Ireland Visit 2015
Sunday, August 23, 2015
Again I took up my work space in the dining room in Meadowfield. The day was cool so a good day to work inside. I worked all day – skipping lunch so I decided that I would treat myself to a dinner at L’Arco, Ballyvaughan’s Italian restaurant. I phoned to make a reservation for one. I had a wonderful and tasty dinner of their lasagna .
After dinner I returned to Meadowfield and learned from Michael, that a local woman I knew had passed away this last February. Her name was Helen MacCarthy and it seems she died of a heart attack without any apparent previous health problems. I remember Helen from visits to Greene’s and hearing her lovely voice singing along with Sean Tyrrell.
I ended the evening with a conversation with two of Meadowfield’s guests – two ladies from England. We sat around the fire in the sitting room talking about things like how to made a Yorkshire pudding, the making of the Irish white and black pudding, and why one should only butcher animals during the months that have an “r” in them.
Ireland Visit 2015
Saturday, August 22, 2015
I woke early and packed up my remaining belongings in preparation of my trip back to Ballyvaughan via Galway. Anna was to come to give me a lift with my bags into the village so I could catch the 11:05 Citylink bus. As I was waiting for her to arrive I spent my time doing a little reading – once when I looked up I saw a beautiful bright rainbow over my mountain. I rushed to get my iPhone and went outside to get a photo. The rainbow had faded by the time I was able to photograph it -but I was able to get a hint of it.
When Anna arrived she drove me the short way to the village of Letterfrack so I didn’t have to carry my bulky bags on the narrow highly traveled road. This was something I really appreciated. There was a young couple with very large backpacks waiting for the bus – they were having a lively conversation in German. There were two others, two men – one in his twenties smoking cigarettes and a man older than myself. The older gentlemen spoke to me about being happy about the warm sunshine and how lovely the wildflowers were near to where we were waiting.
The bus stop was near the entrance to the Galway & Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) school of furniture design. The main building of the school was originally the manor house of James and Mary Ellis and after that the Letterfrack Industrial School – both of which I wrote about in my post of August 20th.
The bus arrived on time and our first stop was Clifton. We had a half-hour layover so the bus driver could have his lunch – which he ate on the bus. Some of the passengers got off the bus to explore during the layover. I stayed on the bus and was thankful that I did for many new passengers got on after the bus driver’s break -taking over the seats that the first passengers had claimed for themselves. It was a beautiful day to drive back through Connemara to Galway. I took advantage of my window seat by taking some photographs of the landscape as we traveled.
The sun was shinning in Galway when we arrived shortly before 2:00 pm. I walked the short distance from the Citylink bus station to the Bus Eireann station – I was unexpectedly surprised to find that a bus was leaving for Ballyvaughan at 3:00 pm (I had expected that I would have to wait until 6:00). This gave me just enough time to visit a nearby ATM for more Euros so I could pay Breada for my B&B stay for the next week and pay Thomas for taking me to Shannon airport on the upcoming Thursday.
I boarded the bus a little before 3:00 – the bus ride through the Burren was a pleasant one. When I got off the bus in Ballyvaughan it was raining a little – I put the hood up on my jacket and walked the short way to Meadowfield. When I arrived Breada, Michael and two of their guests were in the sitting room conversing around the fire – I was invited to join them. After I put my bags in my room and dried off a bit I went back and took a seat by the nice warm fire. The guests (Jim and Sandy) were from Florida and I think some sort of relation to Breada (via Boston – maybe) although they had never known about each other. We had a very nice conversation and somehow along the way got on the topic of art – they related that the woman, Sandy, had been sitting next to Andrew Wyeth during some kind of dinner function in relation to Jim’s place of business. As it turned out they had met and talked with him more than once.
I had my dinner at Logue’s Lodge – when I returned Breada and Michael were in the sitting room by the fire and asked if I would like a glass of wine -I replied in the affirmative. I went to my room to put my coat away and when I returned to the sitting room there in front of a chair by the fire was a an opened bottle of red wine and a crystal wine glass.
Ireland Visit 2015
Friday, August 21, 2015
I woke to a hard rain – this is my last full day in Connemara for tomorrow I catch an early bus to Galway and then go onto Ballyvaughan. I spent most of the day working to finish the painting. I finished it around 4:30 pm.
I am happy with it. – My original frustrations were mostly with what I was striving to convey with watercolor. The bogs are dark and heavy and have hundreds and thousands of years of history in them. Also, there is a lot of water in them – seeing they were created from the climate turning from moderate to very raining and the soil becoming waterlogged. When you think of it perhaps watercolor is exactly the medium I should be using. Although when one usually sees a watercolor painting it is quite light and airy – and I’m striving to convey something much different – something ancient.
