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Wandering off the Beaten Path

Wandering Off the Beaten Path - Emma Cownie

I have been suffering from writer’s block. I started this post in March this year. I keep writing, rewriting  it and then not publishing it. The problem isn’t that I don’t have any thing to say. It is more that I have too much to say and I didn’t know where to start or how to structure what I want to say. It’s not about paint but thread and wool. I have been on a bit of an artist’s journey. It’s been quite a meander; off my usual painting path. I am not sure if it’s a dead end, another fad.

Sewing materials - wool and floss
Sewing materials – wool and floss – such lovely colours!


I discovered that here In the north of ireland it doesn’t start to get light here until after 9 am in the deepest winter and painting light often “goes” by 1 or 2pm. There wasn’t going to be a lot of time for painting. So I decided I needed another creative outlet to persue along side the painting to do in the hours of gloomy light and nights, under artifical light. I thought about sewing.

A certain photo haunted me. I had taken it back in Swansea before we moved over to Ireland. I was going through the exhausting process of sorting through my stuff and deciding what I could keep and what should go. I came across this moth-eaten piece of fabric. It was a piece I made in junior school.  I took a photo of it.  It’s not well made at all but I liked its carefree style and slightly chaotic composition. The moths had made quite a meal of it. .Those elephants once all had eyes.  I enjoyed the bold colours It got me thinking. Embroidery/sewing was something creative I could do under artificlal light.

An Early Cownie TapestryAn Early Cownie Tapestry

So I  gave up trying to paint under artifical light in the mornings and evenings. Instead I took up sewing and embroidery. I have always liked the vibrant colours of embroidery floss. However, I found that it occupied my thoughts a lot of the time so much so that it was difficult to concentrate on my day time painting. I suppose the issue was that although I enoyed the action of sewing, I didn’t quite know in which direction to go with what I doing with it. It was slow and time-consuming and what I produced was small-scale. I was also torn between learning and practicing different stitches and what to do with them. Quite possibly this is an conundrum at the heart of all creative endeavours.

That delicate balance between skill and expression. If I make something without much skill it will just be crude and amateurish?  If I make something that it is skillful – it may well have less personality and expression. And for that matter, as an artist, how do I feel about possibly straying into the world of “craft”? A world that is largely populated by women and with less status than art?

But what’s the difference between Art and Craft anyway? Good question. Like all lazy writers I looked it up on Google: ” Art is described as an unstructured and open-ended form of work; that expresses emotions, feelings, and vision. Craft denotes a form of work, involving the creation of physical objects, by the use of hands and brain. Art relies on artistic merit whereas craft is based on learned skills and technique.” So I was onto something. If I get too skillful at embroidery I am in danger of verring off into the world of craft. That’s worth bearing in mind although there’s little danger of me becoming too skillful.

Intially I lacked confidence, I collected images in a scrap book and on Pinterest and my early pieces aped people whose work I liked. I spent the winter admiring the work of many textile artists – the ones that come to mind right now are Sue Stone, Mandy Pattullo, Ann Smith (Persimonstudioart) as well as Japanese applique artists Mika Harasa and the incredible Ayako Miyawaki.

Stitch Portrait of Seamas
Stitch Portrait of Seamas


I was like a child in a sweet shop, verring off in first one direction than another. First I tried to copy the style of Sue Stone for a stitch portrait. I discovered that stitching a face is very much like drawing or painting a face, tiny details matter.

Then a bird inspired by the work of Mandy Pattullo and Ann Smith.

Embroidery bird on Cushion
Embroidery bird on a cushion


I wasn’t particularly happying copying other people’s style but I had to start somewhere.  I couldn’t decide. The choice was bewildering. Was it line, colour, texture that I liked? Yes, yes, yes. I liked it all! I then tried freestyle style stitching in the hope that it would express my personal style. well, no. It got too chaotic. I enjoyed the mechanical action of sewing by hand. I tried dry felting and although my husband liked the chaos, I didn’t.

