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Summer Newsletter

Emma Cownie Newsletter Summer 2022

While many of you are baking in England and dealing with a hosepipe ban, in Donegal it’s cloudy with occasional showers. I thought I would share you my recent newletter. They have ended up being quarterly. It depends of how much news I have and how busy I have been. I always make it strong on the visuals and light on the words! I also make the typeface large for reading on smart phones!

Emma Cownie Newsletter Summer 2022
Emma Cownie Newsletter Summer 2022
Emma Cownie Newsletter Summer 2022
Emma Cownie Newsletter Summer 2022

 

Emma Cownie Newsletter Summer 2022
Emma Cownie Newsletter Summer 2022

 

Emma Cownie Newsletter Summer 2022
Emma Cownie Newsletter Summer 2022

 

Read More

More about greyscaling 

Buy Paintings 

Visit our viewing gallery

Commission a landscape painting 

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If you go down to the woods today…

Magicland Dungloe Donegal

It took a while, but I finally worked it out. On sunny days Lidl’s car park in Dungloe is pretty full but the shop is quite empty. Just across the road from is the entrance to the River Walk. I have eyed this entrance many times as I have bundled the shopping into the back of the car.  Mothers with prams and toddlers are often headed this way. Yesterday I finally crossed to road and wandered into a magical woodland. No teddies to be found but a magical woodland with fairies and a giant troll. Here he is.

Troll from Dungloe's River Walk Land of Magic 2022
Troll from Dungloe’s River Walk Land of Magic 2022

 

The Troll: Photo credit Seamas Johnston
He’s really big! Photo credit Séamas Johnston
From Destination Dungloe on Twitter @DungloeD
Hitching a ride on on the back of a lorry from Northern Ireland last year. – Credit: Destination Dungloe on Twitter @DungloeD

 

Here’s a selection of images from the walk. It was inventive, funny, engaging and charming in equal measure. I just loved it.

Land of Magic - from Dungloe's River Walk Land of Magic 2022
Land of Magic – from Dungloe’s River Walk Land of Magic 2022
The backstory - from Dungloe's River Walk Land of Magic 2022
The backstory (in Irish)- from Dungloe’s River Walk Land of Magic 2022
The backstory - from Dungloe's River Walk Land of Magic 2022
The backstory – from Dungloe’s River Walk Land of Magic 2022

 

Some pretty cool houses
Just love those chimneys!
It’s also got a tiny out door privy

 

On such a sunny day there was plenty of washing hung out to dry
A fine bit of dry stome walling too.

 

An insect hotel too
Evidence of diverse bunch of fairies live here

 

 

I liked the pine cones around the edge
I liked the pine cones around the edge

 

EU notice - from Dungloe's River Walk Land of Magic 2022
EU notice – from Dungloe’s River Walk Land of Magic 2022

 

I wonder how many sightings of magical creatures have been reported to the Elf-13 office at the EU? A fair few I shouldn’t imagine.

More about the land of Magic

https://www.facebook.com/TheLandOfMagicDungloe/

Find out more about the talented people who made the Land of Magic  https://www.facebook.com/stickyfingersartsnewry/

https://www.newrydemocrat.com/news/2021/09/12/gallery/tri-na-draiochta-represents-a-new-dimension-in-cross-border-collaborations-18350/

Stor the Troll has settled into his new home in Dungloe

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“The Quiet Girl” – my painting, the book and the film

The Quiet Girl Curzon Film

No sooner than I arrived in Donegal and made a start on two large paintings than Seamas and I came down with Covid 19.  Apparently the current wave has been mopping up many of the people who  had thus far avoided the horrible virus. I never gave up wearing my mask in shops but I still caught it. Darn! So I have spent most of the last two weeks sleeping and lying in bed trying to do very little, in the hope that my immune system will bounce back and my energy levels will return to normal.

Book Cover - Foster by Claire Keegan
Book Cover – Foster by Claire Keegan

 

I am also feeling faintly stupid but very delighted  because I only just realised that Claire Keegan’s novella “Foster”, is the basis for the film “The Quiet Girl”.  My oil painting “The Traditional House, Gola”  has been used for the cover of the reprint of “Foster”. Actually, never mind the covid, I nearly fell over when I made the connection.

Oil painting of Gola Donegal by Emma Cownie
My painting – The Traditional House, (Gola)

 

I must have seen these adverts on TG4 (the Irish language chanel) because I thought of this film by it’s Irish language title  “An Cailín Ciúin” – as just about all the dialogue is in Irish. I didn’t realise that it was the same story as “Foster”.