I thought of starting a new watercolor painting – perhaps something that would take me less time.
Yesterday evening I found a little book tucked inside of a basket in the sitting room of Fushia. It was titled “The Naturalist’s View” and was a published lecture by Cilian Roden who is an ecologist living in County Galway. This is what Rodon describes a naturalist:
“They have a conscious or unconscious need to be in contact with the world that exists outside the world of business, politics, fashion, relationships and family. Animals, plants and landscape give them an emotional sheet anchor, and they are happier and more contented people because of it. This contentment, this feeling of being in the right place when up on a mountain or far offshore watching whales, or indeed collecting copepods and other plankton on High Island is almost a contemplative activity. Afterwords, some write a scientific paper to register the experience, others add to their list of new species seen or make drawings or photos, but these are of secondary importance. The central purpose is to refresh one’s spirit, to come in contact with something that extends beyond the human. The naturalist is aware that people and society are not self-contained. This awareness can color their character and give them a very different sense of proportion.“
Rodon goes on to say this about how the world works:
“Peering backwards through time, through the layers of rock under our feet, we can read the planet’s history. The boulder beds high up in the Twelve Bens tell of an ancient ice age, the unusual shells at the tip of Rossroe, on the southern shore of Killary Harbor, show that once Connemara was part of America. The strange fossils of fish and fern-like trees in the quarry at Kiltorcan, County Kilkenny, the amphibian tracks crossing the rocks on Valentia Island, County Kerry, suggest that living organisms have changed mightily since much of Ireland was a dry desert near the center of a long vanished continent. And then at the end of this story, we ourselves appear, related obviously to all the other living forms that are found on the planet, with the same chemistry, the same genes (almost), the same needs for food, air and water, the same transience.But what does it all mean? I’m not sure I know, but I can’t help quoting the lady who remarked to American writer Annie Dillard. “Seems like we’re just put down here, don’t nobody know why.” *
“Nonetheless, we live well on this planet: sunlight gives us all our food; mountains, forests and clouds work to give us clean drinkable water, soil absorbs and recycles our wastes; all the plants of the earth and seas produce the oxygen we breathe in and absorb the waste carbon dioxide we breathe out. From the description you might picture the natural world as a vast system of solar panels and air conditioners, pipes and waste treatment plants, with us stuck in the middle – a sort of global-scale industrial life-support system. But it is not like that at all: nature is achingly beautiful, although again we haven’t a clue why.”
*Dillard, Annie, Pilgrim at Tinker’s Creek (London: Picador, 1976)
The rain stopped in the early afternoon but it wasn’t until about 5:00 that I came to a point to take my last walk in Connemara. I walked the short distance to Ballynakill Harbor to see that the tide was out. Among the salty scent of sea air I could also smell the fragrance of burning turf. I looked around and saw smoke coming from the chimney of a nearby house.
I returned to Fushia to prepare my dinner and organize and pack up my things for tomorrow’s departure. As I looked out of the sitting room window I marveled at what it would be like to live your life in one of these houses right on the edge of this harbor with the beauty of Connemara all around you. It is true that in years past Connemara was a hard place to live but the 21st century tourist trade has given it a thriving economy. I came across John O’Donahue’s words about tourism in Ireland:
“The rain is never far away here! I welcome it because one of my fears is the way the government relentlessly nurtures the tourist industry. Ireland is a small county and if the tourist numbers aren’t modified it could be overrun. Voyeuristic commercial tourism can do a lot of damage. The English scientist Rupert Sheldrake was asked what single change he would recommend for the new millennium that could make a difference to the world. His reply was that every tourist should become a pilgrim.”
Ireland Visit 2015
Thursday, August 20, 2015
I awakened to another cloudy, misty and rainy day. After making my coffee I started working on my landscape . . .
Now that I had already darkened the foreground there was nothing I could do but make do and carry on. I did think of of trashing this one and starting something new – but I realized I didn’t come here to create a set number of paintings, I came here to work and learn. I told myself that there was probably something that I could learn by finishing this composition.
I took a break to walk into the village to buy a few groceries. First I walked to the what was the manor house of James and Mary Ellis, James and Mary Ellis were British Quakers who in 1849 leased 915 acres around Letterfrack to aid the starving people. They provided much needed employment setting up a shop, school, dispensary and a hotel. They were kind and benevolent people. They stayed in Letterfrack until James health failed and returned to England.