Freetyle Stitching

Freetyle Stitching


Needle Felting
Dry Felting – House on Arranmore, Donegal


I wan’t sure if all this was coming from me or was just a mish mash of other people’s work. I needed a greater sense of control over what I was doing. I had to pause. I decided to rein it all in and try simple stitches again although I often prefered the messy underside of the work. Why is that?

Sparrow - on denim

The "wrong side" of the sparrow embroidery
The “wrong side” of the sparrow embroidery


I tried to explore the texture of birds feathers a little more.

Embroidery Robin

Embroidery Robin – unfinished

Finally, I came around to a way of working that seemed to be a decent expression of my work in paint. I started getting where I wanted to go. The ancient and humble chain stitch. Turns out that the chain stitch is one the oldest and most widely known stitches in existence. Examples have been found in Egypt on textiles from Tutankhamun’s tomb, dated to the 14th century BC; on embroideries found in Pazyryk tombs dating from 4th-3rd century BC (excavated in southern Siberia but probably originating in China). I enjoyed it’s texture and it’s ability to fill space with colour.

I started with a semiabstract flower design based on a painting I had done many years ago.

Chain stitch embroidery

Then I decided to try some Irish scenes. that I had painted. These satisfied me the most.

House on Inishbofin - Emma Cownie
House on Inishbofin – Emma Cownie
House on Inishbofin - Emma Cownie
Painting and Embroidery “House on Inishbofin” – Emma Cownie
Chain Stitch Embroidery - House on Gola
Chain Stitch Embroidery – House on Gola


Me stitching - observed by my loyal helper cat, Tiffany
Me stitching – observed by my loyal helper cat, Tiffany. Embroidery travels well but pointy scissors and planes dont mix. I had my snippers conviscated!.

The work is maddenly slow but strangely therapeutic. There is something very compulsive about filling the space with colourful stitches. I enjoy running my fingers over the stitches. It also mad me think about what could be simplified into an embroidery an what sort of details could and could not be rendered in chain stitches.  Getting the right colour thread was difficult at times. I made mistakes – a brown shadow rather than a bluish one. I tried to be accurate but somes I was forced to compromise, sometimes I just got it wong.

So now I have a small collection of tapestries  very fond of  in an in formal display in my living room.  it’s been an interesting journey but I am not sure if its a cul-de-sac or “Grist-to-the-mill” part of a creative process. Maybe the reall problem is that I discovered that it was difficult to sew by hand under artifical light and the embroidery was competing with painting for useable daylight.  It was a joy to return to speedy paint when the light improved. So, embroidery has drifted off into a bit of a back-water for the time being although I still have a couple of projects on the go.

Work in Progress - flowers
Work in Progress – flowers




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Winter Update

Winter Update - Emma Cownie

This is my winter update sent out to subscribers of my email

Three New Gower Paintings (1)
A Slim Light on Threee Cliffs Gower – NOW Sold
The Marsh at Pennard Pill, Three Cliffs.
The Marsh at Pennard Pill, Three Cliffs. Still Available
Worms Head from Rhosilli, Gower
Worms Head from Rhosilli, Gower – NOW SOLD


Also Available 

Low Tide, Summer Morning on Three Cliffs Bay (Gower)
Low Tide, Summer Morning on Three Cliffs Bay (Gower) 76x51cm / 30’x20′
The Peeping light on Whiterocks Bay, Antrim
The Road to Benwiskin, Sligo


See more paintings here 

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Views of County Sligo

Views of County Sligo

You have may well have seen images of County Sligo, Ireland, without necessarily knowing that’s where it is. It’s home to one of the most poplar views on Social Media. Here’s an example:


And many more…

C:\Users\emmaf\Downloads\2023-11-23 09_51_34-mullaghmore sligo instagram - Google Search.jpg
C:\Users\emmaf\Downloads\2023-11-23 09_51_34-mullaghmore sligo instagram – Google Search.jpg


It’s quite disconcerting to come across a view that you are very familar with but have never visited in person before. It’s sort of like a celebrity view. I experienced a strange sense of fracture when we rounded the corner in the road and saw it.  It was impressive sight but our photographs  were not half as good as other people’s, presumably taken with zoom lens under different light/weather conditions.