It’s story about a nine-year-old girl,  Cáit, who is sent to spend the summer with her aunt Eibhlín (Carrie Crowley) and her husband Seán, who live in the Rinn Gaeltacht, County Waterford. The film is directed and written by Colm Bairéad , based on Claire Keegan’s story “Foster”.  It has won a whole pile of International awards, rave reviews and has been breaking box office records in Ireland and UK. I am really excited and greatly honoured to be connected, even in a tenuous way, to such an amazing project!

I am now going back to bed, in the hope that I haven’t over done it.

The Quiet Girl Curzon Film
The Quiet Girl – Curzon Films

 

More about the film

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jun/12/the-quiet-girl-irish-language-film-box-office-ireland-uk-an-cailin-ciuin

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/An_Cail%C3%ADn_Ci%C3%BAin

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2022/may/11/the-quiet-girl-review-beauty-and-pain-in-rural-ireland

https://www.audible.co.uk/pd/Foster-Audiobook/057137350X

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Back in Donegal

I have decided that perfect is the enemy of good, and I need to give up on the idea that I should write lengthy blogs posts, as I end up writing nothing! So here goes,

Donegal Paintings
Two grey scale paintings

One of the many great things about being back in West Donegal is that I can paint much larger paintings as my art studio is much bigger here than in Derry. So I now have two on the go!

Donegal Greyscale #1
Donegal Greyscale #1

These are both painted in acrylic paint. I find it easier to make adjustment in the value/tones in acrylic before I move onto a layer of oil as a final layer. Acrylic can act as a foundation layer for oil, but not the other way around. I had forgotten how physically tiring painting a large painting is.  My arms are tired!

Donegal Greyscale #2
Donegal Greyscale #2

 

If you want to know about Greyscaling and why I have adopted this technique since moving to Ireland please see my post “Adventures In Acrylic Paint” 

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Recent work (of Derry and Donegal)

Recent work - Emma Cownie

We are about to decamp to Donegal for the summer/early autumn. I have mixed feeling about returning to oil paints. It’s been a quite a steep learning curve getting comfortable with acrylic paint but I feel like I finally got there. I am not sure what it will be like to paint in oils again; oh the the joy of easy blending! I am looking forward to being able to paint larger canvases. I will continue my practice of laying down an underpainting in grey-scale paint, regardless.

Here are some of my recent acrylic paintings, mostly of Inishowen Penisula (Donegal)

Kinnagoe Beach - Emma Cownie
Kinnagoe Beach – Emma Cownie
Down to the Rusty Nail, Inishowen_Emma Cownie
Down to the Rusty Nail, Inishowen_Emma Cownie
a painting of Fanad Head and lighthouse
Fanad (SOLD)
On the Way to Kinnagoe Bay (Drumaweer, Greencastle)
On the Way to Kinnagoe Bay (Drumaweer, Greencastle) (SOLD)
painting of Doagh Strand, donegal_Emma Cownie
Down to Doagh Strand, Donegal

Painting of Lambing season at Fanad Head (Donegal)

Lambing season at Fanad Head (Donegal)

Carrickabraghy Castle, Inishowen
Carrickabraghy Castle, Inishowen
Acrylic painting of Portmór Beach, Malin Head, Donegal
Portmór Beach, Malin Head, Donegal

 

Also of Derry city – what a great little city.

The Walls of Derry painting by Emma Cownie
The Walls of Derry

 

The Sperrinspainting Upper Dreen_Emma Cownie

Upper Dreen_Emma Cownie

And finally a few also of my favourite, Gola Island.

painting of house On Gola (Donegal)
Still, On Gola (Donegal)
The Turn in the Road, Gola - Emma Cownie
The Turn in the Road, Gola – Emma Cownie
A Sandy Road Through Gola-Emma Cownie
A Sandy Road Through Gola-Emma Cownie

The weather forecast is for cool weather, so I will be packing some light jumpers. I have found, however, that forecasts are pretty unreliable for Donegal so it could be very pleasant. I am looking forward to the sweet breezes!

 

 

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Adventures in Acrylic Paint

Acrylic paint by Emma Cownie

You probably think that artists are good at creating paintings/images in all mediums; oil, watercolours acrylic paints. Many probably are, but I am not.  I need to work at it. It’s a bit like being an athlete. You might be great at football but it doesn’t automatically mean you are a great sprinter, tennis player or swimer. Although there are athletes who have successfully switched disciplines, like Usain Bolt, who started his career as a footballer; extra training is needed. I think painting is like that. Almost all of my experience up to now has been in working with oil paints but in the last six months I have been working hard at painting in acrylics.  Why? I knew that in our small house in Derry, until we got stairs put into the attic space, that oil paints and with their associated mess and fumes weren’t going to work.