In 1882 the Catholic Archbishop of Tuam bought the estate. I was saddened to learn that the ‘Christian Brothers’ established St. Joseph’s Industrial School for Boys which was housed in the old Ellis manor house. I was saddened because this school and other’s like it are known for the excessive use of force as in physical beatings and sexual abuse. While some of the boys were able to finally leave the school and return to their families others were not as fortunate. There is a path in the woods near the Industrial School with a sign at its entrance “Letterfrack Industrial School Graveyard”. Here is where the less fortunate boys are buried. I didn’t go in but did some research about it. Here is a link to a video that gives a synopsis:
Near this graveyard just beyond the entrance to the Connemara National Park is the James and Mary Ellis Nature Trail. I entered and started to follow the trail but my heart just was not in it. I left the trail, passed the entrance to the school graveyard and walked back into the village. I visited an art gallery then stopped at Verdon’s Pub for an early dinner. I ordered the cod and a glass of Guinness. I received more that I bargained for.
After I ate what I could I stopped by the grocery store for some bread, butter and a bottle of wine. Then walked the short distance back to Fushia where I continued working on my watercolor.
Ireland Visit 2015
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
Wednesday was a wet and rainy day – my mountain was completely covered with the clouds, mist and rain. Not a day to do any walking outside . . .
It was a good day to stay inside work and read. I continued to work on the bog landscape – I toned the mountain down a bit and painted in the sky. When I was working I was thinking of what it felt like when I visited the bog lands on Sunday. I was there just standing on the the bog landscape with the mountains silently standing beyond. It was very quiet – to me it seemed very patience. There was no bright sunshine to cast shadows -the landscape was surrounded in ‘soft light’.
I figured that I had walked enough on the this landscape to try to create my own composition. I changed to a vertical format and wanted to incorporate the bog and the mountains. It continues to surprise me that I have to struggle so much with the watercolor painting technique and how much time I take reworking it to obtain what I want to achieve. I’m accepting it as all part of the process . . .
It is a good exercise for me to document my painting process. The photo above shows me that it may have been a good idea to just let the foreground be with the light washes – just to leave it alone. But I went back in to add darker values and may have started to over work the watercolor – but no going back now . . .
Ireland Visit 2015
Tuesday, August 18, 2015
Tuesday brought yet another fine day of weather. I walked into Letterfrack to get a few things at the grocery store then returned to Fushia to work on my watercolors. When I was in the grocery store I picked up a book by an Irish historian, Kathleen Villiers-Tuthill –”Patient Endurance: The Great Famine in Connemara“. It is a scholarly work with factual records and statistics of the suffering and starvation of the tenant families of Connemara. Between intervals of working on painting and reading sections of the book I was able to finish the book by 10 p.m. I was surprised to learn that in Connemara that the landlords were very instrumental in pleading with the government to supply their tenants with aid either through government work programs or food. It seems that after the famine the majority of the Connemara landlords had to sell off there land because there was not enough tenants left to farm it. This article appeared in the book, entitled “Must the People Starve” published in the Galway newspaper the Galway Vindicator on December 30, 1846:
“Never was the condition of the people so awful as at present –not merely the utterly destitute but every class of limited means. The prices of food have arrived at such a famine pitch that if not immediately lowered by the prompt interference of the Government, will most certainly either force the people to an outbreak for the preservation of their lives or doom them in hundreds upon hundreds to premature death. We see no other alternative. There is no use in thinking that the peace of the country can be maintained while the farmers, merchants, miller, meal monger, baker, and provision huxter, seem remorselessly determined with a cupidity, an avariciousness that puts to the blush every feeling of humanity and libels the very name of Christian, to wring fortunes, if they can, out of the vitals of the poor and reap a golden harvest in the plunder, shameful open plunder of the public.
“Fair profits no one should or indeed would attempt to inveigh against; but surely the extortion of 50 or 70 per cent in the ordinary course of trade is not a profit but a plunder. To talk if inhuman, murderous extortion like this as legitimate profit is to compound every notion of right and wrong and sap the very principle of morality and religion. The people must get food or perish. They cannot exist without the necessaries of life. In this respect they labor under the inevitable necessity. It is not in their power to forego the purchase of food while they have a farthing to give for it. Whatever else they may endeavor to dispense without they cannot dispense with this, but at the sacrifice of their lives.
