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In 2013 as part of Creative Scotland’s Year of Natural Scotland, The Bothy Project teamed up with artist Alec Finlay to create an innovative new bothy location on the Isle of Eigg. Like the bothy at Inshriach, Sweeney’s Bothy is a dedicated off-grid artist residency space, purpose-built to offer direct creative engagement with the Scottish wilderness, offering exciting new opportunities for artists, writers, musicians, and the wider public. Sweeney’s Bothy is a modest, iconic hub for contemporary creative activity, broadcasting knowledge and inspiration far afield via a multimedia website, evolving into a major survey of Scottish contemporary art, culture, and ecology.
The bothy is based on Finlay’s design, inspired by the 7th Century Gaelic King Sweeney (Shuibhne). Cursed, Sweeney fled into a wilderness, surviving for a decade among the trees and birds, living on sorrel, berries, sloes and acorns, and enduring ‘the pain of his bed there on the top of a tall ivy-grown hawthorn in the glen, every twist that he would turn sending showers of hawy thorns into his flesh’ (Flann O’Brien, At Swim, Two Birds). Sweeney’s poetry from that period describes the austere beauty of the remote glen where he lived naked, communed with animals, and existed beyond convention. The myth of Sweeney conceals remnants of shamanic animism within pre-Christian culture.
Like Han Shan, Basho, and Thoreau, Sweeney is a visionary hermit rejecting ‘feather beds and painted rooms,’ engaging with nature, the irrational, overturning accepted knowledge. The poetry of Sweeney, and accounts of the legend, have inspired our new bothy. At the centre of Sweeney’s Bothy a thorn shaped support props the bed above, echoing the thorn trees that Sweeney slept in, protecting a soft interior containing a welcome desk, fire, and bunks for two. The bothy belongs within a new contemporary movement – identified by Finlay as ‘hutopian’ – in which artists create huts and viewing platforms in the Scottish wilderness, proposing them as ecological, technological, architectural, and social models.