Solas 2015: Dara McGrath: ‘Project Cleansweep’

Dara McGrath: 'RAF Yatesbury, 2015', from the series 'Project Cleansweep'

Dara McGrath: ‘RAF Yatesbury, 2015’, from the series ‘Project Cleansweep’

Solas Prize Winner – 2nd  & Solas Ireland Winner

‘Project Cleansweep’ takes its name from a Ministry of Defence (MoD) report issued in 2011 identifying sites throughout Britain where tens of thousands of tonnes of mustard gas, phosgene and other lethal chemicals were made, processed, stored, burned and dumped since World War I.

The MoD released details of Operation Cleansweep in 2011 to provide ‘reassurance’ that residual contamination at the sites did not pose a risk to human health or the environment. In all, 14 sites were identified in this report. Subsequent research uncovered a further 56+ sites throughout the UK where chemical and biological weapons were once manufactured, stored, and tested. These sites are now almost all returned to civilian use, and are now within the landscape as local bathing spots, public parks, pathways, deer sanctuaries, industrial estates and petro-chemical facilities amongst others.

They are post militarized environments and infrastructure, and a reminder still of what was a sustained military land grab in the 20th century, when over 371,000 hectares of the British landmass was appropriated for military use.

The project takes as its focus five sites that resonate with the history of the chemical and biological weapons programme: Rhydhymwyn, Harpur Hill, Gruinard Island, Porton Down and the Biological Warfare Experiments in Dorset and Norwich 1963-75. Selected work from the Harpur Hill and Rhydymwyn sites is presented here.


Dara McGrath is an Irish photographer based in Cork. He has exhibited widely in Ireland and internationally, and has won a number of major awards including the AIB Art Prize 2003, the EU Eyes on Japan Award and the Europe-Now Award, 2012.