Donegal

Painting Bunbeg Donegal

Bunbeg. The word has a pleasing sound to it. It’s short, easy to say and has a nice rhythm to it. Most place names in the British Isles are simply descriptions of locations, or who used to own it. That is not always obvious to modern English speakers because the descriptions originated in Anglo-Saxon, Welsh,  Gaelic (Scots) or Gaeilge (Irish). Therefore, when speakers of the Celtic languages use a place name they have a ready made description of the place. It’s the same with Bunbeg. Bunbeg is the anglicised version of “An Bun Beag” which means the “the small river mouth”.  I know very little Gaeilge but once you start picking up words you see them everywhere. Beg meaning small – there’s Derrybeg (Doirí Beaga) just round the corner which means small oak.

Bunbeg is located in an area of Donegal known as Gweedore (Gaoth Dobhair), known as a bastion of Irish music, language and culture and home to legendary bands such as Clannad and Altan. If you are as old as me you may well remember Enya’s “Orinoco Flow” which was a hit in the UK way back in 1989 and seemed to be played everywhere. Enya was originally a member of Clannad.

Gweedore is the largest Irish-speaking parish in Ireland with a population of just over 4 thousand people. I enjoyed listening to two fisherman having a good gossip in Irish at Bunbeg harbor round the corner from here. I no idea what they were saying but the conversation went at a good pace. I enjoyed just the sound of the language and comparing it to the sound of Welsh which I am familiar with.

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Fisherman (not gossiping) in Bunbeg Harbour

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“Eddie”

Anyway, back to Bunbeg. The vast tidal sands that stretches across the indent in the coastline is known as Magheraclogher beach. When I say, vast I mean vast. It is one of the best known beaches in Gweedore, largely in part because of the distinctive shipwreck that’s been there since the 1970s.

It is known locally as ‘Bad Eddie’ or Eddies Boat. It has regularly appeared in Music Videos as well as providing the backdrop for countless wedding photographs and instagram posts. That mountain in the distance is Errigal, which also features in countless music videos, photos and paintings.

Photo of Bunbeg with Errigal in the distance

“Eddie” with Bunbeg and Errigal in the background

Usually photographers shoot him at low tide. Here’s the photo they use on Wikipedia.

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Bunbeg – Wikipedia image

I decided to paint a different view of Bunbeg, without “Eddie”, because I liked the reflections of the clouds in the shallows, I thought it made for a more dramatic composition.  I thought the rain clouds also gave a better sense of the mercurial nature of weather of Donegal. It was also windy when we were here although, I would say that wind is a pretty much a constant feature of the “Wild Atlantic Way”.

This beach is popular with dog walkers and tourists as it is easily accessible, with a car park. Yet, I say “popular” the other people we saw were dots off in the distance.

For information on the history of Gweedore area click here 

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19 replies »

  1. Interesting post with two excellent music videos. Just out of ignorance and curiosity: how do people learn to speak Welsh or Irish? Are these languages taught in school, or do they pick them up from their parents at home?

    • All of the above. In Wales, there are Welsh-medium schools in all towns and cities. Even if you are not a Welsh speaker, you can send your children to these schools where they are taught through the language of Welsh. This is the best way to learn Welsh I think and these school are popular as they are good schools. The best secondary school in Swansea is Ysgol Gyfyn Gwyr, which takes pupils from all over the area. In the English medium schools all pupils are taught Welsh as a second language and they have to take a qualification in it at age 16. This is not popular with many pupils in Swansea as they don’t have many subjects they can choose from and they resent being forced to study Welsh. However, Welsh is very useful for getting jobs in the public sector here – it a box that HR like to tick. I have done beginners’ Welsh courses and understand quite a bit of instructions for the class room but it’s not enough to impress an employer!
      In the Irish Republic the set up is different. All pupils study Irish and have to take an exam and I think that people can’t work for the government without this qualification. However, I think there are only Irish-medium schools in the Gaeltacht areas. These are areas where the government recognises that the Irish language is the predominant vernacular, or language of the home. So in these areas people learn Irish from their parents. There are 21 of these areas in the Republic most of them on the west coast (see map https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaeltacht) including Donegal.

      Many school children (and visitors from abroad) visit Irish language colleges in the summer months.

      Just to confuse you further, Irish is also spoke in Northern Ireland (NI). NI is not part of the Republic but part of the UK and the Irish language is an important part of the identity of Catholic community. During the Troubles many Republicans learnt Irish whilst they were in prison. It’s also a large part of the reason why NI doesn’t have a government at the moment, as the the Protestant DUP party won’t give official recognition to Irish in NI (as it would mean bilingual road signs, bilingual government documents funding for education, as we have in Wales).

      Here’s the link to the Irish language station – I don’t know if it will work in the USA https://www.tg4.ie/ga/

  2. Glad you explained the weather, because after looking at the consistently sunny video I was beginning to have doubts that it ever rained there, despite its northern location! Your painting captures how I imagine the climate to be in most of Ireland. Even if my imagination might be incorrect in some instances.

  3. Wonderful painting. I always love the colors and vibrancy of your painting! Interesting about the language too. I had a cousin who spoke more than one Gaelic language. It is good to know that there are still people speaking and keeping the languages alive.

    • Thank you, Anne. Yes, there’s Irish language TV, Tg4 (as there is Welsh language TV here in Wales, S4C) and BBC Alba for Scots gaelic, so you can listen to plenty of celtic languages (with or without English subtitles). I love listening to the cadences of the languages. I particularly liked listening to the fishermen gossiping as it sounds like the Ulster accent that I am very familiar with (as my husband is from co. Derry) but using words I don’t understand, but I think I maybe could.

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