” Who will dare pretend that under such circumstances the trade of food is morally authorized to exact any amount of profit he can extort? If such a principle as this could be established society would become a chaos where every one might be at liberty to regard the interest of self, as the only interest to be looked to. Yet, it is upon this principle that the existing trade in food is at present carried on . . . . It is, we repeat it, nothing else than murder of the people so to extort upon the cost price of food in order to realize profits to the enormous amount exacted at present, they are rendered unable even by the expenditure of every penny in their possession, and the sale of every article of clothing bedding and furniture to procure a sufficiency of provisions for themselves and their starving families.”
I thought I try to render the bogland and found that my unpracticed hand at watercolor painting is getting the better of me. I keep thinking how must faster I could do this with graphite. But I remind myself that faster isn’t always better . . .
Ireland Visit 2015
Monday, August 17, 2015
This morning I visited the Connemara National Park. The park was very busy. I enjoyed the park’s visitors center which has a small exhibit that takes the viewer through a history of Connemara and the impact of humans in the area. I found it very interesting that after the last ice age in Ireland (10,000 years ago) a vast forest grew and covered the majority of the Connemara landscape. The forest was made up of oak and pine. John O’Donohue talks about this in “Walking On The Pastures Of Wonder“:
“. . . one of the frightening things about Connemara for a lot of people is how lunar and how bare it actually seems. One must not forget of course that it is mainly bog, and bog is the afterlife of a forest, of all the trees that were here. So even though we are looking down now on major emptiness and bare granite mountains, there was a time when this place was completely clustered and covered with forests and trees.“
I sought out some trails that went through some wooded areas to get some photographs of the beautiful trees and woodland plant life.
I am continuing my struggle in the attempt to convey the presence of this landscape in watercolor. Today I all but gave up trying –I read these words of O’Donohue today which has encourage me to keep up my effort:
“In a certain way, this landscape belongs to no one, but primarily to itself. . . Landscape has a huge, pre-human memory. It precedes everything that we know. I often think that you could talk almost of a ‘clay-ography’: the whole biography of the earth. Everything depends of course on whether you think landscape is dead matter or a living presence.
“I think there is life in these rocks and in these great mountains around about us, and because there is life, there is memory. The more your live among mountains like this, the more aware you become of the cadences of the place, and the subtlety of the place, its presence and personality.”
My own struggle may lie in trying to visually convey that memory. When I look at this landscape I feel the ancient quality about it so I’m striving to use subdued colors, create an aged texture and convey the fluid quality of the atmosphere here.
I will keep trying.
Ireland Visit 2015
Sunday, August 16, 2015
This morning before my second cup of coffee I took a short walk down the road from Fushia – I wanted to get a better look at the mountain. I can see it from my work table and every time I look up it appears a little different depending on the play of light. Last night I attempted to do a graphite sketch of it but of course every time I looked at it the lights and shadows would be in different places. I finally decided to take a photo of it and use that for reference for a future study.
In yesterday’s post I mentioned a book I bought when I was in a gift shop at Kylemore Abbey. Since it is written by a local archaeologist, Michael Gibbons, it contains very interesting historical information – which I will relate in later blog postings.
The book also has 30 watercolor paintings that illustrate most of the subject matter. The watercolors were painted by German born Reingard Gahan who now lives in Connemara.
Gahan’s watercolor of the mountain that is in the painting that was chosen for the cover of the book does a wonderful and very successful job communicating the presence of the mountains I have seen here in Connemara. I will strive to create that same presence with my work while I’m here – knowing that each time I try I may get a little closer to achieving it. Below are 3 other watercolor paintings that are in the book.
After I had my second cup of coffee I walked the short distance into the village of Letterfrack. I found a place to have a nice breakfast then I decided to explore. I walked down the main road outside of Letterfrack going towards Kylemore Abbey. One of the things I noticed is that the trees here are beautiful. In several places off the road were little secret places with moss covered trees and ferns. I didn’t take any photos because the places were quite dark compared to the sunshine I was standing in (I thought the photos would end up very dark). Tomorrow when I visit Connemara National Park maybe I can find some to photograph.
The road was very busy and most sections of it are very narrow. I have decided that from now on I will do most of my walking in the National Park.
Sharing this from “Walking On The Pastures Of Wonder” by John O’Donohue:
“There is something eternal about the landscape. It wants to address us but we are not subtle enough to pick it up. The radar of our senses, while beautiful, is incredibly limited. This is illustrated for me by a parable I was once told. There was a stone in the corner of a meadow and under the stone lived a colony of ants. They were just ordinary ants but among them lived a genius ant, an Einstein ant. One day the board of the colony addressed the genius ant, telling it that there was nothing more for it to learn and it would have to leave them and go out into the world. So on a misty October evening the colony bestowed its valediction on the genius and it made its entry into the world. There happened to be a totally non-metaphysical horse grazing nearby. Regardless of how brilliant our genius ant is, it will never be able to perceive the horse, such is the disproportion in size . . . So I wonder are there presences all around us, that because of the disproportion between our senses and their presence we are not picking up at all?“
I went out for an evening walk for the weather was so glorious . . .