Unfortunately I feel like I have been hitting my head against a brick wall for several months. I have learnt a great deal, using acrylic mediums and varnishes is very technical, but I won’t go into all the detail of what I have learnt. The strange thing is that the finished paintings looked good but the process of creating them was slow and frustrating. Here are some early examples;

Painting of fram buildings in Donegal
Shadow on the Entrance, Bloody Foreland
House in Inishbofin
House on Inishbofin

 

Stony Wall, Cnoc Fola (Donegal)
Stony Wall, Cnoc Fola (Donegal)
Painting of the view above Magheraroarty_Emma Cownie
Above Magheraroarty_Emma Cownie

This last one is my favourite but it took weeks to complete rather than days. I just don’t have the patience to spend that long on one smallish painting.

I also used acrylic paint for underpaintings for my oil painting, which worked better for me. It enabled be to paint faster, but this approach would be no good in Derry where I couldn’t use oil paints.

Boat at the Pier, Gola_Emma Cownie
Boat at the Pier, Gola (Donegal)
From Magheraroarty to Muckish
From Magheraroarty to Muckish (Donegal)

 

So why was I taking so long to complete these acrylic paintings? Acrylics don’t act like oil paints, that can be a good thing as well as a bad thing. You can correct mistakes easily. Acrylic paint is a relatively recent invention of the 1950s. It’s essentially a plastic. It is amazingly versatile but it’s origins as a polymer  presents a couple of challenges that I have struggled with for some time.  The first issue is that it dries fast. Really fast. I found that it dried on my palette within minutes. I hate wasting paint, so I made my own wet palette, so that the paint on my palette dries within days and not minutes.

It still dried very fast on the board/canvas on which I was painting. That meant that large areas, such as skies, werevery difficult to paint without looking patchy. I learnt to mix up large quantities of paint so that if I needed to, I could repaint a small area of the sky. Otherwise,  the whole sky had to be repainted.

The second big issue I had was somehing called “colour shift”. Acrylic paint dries dark. This is because most makers of acrylic paint use white binder that dries clear, so it looks light when you apply it, but goes dark as it dries. It seems to affect blues and browns particularly badly. I tried painting patches of colour to see who was the worst offender.

Colour Shift
Colour Shift (these are all dry so you cant see the colour shift but my notes tell you what I saw)

 

Although Windsor & Newton’s paints use clear blinder and have little colour shift, I didn’t particularly like them as a paint. I am not sure why I didn’t like them, possibly I just prefered to colour range of other manufacturers. Anyway, in the end I bought lots of Schminke PrimAcryl paints which also use a clear binder and results in only a small colour shift.

Finally, I decided to experiment with indirect painting. This is a method where by an underpainting in grayscale is done first and light layers of colour are applied as a glazes.

Again, its’s not as speedy as painting in oils (although I have used brown-tonal underpaintings in the past – with oil paintings, see here).

So here are two paintings I painted tonal underpaintings, and then added colour through a series of glazes.

Greyscale study of lambing Season at Fanad Head
Greyscale study of lambing Season at Fanad Head
Work in Progress - Lambing season at Fanad Head
Work in Progress – Lambing season at Fanad Head

Painting of Lambing season at Fanad Head (Donegal)Lambing season at Fanad Head (Donegal) – Final version

Greyscale study of Fanad LighthouseGreyscale study of Fanad Lighthouse – painted on a blue ground, which I left in the sky area of the painting.

Fanad Lighthouse (Donegal)
Almost done – Fanad Lighthouse (Donegal)
Lighthouse at Fanad Head (Donegal)
Lighthouse at Fanad Head (Donegal) – Final version with lightened sky

 

This approach seemed to work well for acrylics. Although I am still not as quick as I am in oils, this process enables me to produce paintings with greater depth of colour and more accurate tonal values. It is especially good for getting distant mountains right, something I have struggled with in the past. I am hoping that I have finally got the hang of working with this medium. I think it’s the end of the beginning rather than the beginning of the end. There’s always so much to learn with painting no matter which medium you use!

