An Urgent Enquiry Fingal:
Mary Conroy and Joanna Hopkins


SAC- Special Area of ConVersation was a temporary installation and a

site-specific theatre performance created by Mary Conroy and Joanna Hopkins which highlighted the conservation efforts being carried out in Fingal for both humans and wildlife.


Fingal’s coastline comprises of extensive sand dune systems, estuaries, beaches and islands. It is an important wildlife resource, supporting rich and diverse habitats and species. Most of the county’s protected sites are found along the coastline and include designated Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) and Special Protection Areas (SPA). Climate change is one of the

contributory factors causing coastal erosion, particularly in Portrane, affecting residents and ecological habitats.


The SAC- Special Area of ConVersation installation and performance took place on 14th and 15th September 2019 on Burrow beach, Portrane during the Bleeding Pig Festival, an annual arts festival which takes place on the peninsula of Portrane and Donabate.


Eight handmade eggs of parian porcelain and sand from Burrow beach were created by Mary Conroy. Each egg bears a gold mark, and together they create a map of Fingal’s eight SACs - a Special Area of Conservation, or a Special Protected Area on the East coast.


Special Areas of Conservation are prime wildlife conservation areas in Ireland, considered to be important on a European as well as Irish level.

SACs are in the countryside, although a few sites reach into town or city landscapes. They are selected and designated by the EU Habitats Directive, and transposed into Irish law by the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011 (S.I. No. 477 of 2011) Read more at Read more at protected-sites/sac


1. Rockabill to Dalkey Island – SAC

2. North Dublin Bay – SAC

3. Howth Head – SAC

4. Ireland’s Eye – SAC/SPA

5. Baldoyle Estuary – SAC

6. Malahide Estuary – SAC/SPA

7. Rogerstown Estuary – SAC

8. Lambay Island – SAC/SPA


Intended as a participatory artwork, the bird conservationists the artists had engaged with throughout the residency carried the handmade eggs to Burrow beach for a live performance. On an area of erosion, a character inspired by local woman, Frances Power Cobbe, received each egg from the participants and placed them carefully in the sand as each SAC appears on the map. Frances Power Cobbe was born in 1822 and lived in Newbridge House, Donabate. She was a writer, social reformer, leading women's suffrage campaigner and a pioneer of animal rights activism. During the performance the character recited a poem written by Joanna Hopkins which reflected on the artist's residency research.


Following the performance, the temporary installation was designed to be in

situ for two days. The eggs were enclosed in a house shaped fence, using long, thin Entomology inspired irons pins, and a pink protective rope.


During the initial phase of the residency the artists liaised with Biodiversity Officer Hans Visser to gain an extensive knowledge of the local biodiversity and environmental issues affecting the area. They also met environmental specialists, scientists, conservation groups and local communities who were instrumental to their residency research and outcomes. Through a series of field trips, they explored Fingal’s islands, estuaries, wildlife, geology, heritage and

nature reserves including Special Areas of Conservation.


The artists were inspired by two local bird conservation projects. The Roseate Terns Conservation project on Rockabill Island, is the largest breeding colony of the species in the Northern Hemisphere. They also spent eight weeks volunteering with the Portrane Little Tern Conservation Project which influenced their research and residency outcome. Further exploration at the National Museum of Ireland - Natural History and engagement with museum specialists provided invaluable information on fossils, eggs, bird and butterfly specimens.


SAC – Special Area of ConVersation was created by Mary Conroy and Joanna Hopkins as part of An Urgent Enquiry Residency Commission for Fingal County Council. The artists will also produce a publication in 2020, which further documents the research, ideas, concepts, images, artworks and documentation of the live events.


Click to view video documentation of the live performance.

Click on this image for Video Documentation of the Live Performance