Ireland Visit 2015
Saturday, August 15, 2015
Another transition day today . . . I’m all settled in to my residence for the following 7 days. I’m in a little hillside cottage by the name of ‘Fushia’ which is a 5 minute walk southwest of the village of Letterfrack.
The day started with my B&B host, Mary when she served me my breakfast. She knew that I was familiar with the Burren and asked if I knew the writing work of a priest from that area. I asked her if she was referring to John O’Donohue – she was and told me that she really understood what he meant by “sense of place”. Well, that started a very nice conversation and a great way to start the morning.
After I left the B&B I walked just around the block to the station where I boarded the Connemara Tour Bus that would take me to Kylemore Abbey. Anna, the woman who owned ‘Fushia’ was to come and collect me there at 2:00.
The tour bus was full and our driver was an excellent tour guide and storyteller. He spent a good 45 minutes telling the people on the bus a condensed history of Ireland beginning with the first hunters and gathers. Most of the people on the bus seemed to be either from Italy, Spain or Portugal and they appreciated the information. I took some photos as he drove and a couple times he stopped so people could stretch their legs because our first ‘real’ stop was to be Kylemore Abbey which was 2 hours into the day long trip.
In August of 2014 I took this same tour – the weather had been cold, windy and rainy so today’s nice weather allowed me to see more of the outdoor sites on this stop. Anna was to come and collect me at 2:00 so that gave me time to have a nice lunch and walk the grounds of Kylemore. Last year I had visited the inside of the abbey so I spent most of my time walking the gorgeous trails by the lake and gardens. I spent a few minutes in the gift shop where I found a book about the history of Connemara written by an archaeologist and native of Connemara an illustrated with watercolor paintings.
At 2:00 Anna came along, we introduced ourselves and we started the short drive to Letterfrack. During our drive Anna told me that she was a native of the area and went to school in Kylemore Abbey. I look forward to learning about what that was like – I can not even imagine. Anna stopped in the small village so I could get a few things and she said she had something to get and would meet me back at the car. I had just returned and put my little bit of groceries in the back of the car when she appeared carrying six fairly large bags of ice. She explained that a local woman had died and she was being waked at her home. So someone had called Anna to ask her to bring more ice . . .
We arrived at ‘Fushia’ in a few minutes. It is located on a steep hill with a beautiful view of the southwest part of Connemara National Park.
I settled in by unpacking and setting up my art supplies on the kitchen table. I plan on spending the evening reading the book I bought to learn more about Connemara.
Ireland Visit 2015
Friday, August 14, 2015
Today was a ‘transition day’. I moved out of Meadowfield in Ballyvaughan and traveled by bus to the city of Galway where I will spend the night before my travels to Connemara. I started my morning by packing my art supplies, studio clothes and toiletries into my backpack and an “over the shoulder” bag. Breada was thoughtful enough to give me some travel sized shampoo and body wash so I wouldn’t have to pack my bigger bottles. The balance of my clothes and other stuff was put into my suitcase and stored away at Meadowfield until I return in a week’s time.
The bus was scheduled to arrive at 2:00 so I walked to the bus stop to wait. The bus was almost an hour late (that’s not unusual for this part of Ireland). Because the bus stop is in front of Ballyvaughan’s grocery store many people were coming and going. I saw Marie who is the proprietor of Greene’s Bar in Ballyvaughan. She sat down next to me and we chatted a while. She told me that business has not been very good for Greene’s this summer. I have to remember to ask Breada if she has any idea why, there seems to be enough tourists coming through.
Finally the bus arrived very close to 3:00 and we rode through the Burren into the County of Galway. I had taken two Dramamine before the bus ride for I am prone to motion sickness. Less that a mile into our journey I took another for I was feeling a little nauseous. I soon recovered and shot a couple photos of the Burren Mountains as we rode along.
When we arrived in Galway my first thing to do was visit an ATM machine and second find my way to the B&B where I was booked for the night. To my surprise and relief the B&B was less than 2 blocks from the bus station. When I arrived I rang the doorbell and was greeted by the owner, Mary. She took me upstairs to see my room, give me my key and tell me about breakfast and WIFI.