Mullaghmore Head
Mullaghmore Head, Sligo


You can see fine views of the magnificent Dartry Mountains from Mallaghmore Beach too.

View of the Dartry Mountains from Mullaghmore, Sligo
View of the Dartry Mountains from Mullaghmore, Sligo


View of the Dartry Mountains from Mullaghmore, Sligo
View of Ben Bullen from Mullaghmore, Sligo


The ever changing light meant that we ended up exploring the area of Sligo near Benwhiskin (also spelt Benwiskin). It’s like a wonderful witched hat, knocked askew. I have never seen a peak like it! It’s particularly distinctive as the surrounding moutains are flat topped. They reminded me of the Antrim Plateau in Northern Ireland. Like cousins.

Here’s a panning shot of the Dartry Mountains done by Seamas, my husband, and his drone. The distinctive peak of Benwiskin can be seen at the end.

Here are my two paintings of Benwiskin; the first is in acrylics.

Painting of Ben Whiskin, County sligo by Emma Cownie
Painting of Ben Whiskin, County Sligo by Emma Cownie


The second one is in oils.

Autumn Light on Ben Whiskin (Sligo)_Emma Cownie

Autumn Light on Ben Whiskin (Sligo)_Emma Cownie

It’s noticeable that the light is different from Donegal light, its softer, slightly yellower. The sense of the place is that life isn’t as quite tough as it is in Donegal (I’m thinking of the winter and the gales).

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London Irish Centre Exhibition

Exhibition at London Irish Centre 2023

I was delighted to see my two Donegal paintings “Up Bloody Foreland, Donegal” and “The through Road, Donegal” on the walls of the London Irish Centre (Camden, London).

These two oil paintings form part of a “real room” of an Irish family in 1950s Britain installation. The exhibition, which is on during August through to October, pulls together a dynamic collection of prints, photographs, paintings, and writings that weave together the different threads of ‘Home’ for Irish Immigrants to London. This has been organised Tara Griffin, who is Education and Heritage Officer at the London Irish Centre, in conjunction with the Museum of the Home. It looks fascinating and I hope my paintings bought happy reminders of home to visitors to the centre. My work has been described as nostalgic by by some and I am interested in capturing a vanishing Ireland of the not too distant past. I just wish I could have visited in person!

Exhibition at London Irish Centre 2023
Up Bloody Foreland: Exhibition at London Irish Centre 2023


Exhibition at London Irish Centre 2023
The Through Road; Exhibition at London Irish Centre 2023


London Irish Centre: website
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Three Small(ish) Donegal Paintings

Three Small Donegal Paintings by Emma Cownie

Donegal is a big mountaneous county in a big country. Imagine my shock when I discover that it’s only the 4th largest in Ireland (after Cork,  Galway and Mayo) at 4,860 km2 (1,880 sq miles). It seems even bigger as there is no railway or motorways here, so it takes a long time to travel around all the mountains. One of joys of the county is that it’s relatively empty (the 5th least populated in Ireland) with 32.6 people per km2.

There is also a lot of coastline and the landscape varies from remote mountain bogland, rocky shores to lush rolling farmland in the east. Here are three small paintings I have completed recently that reflect some of this diversity.


The first painting is the furthest north – Malin on the Inishowen Peninsula. This peninsula is the furthest north in Ireland – Malin Head is represented by the red star nearest the top of the map above. It is further north than any part of Northern Ireland! This causes a lot of confusion for my parents who have never been to Ireland despite the fact that my father’s grandparents were from Cork.

Beach near Wee House of Malin, Inishowen
Beach near Wee House of Malin, Inishowen


The wee House at Malin is a cave, where folklore has it that no matter how many people enter it will hold all. It predates a monastic foundation and Holy Well. The cave and holy well were originally associated with the belief in the sanctity of water and local tradition states that the original foundation was built to exorcise evil from the area. The “Saint” venerated was St. Muirdhealach. He supposedly blessed the well (located in a cavern underneath the large rock directly in front of the ruins of the church).