 

Some of my resources

Indirect painting and Glazing https://thevirtualinstructor.com/how-to-glaze-acrylics.html

Willaim Kemp’s Art School https://willkempartschool.com/acrylic-tonal-study-using-colour-strings-glazes/

UK stockist of PrimAcryl https://www.jacksonsart.com/schmincke-primacryl-acrylic

 

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The Walled City

The Walled City (of Derry)

What’s in a name? It’s complicated

The name of the city I am living in right now is contentious.

It’s official name is Londonderry but no one here seems to call it that, not even the council. Most people in the city itself, Protestants as well as Catholics, call it Derry. This suggests it is more of a contentious issue outside the city that in it. In 1984 the council changed its name council changed its name from Londonderry City Council to Derry City Council. 

Generally, nationalists/Republicans/Catholics/the council and locals favour using the name Derry, whereas, wider afield, unionists/Loyalists/Protestants use Londonderry. Derry is also in the County of Derry or, as it is known offically, and mainly by Protestants, Co. Londonderry.

A suggested compromise dual naming of “Derry/Londonderry” (read “Derry stroke Londonderry”) has given rise to the jokey nickname “Stroke City”, as popularised by the local  radio and television broadcaster, Gerry Anderson. When the city was made UK City of Culture for 2013 and the organising committee’s official logo read “Derry~Londonderry”.  Another attempt to circumvent controversy is to call it “L’derry” or “L-Derry.

Walled City Sign Derry
Walled City Sign

 

You will also see the city refered to as “The Walled City” or “The Maiden City”.

 

Walled City
From the visitderry.com website

 

This last name alludes to the city’s having resisted capture in the siege of 1689.  The walls were never breached.

The closer you get to the city the more likely roadsigns for Londonderry will be “altered”.  There have been requests by a local politician to have signs which have include both Derry and Londonderry, but they have so far gone unheeded.

An exmaple of a graffitied sign post (Strabane)
An exmaple of a graffitied sign post (This one is near Strabane)

 

The opening credits from Channel 4’s Comedy popular show Derry Girls, which is set in Derry in the 1990s before the Peace Process and the Good Friday Agreement, starts with a “Welcome to Londonderry” sign being graffitied as an army patrol passes by. The city walls also feature at the start of the first episode. You can see it in this Youtube clip here.

The local council, Derry City, however, is at great pains to be inclusive. In a recent film about the city’s History and Heritage they labelled it “Everyone’s City”.

Just as an aside, there are many towns and cities around the world called Derry (10) and Londonderry (9). In New Hamphire, USA, both a Londonderry and Derry next to each other.

So where did the two names come from? You might assume that Derry is just a shortened form of Londonderry but that is not so. The name Derry existed long before that of Londonderry (and for much longer).  The name of the settlement on the banks of the River Foyle, was originally called Doire from Daire Calgaich (oakwood or oak grove of Calgach) where a christian monastery was founded  by St Columba in the 6th century.

This actually is one of the longest continuously inhabited places in Ireland.

This oak grove was located on a small hill which was formerly an island in the River Foyle. The river which flowed past the western side of that island gradually dried out leaving a marshy, boggy area. In time this area became known as the Bogside (for more on the Bogside see here).

Early map showing the River Foyle flowing around the island of Derry and creating the Bog to the west of the walled city.
Early map showing the River Foyle flowing around the island of Derry and creating the Bog to the west of the walled city (from the Museum of Free Derry website.)

 

By the 11th century it was known as Daire Coluimb Chille (oakwood of Columba). In late Medieval times the name had been shortened to just Doire, and was later anglicised to Derry. (You can read about Derry’s  Medieval History here). In 1604, the fortified settlement of “Derrie”, had recently been taken over by the English,  was granted its first royal charter as a city and county corporate by James I of England.

So that seems pretty straight forward.

Well, no.

At the start of the 17th century this settlement was partly destroyed by the Irish and then rebuilt by English and Scottish settlers as part of the James’s Protestant plantation (or conquest) of Ulster.

This was organised by The Irish Society, a consortium of the livery companies of the City of London. They built massive stone and earthen fortifications around their new city. It was the last walled city built in Ireland and the only city on the island whose ancient walls survive  to this day.

In recognition of the London investors, an 1613 charter stated “that the said city or town of Derry, for ever hereafter be and shall be named and called the city of Londonderry”.

Thus, the walled city  of Londonderry was mainly a creation of the Protestant plantation. The name itself Londonderry, in the eyes of some, Catholics mainly,  represents English (and British) Imperialism.

