tulsk, Co. Roscommon. We received a small fund from Voluntary Arts Ireland (which if we hadn’t met the Epic crowd we never would have considered applying for) and had a really good day there. The sun was belting it down, and we had several visiting poets that time which was nice, followed by a night camping on the beach for some of us which also was a bonus.

In June our musicians were invited to play on the bandstand during a town park festival in Claremorris, Co. Mayo. And some others of us talked live on local radio about the Hermit Collective.

In July we manned a stall in the farmer’s market during Boyle Arts Week for two weekends in a row; so we had art and books for sale and display on the stall, face-painting, a live band playing acoustic music, and writers reciting poems and telling stories. At the same time on the other side of the country some of us were also involved in the Knockanstockan Festival, in Co. Wicklow. One of our sculptors built the Kids Area, and we ran workshops in Creative Writing, Art, and more.

In August our musicians and writers (no artists this time) did a set in the Secret Village Festival, Ballaghaderreen. We performed in a large tipi, which was a first for us! We have popped-up in libraries, bars, arts centres, theatres and even an empty industrial unit, but never a tipi. It went really well, and we got to enjoy the whole weekend there afterwards.

Also in August six of our artists hung a group show in Ballymote Library, Co Sligo. This library has a great gallery space and it looked fantastic. The show stayed up for a month, and then the whole Collective closed the exhibition on Culture Night, in September, with music, poetry, prose, and a talk on Neolithic pottery.

Also in September a selection of Hermits were interviewed for Claremorris Community Radio, in order to be the focus of a six-part mini-series due out in early 2017, called ‘Take A Handful Of Hermits’. We talked poetry, pottery, puppets, politics, painting and music with our interviewer –also a Hermit!

The same week most of the Hermit Houseband, plus one, went on our main local radio station -Shannonside Radio- and talked for 40 minutes about ourselves, and played music, sang original songs and read poems. It sounded really great.

In October, back at Spells Rum+Black Music Club (we love that place) we did a short-notice fundraising event, for emergency relief for refugees in Calais as they faced imminent eviction. It was a great success and we raised over 800euro through donations and raffle – admission was free as always.

The Epic Award has meant so much to us, as verification that what we are doing isn’t pointless or simply amusing ourselves; it tells people that it is important to keep our communities active. That being creative is something that’s valuable.

Our group is made up of about 40 people from all sorts of backgrounds, but living in the rural northwest of Ireland where opportunities for cultural exchange are scarce, and we bring a feeling of togetherness to our areas. Being members of the Hermit Collective has brought a new dimension to all our lives really, and winning this prize has meant the world to us. Thank you Epic!!