The second is a view from Arranmore, the largest of the many islands off the coast of Donegal. This is represented by the red star furthest to the left/west on the map above.

Another View From Arranmore, Donegal_Emma Cownie
Another View From Arranmore, Donegal_Emma Cownie


And finally Muckish Mountain which lies further inland in West Donegal. I notice Muckish isn’t always included in Tourist maps (like the one bolow which has a red triangle for near by Errigal), yet its distinctive flat backed shape can see seen from Arranmore in the far west and even Carrigans in the far East of Donegal.
Towards Muckish, donegal_Emma Cownie
Towards Muckish, Donegal_Emma Cownie


Find out more about County Donegal here:

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At the foot of Scraigs, Fintown (Donegal)

Herron's Farm, Fintown Donegal-Emma Cownie

There’s a good reason why landscape painters use the “landscape” orientation for their canvases – i.e. the longest side is horizontal  – and that’s because you can fit more landscape in that way.  I have recently discovered another good reason – social media and wordpress thumbnails don’t like tall narrow paintings and will automatically crop them.  This one-size fits all is especially irritating in the case of my most recent painting below, as the thumbnail cuts out the focus of the painting – Con Herron’s farm at the foot of the massive hill – Scraigs, which is part of the Bluestack Mountain range in Donegal.

So looking at the thumbnail you just see the  top of the mountain! I am pretty sure than no one will be clicking on that to see the full size image. It’s no better on pinterest!

Top of the moutains - Thumbnail
Top of the moutain – Thumbnail


So I have had to play around and put the image on a backing to widen it.

Scraigs, Fintown
Scraigs, Fintown – extra background added on


I also use mock up software (from to get a sense of the scale of the painting.


C:\Users\emmaf\Downloads\2023-07-06 10_38_15-Window.jpg
Mock up from


Another Mock up from
Another Mock up from


Map of Scraigs and Bluestacks
Map of Scraigs and Bluestacks – ignore the red route. Fintown is at the top of the map.


I often look at the rocky tops of the mountains and hills in Donegal and wonder how often, if ever, they are climbed by people. The farmers in the past must have been incredibly fit  (modern day ones surely use quad bikes) as I am often surprise to see fencing winding its way over the top of these craigs. I look up the Scraigs on the internet and find that it features on a website called “” with a summit map but no one has yet written a review of their climb. So I suppose intrepid climbers must ascended that craggy summit but probably not from this angle! There seems to be an easier route from the western side.

Herron's Farm, Fintown Donegal-Emma Cownie
Herron’s Farm, Fintown Donegal-Emma Cownie


If you ever get the chance to read the “Tales from the Bluestacks” or “The Hills: More Stories from the Bluestacks” a collection of short stories published in the 1980s by American academic-turned sheep farmer Robert Bernen, they are well worth the effort. He and his wife lived in the Croaghs in the 1970s. I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s so it doesn’t seem so long ago to me but his stories, such as the coming of motor vehicles and later on electricity to the area,  reveal a way of life that has now pretty much vanished. I like to think that 92 year old Con Herron, whose farm lies that the bottom of my painting, was part of that world.

Robert Bernen Short Stories
Robert Bernen Short Stories


Scraigs features on a another hiking website here:

Read Irish Times article on Robert Bernen and farming life in the Blustacks here – worth it for the photgraphs of the interiors of the irish houses alone!

Listen to an RTE radio documentary on Robert Bernan here 

See the painting for sale here


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The Doors of Derry

Georgian-Style Doors of Derry

Everybody loves the Georgian Houses

It seems like certain styles never go out of fashion. Last year Georgian-style houses topped a poll of the most popular home styles. I suspect that people like scale of the house as well as the the pillars and generous sized windows. Nothing says lord of the manor like a couple of pillars!

Georgian-Style New Build
Georgian-Style New Build


Location of Derry-Londonderry

Some of the best examples of Georgian architecture can be found in the biggest cities of 18th century such as Edinburgh, Bath and Dublin and London, and to a lesser extent York and Bristol. Dublin in particular is famous for its very grand Georgian doorways  and square. There are plenty of examples of Georgian buildings in other Irish cities such as  Limerick, Cork, Galway, Derry and Belfast.