The walls, remarkably, are still owned by The Honourable The Irish Society. They put the walls into formal government guardianship in 1955. This means that the state looks after the walls but doesn’t own them. 

Map of the city walls from https://discovernorthernireland.com/

Map of Derry city walls from https://discovernorthernireland.com/

Derry’s walls are a massively popular tourist attraction. In 2019,  466,000 people took the mile-long walkway around the inner city. The walls are massive and in excellent condition. The greenish grey stone, is called Derry Schist, and it came from local quarries to the South West of the city on the far side of the River Foyle from a place called Prehen.

Map of Derry
Map of Derry and regions from Wikipedia by OpenStreetMap

 

Map of Derry
Map of the Walled City in C17th from https://www.ria.ie/digital-atlas-derrylondonderry

 

The walls are just under a mile in length and they varies in width from between 12 and to 35 feet. I am still learning the names of the gates and streets of the city. When it was first built, there were four gates – Bishop’s Gate, Ferryquay Gate, Shipquay Gate and Butcher Gate. These were later rebuilt and additional gates cut into the walls – Magazine Gate, Castle Gate and New Gate (you can read more about the gates here).  It’s a relatively easy walk to do for a fit and abled bodied person.

The Wall near Magazine Street, photogrpahy by Emma Cownie
The Wall near Magazine Street, photogrpahy by Emma Cownie

 

Painting of houses besides the walls of Derry
Derry Walls –  acrylic painting by Emma Cownie

 

The walkway along the top of the walk is paved and wide, although it does underdulate in places.This is  especially true where gates were later inserted into the walls. The main problem for those with mobility issues would be the steps up to the walls and some sections on the west end have a lot of steps along the top, but the good news is that there are two sections of the walls that have ramped, step-free access, so sections of the wall are accessible, just not all of it. I have seen many families with prams on sections of the walls.

http://www.backpacksandbunkbeds.co.uk/ireland-2/view-historic-derry-city-walls/
Map of the Walled City taken from http://www.backpacksandbunkbeds.co.uk/ireland-2/view-historic-derry-city-walls/
Steps over Bishop Gate: Photogrpahy by Emma Cownie
Steps over Bishop Gate: Photography by Emma Cownie

 

The walled City, photography by Emma Cownie
The walled City (and pigeons), photography by Emma Cownie

It took me over an hour and a half to walk a complete ciruit.It should be borne in mind that I was meandering at a snail’s space, taking photos and enjoying the view.

On day trips to Derry, in the past I have just walked along the section near the Foyleside Shopping Centre and the big Primarks, rather than doing the whole loop.

There are some great views:

View to the north from the city walls, photogrpahy by Emma Cownie
View to the north from the city walls, photography by Emma Cownie

 

Wall near Ferryquay Gate: photogrpahy Emma Cownie

Wall near Ferryquay Gate: photography by Emma Cownie

The Guildhall, Derry
Magazine Gate and the Guildhall, Derry, photography by Emma Cownie

 

Derry is famous for its murals (here’s a pictorial tour of some of them here). So, it is very appropriate that Channel 4 commissioned a mural of the Derry Girls right next to the walls.

Derry Girls Mural, seen from the city walls, photogrpahy by Emma Cownie
Derry Girls Mural, seen from the city walls, photography by Emma Cownie

 

It’s an incredible piece of art. They are a tourist attraction in thei own right. Lots of people pose in front of the mural!

Emma Cownie and the Derry Girls
Me and the Derry Girls Mural last year: photography by James Henry Johnston

 

Shipquay Gate by Emma Cownie
Shipquay Gate acrylic painting by Emma Cownie

Find out more about the History of Derry and its walls:

A short tourist information leaflet for Derry city walls (click on the text)

See a digital Map of Derry-Londonderry c.1831 here

Visit Derry Tourism website – including 1 and 2 day vistor passes to 11 attractions here 

How the Derry Walls came about

You can do a virtual tours of the walls here:-

https://discovernorthernireland.com/things-to-do/17th-century-city-walls-p685431

Pocket History of Londonderry

 

Foot Note – Style guides for referring to Derry/Londonderry (taken from wikipedia)

Australian Broadcasting Corporation: Londonderry, Derry: In news stories, first reference for city and county: Londonderry. Second and subsequent, if you like: Derry.

BBC News “The city and county are Londonderry. The city should be given the full name at first reference, but Derry can be used later.” Account may be taken for the context.

The Economist Derry/Londonderry (use in this full dual form at least on first mention; afterwards, plain Derry will do) Londonderry (Derry also permissible).

The Guardian and The Observer: Londonderry: use Derry and County Derry.

The Times Londonderry, but Derry City Council;  and Derry when in direct quotes or in a specifically republican context (this latter rarely)

Ulster University The style guide, updated in 2015, states: Derry~Londonderry is the official name of the city and is the preferred form of use for the University in all written materials. Where it is not practical to use the Derry~Londonderry form, e.g. on social media posts or in media interviews, a limited number of variations may be used. “County Londonderry” is used in giving the address of the campuses in Coleraine and in Derry city. The university’s 2012–2015 guide specified “Derry~Londonderry” for both city and county, except “Londonderry” for each in the addresses of its campuses. The 2010–2012 guide cited the BBC guidelines. The nicknames “Maiden City” and “Stroke City” were specifically prohibited.

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Illuminate Festival, Derry

Illuminate Festival Derry

We have now moved to our permanent home in Derry. We will return to Donegal when it is warmer.

The winter weather wasn’t the problem as such, as I enjoyed the storms and changeable skies. It was living in a draughty cottage without central heating, just storage heaters and a wood burning stove.  We were living on biscuits to keep us warm! The cats and dog just LOVE the radiators in our house in Derry. So do we.

We also love exploring the Historical City of Derry.

The ‘Illuminate’ festival is running over two weekends in Derry, 17th – 20th and 24th – 27th February, from 6pm – 9pm. We visited it on Thursday night. It was very cold (double socks and thermals weather) but mostly dry. This was important was all the sites we visited were out of doors.

We followed a “magical illuminated trail” which told the story of the city. At each of the locations were live projection shows, cast upon the wall and facades of the ancient buildings. They were accompanied by soundtracks, music, singing and narration. They were very affecting at times.  It might have helped if we had taken the map below with us because we started at the Guildhall, which I think is towards the end of the series of six sites. It didn’t matter too much, as we looped around and visited it a second time. We also missed a couple of sites and will have to go back to see them.

Map of Live Projection Shows
Map of Live Projection Shows

 

The route along the 400-year old city walls is about 1.5km long but can be walked at a leisurely pace, and there is plenty of time between each light show.  These were a mix of audio-visual, digital media and outdoor projections. On Thursday night there were lots of families with small children  with prams (although many toddlers ended up  riding piggy-back style on dads’ shoulders)  and dogs on leads.

Illuminate Derry 2022
Illuminate Derry 2022 – outside the walls, the monastic legend Colmcille and his followers

 

Illuminate Derry 2022 - on the walls of the city
Illuminate Derry 2022 – on top of the wall looking out towards St Eugune’s Cathedral

 

Illuminate Derry 2022
Illuminate Derry 2022 – St Columb’s Cathedral

 

Here’s a flavour of one of the Projection shows – in two parts.  Seamas filmed it and wouldlike me to explain the wobbly camera work at the beginning is because Biddy our dog was pulling on the lead. The barking along to Amazing Grace in the second clip, also thanks to Biddy! I had to take her on a quick walk at this point.

Illuminate Derry 2022
Illuminate Derry 2022 – History of the Civil Rights movement and the pathway to peace

 

Illuminate Derry 2022
Illuminate Derry 2022 – The Guildhall

 

Illuminate stilted people
Illuminated stilted people

There are also a numbers of intimiate music gigs (read more here) and street performers. I never thought I would have been so pleased to see fire jugglers as on a cold February night in Derry!

All in all, it was a brillant introduction to Derry, its History, people and its creativity. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience and even better, its running next weekend too so we can do it all over again. Oh, and I forgot to mention. The Live Projection shows and The Sound and Light Trail are free too.

Find Out More

https://www.visitderry.com/illuminate

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Ramelton, Donegal (The town with two names)

Ramelton- a Blog by Emma Cownie

We visited Ramelton several times in this summer. It is a fascinating and historic town tucked away in the north-eastern corner of Donegal.  Ramelton, (Irish: Ráth Mealtain)  is also known as Rathmelton, this caused me great confusion when map reading.  Yes, we have a sat nav but I am an old-fashioned girl and I like the immediacy of the map book. I thought Ramelton and Rathmelton were two different places. It is also not too far from another village called Rathmullan. I got very confused. We also didn’t know how to say the name properly to ask directions; we put the emphasis on the first syllable “RAMelton” but it’s said “RamELton”, if you look at the Irish Ráth Mealtain (bearing in mind you don’t say “th”s in Irish) it makes more sense.

Map of Fanad
Rathmelton/Ramelton
Bridge over the River Lennon in Ramelton
Bridge over the River Lennon in Ramelton (wikipedia)

 

Ramelton is a pretty and interesting place to visit. We entered from the north end, over the narrow stone bridge that crosses the flat, slow-flowing River Lennon. There are many fine Georgian-era houses to look at.  The Mall runs along the south side of the river from the Bridge to Gamble’s Square. We enjoyed a very pleasant walk along the Mall towards the old buildings that form the Quays.

The Mall, Ramelton_Emma Cownie
The Mall, Ramelton_Emma Cownie

 

Gamble's Square, Ramelton - Emma Cownie
Gamble’s Square, Ramelton – Emma Cownie

 

Ramelton, Donegal
Ramelton, Donegal – looking towards the Quays – Emma Cownie

Further to the east lie the the Quays and the old warehouses, once commercial buildings, some of which are quite neglected, once formed the historic commercial centre of the town.

Old Warehouses, Ramelton-Emma Cownie
Old warehouses, Ramelton Quay – Emma Cownie

The town was founded in the early 1600s as a plantation settlement, on the site of an O’Donnell Castle by William Stewart of Ayrshire.  Stewart was professional soldier (in otherwords, a mercenary) who had fought for kings of Sweden and Denmark before coming to Ireland for James I (VI of Scotland). He built and gave his name to fortications at Fort Stewart and Newtownstewart. In 1623 he was made a baronet and granted the castle of Ramelton, becoming the biggest landowner in the town. He also gained valuable fishing rights on Lough Swilly.

Ramelton, Donegal
View towards the Bridge – Emma Cownie

The word plantation has a special meaning in Ireland. This may cause confusion for some North American readers. In the South States of the USA the term is used to mean a large farm. In Ulster, the northern most province of Ireland, however, the plantation was the mass conviscation of land from the  native Catholic Irish by the crown mainly under King James, from c.1609 onwards, and continued under Oliver Cromwell. The conviscated land was “settled” or colonised by Scots Protestants, like William Stewart’s followers.  In this sense Ramelton, was a town planned and “planted” by Scots and English settlers.

A sailing ship on the River Lennon, Ramelton
A sailing ship on the River Lennon, Ramelton

Ramelton was built where the River Lennon flows into Lough Swilly. We approached the town from the north, over the narrow stone bridge.  Unlike many other Irish towns, who seem to turn their backs to their rivers, Ramelton is focused on the River Lennon. In fact, the town is dominated by the wide flat river, with a good part of the  old town being built along its shore.

Map of Ramelton, donegal Map of Ramelton, donegal

The location of the river helped the town develop into an important port and a prosperous centre for industry, trade and local government. In the 18th and 19th centuries Ramelton became the biggest linen bleaching town in County Donegal. Linen was a booming industry in Ulster. By the 1720s flax growing and linen weaving replaced food crops as the staples of Ulster agriculture. In the 18th century the domestic linen industry had expanded so rapidly that annual exports of linen cloth increased 40-fold! The peak period of flax cultivation was the decade of the 1860s (when there was a “cotton famine” in England) during which more than 200,000 acres were grown across Ireland. In the second half of the C19th Ulster produced at least ninety per cent of the national crop. Boats from all over the world docked in Ramelton to trade their wares in return for the Irish linen.

Workers harvesting flax, 1897
Colourised photo of Irish workers harvesting flax, c.1897

The flax for the linen was grown locally and then treated at the tanyard. Some of the linen was fed into voracious shirt-making industry based in nearby Derry City. The booming trade in linen for the export market helped provide much of the money needed to knock down old plantation houses and replace them with impressive new town houses. These spread westward and eventually grew into a riverside promenade lined by trees, known as The Mall.

Unfortunately, for Ramelton, there was a decline in the linen industry in the 1840s due to competition from Belfast. Although Belfast became firmly established as the linen capital of the world, the bulk of the raw material, however,  was no longer produced in Ulster but imported from Belgium and Russian the majority of its production was destined for export too.

The Bridge, Ramelton
The Bridge, Ramelton

In the 1850s the town decline began in earnest as as the port began to silt up although a steam boat would leave from Ramelton to Derry and on to the emigrant ships that left from Derry. Later a new railway line was built in Letterkenny in the early years of the 20th century. This all  contributed to the decline in industry in Ramelton. Its role as a centre for local government also ended with the abolition of the Grand Jury system in 1898.

Riverside Promenade, Ramelton - Emma Cownie
Riverside Promenade, Ramelton – Emma Cownie

 

Map of Ramelton (Ramelton Action Plan pdf)
Map of Ramelton (Ramelton Action Plan pdf)

The town is home to McDaid’s, a soft drinks manufacturer, whose drinks are sold throughout Donegal and further afield.  Its most famous drink is the Football Special which was originally produced to celebrate the successes of Swilly Rovers Football Club.

Painting of Mc Daid's Football Special Building, Ramelton Donegal
Drink Football Special, Ramelton Donegal – Emma Cownie

 

The quays, Ramelton
The quays, Ramelton – Emma Cownie
Outdoor cafe, ramelton
Outdoor cafe, Ramelton – Emma Cownie

 

Ramelton, Donegal
Ramelton, Donegal – Emma Cownie

We ambled passed the end of the Quays and then looped around and  then past some very derelict buildings in sore need need of rescue, to walk back up Castle Street past the old centre of the town. The space which once formed the very centre of the town, is completely given over to a large tee-juntion and cars. Ramelton was also once a “Market Town” with a market cross, which signified the right to hold a market granted by the monarch, or local barony. In Ireland, market crosses were often located in a space, mid-way between church and castle. this was once the case at Ramelton but the market cross itself is long gone.

Market Square, Ramelton
Market Square (with the market cross to the right of the image), Ramelton

 

View from the former Market Square
View from the former Market Square (looking north) – Emma Cownie
Conway's Bar, Ramelton
Conway’s Bar, Ramelton – Emma Cownie
Oil painting of Ramelton Donegal by Emma Cownie
All Roads Lead to Letterkenny (Ramelton, Donegal) – Emma Cownie. This is the west view from the former market square

 

Painting of shops in Ramelton (Donegal)

Open for Business, Ramelton (Donegal) – Emma Cownie

Postcards, drawings and numerous photographs from the 19th century show how prosperous and picturesque the setting of the town was. The town retained its importance as a rural business and market centre into the twentieth century.

Ramelton, Castle Street, Old Postcard View
Ramelton, Castle Street, Old Postcard View

 

The Mall, Ramelton circa 1900 Donegal County Museum
The Mall, Ramelton circa 1900 Donegal County Museum

 

Old Meeting House, Ramelton
Old Meeting House, Ramelton

 

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Ramelton had seven churches which is pretty impressive for such a small town. It was known as ‘The Holy City’ due to the religious diversity found in the town. These days there are just three churches. Crime writer Paul Charles, used this diversity as a backdrop for one of his Inspector Starrett detective novels “Dust of Death”.  which is based in Ramelton. I read this book, hoping to find out more about the town but apart from the odd mention of the Conway’s Bar and Bridge Bar, there was little background information.

Painting of house on steep hill (Ramelton, Donegal)
A Cute Disposition (Ramelton, Donegal) – Emma Cownie

 

We passed a very modest old end terrace cottage on Bridge Street in Ramelton, Donegal. We didn’t realise it at the time buy this the house where Patsy Gallacher (1891–1953) (also spelt Gallagher), Celtic legend, known as “the Mighty Atom” lived as a child. Patsy’s family were desperately poor, he had been born in the workhouse, and later they moved to Scotland.

Patsy Gallacher, Celtic legend, aka “the Mighty Atom”
Patsy Gallacher, Celtic legend, aka “the Mighty Atom”

 

Ramelton, Donegal
Ramelton, Donegal – Emma Cownie

On the north side of the river, Bridge End was developed around the large mill sites and bleaching green which is County Donegal’s largest surviving industrial heritage site associated with the linen trade. Although we passed Bridge End on the way into the town, we didn’t cross back over the river to visit this area. If I had known about the mills and bleaching green, I would have made the effort to see it. Next time we certainly will.

 

View towards The Green (From Ramelton Action Plan pdf)
View towards The Green (From Ramelton Action Plan pdf)

 

Find Out More

Most of the information about the History of Ramelton was taken from “Ramelton Action Plan for Donegal County Council” here  .

More about Ramelton here and Rathmelton here  (yes, it’s the same place but there are two entries)

Look up individual buildings here

Read more about the Irish Linen Industry 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_linen

https://www.culturenorthernireland.org/features/heritage/shirt-industry

Chapter on Flax in Ireland here

A History Of Irish Linen In 1 Minute

Find out about the people who used to live in this parish in 1901 and 1911 census information here  

http://www.welovedonegal.com/ramelton.html

Read more about Football Special here