I have been delighted to discover that Derry has plenty of its own Geogian-style doorways, if you know where to look for them.  Like many cities, Derry has been rebuilt and remodelled by successive generations but it’s Georgian architectural past survives in several places.

Not sure what Georgian era is? Think Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” with the ladies wearing Empire Line dresses and Gentlemen in breaches in tall hats. There were four kings called George who lived and reigned from 1714-1837. Its is also sometimes known as Regency era, after George Prince Regent, who took over the crown from his father George III, who expereience prolonged bouts of madness.

Derry’s Georgian-style building fall into two groups. The first were built within the walled city in the 18th century, in the Georgian era. There was also a later burst of building in the first half of the 19th century, outside the city walls, that continued in the Georgian style of building.

Generally speaking the Georgian-style of architecture is marked by symmetry and proportions based on the classical architecture of Greece and Rome, as revived in Renaissance architecture. They were designed using the “golden ratio,” a mathematical ratio that’s commonly found in nature and fine art. Buildings designed with the golden ratio in mind have graceful proportions, balance, and symmetry.

Golden Ratio in Beautifully Proportioned Classical Georgian-Architecture
Golden Ratio in Beautifully Proportioned Classical Georgian-Architecture


Ornament is also normally in the classical tradition, but typically restrained, and sometimes almost completely absent on the exterior; hence an unfussy appearance.

Home of Georgian Berkley, Dean of Derry
Home of George Berkeley, the Philosopher who was Dean of Derry in 1723-5 (and later a slave owner) – classic Georgian architecture in action.


Map of Conservation Area
Location of Georgain Style Buildings (also Conservation Area)

Georgian Buildings within the Walled City 

Derry-Londonderry is the only completely walled city in Ireland and one of the finest in Europe. The buildings within the walled city were largely rebuilt in the 18th century and many of its fine Georgian-style houses still survive there. The population of the city was growing fast, from about 2,850 in to 1706 to over 9,000 at the end of the century.  This area, when first built, would have been for houses of the well-to-do Protestant merchants of the city. These men would have been involved in the export and import of goods such as linen and agricultural produce in the city through the nearby area of the quay. In 1699 the English parliament banned the export of woollen goods from Ireland. This was to protect to English woollen trade and so farmers and the merchants of Ulster concentrated instead on Linen. Thus, from about 1750 a thriving linen industry grew up in Derry.


Derry in 19th Century: From Discover Derry
View of Derry and its new bridge in early 19th Century: From Discover Derry


Derry was quite an important port in Ireland at that time (it was the 5th biggest in Ireland). Derry’s trade with Britain was growing fast at this time. It also traded linen cloth with North America (principally to Pennslyvannia) and the West Indies. Derry was also one of the most important emirgration ports to North America. Yet, until the end of the 18th century, there was only a ferry across the River Foyle. In 1789-91 a wooden bridge was built, largely at the behest of Bishop Hervey (Church of Ireland). Contrary to the claims of the bishop’s critics, who said the widely-travelled  Hervey only wanted a bridge for his own covenience; the new bridge greatly boosted trade and industry in Derry.

The most defining characteristic of a Georgian-style home is symmetry.
Types of Georgian Town houses


Broadly speaking, the surviving Georgian houses within the walled city are located in two areas; along Shipquay Street, which leads down from the Diamond towards the Foyle and the old quayside, and also in the area around St Columb’s Cathedral.

The defining characteristic of a Georgian house is symmetry. I like the style of these spacious terrace houses.  I find the clean lines of the tall buildings very pleasing. I particularly enjoy the columns either side of the doorways, echoing the Greek and Roman temples that inspired their design. I also like the generously wide panelled wooden doorways, sometimes painted in bright colours; but usually in black or red. The original door knockers and bell-pulls some time survive too.

Georgian Doorways of Derry

A Geogian doorway on Shipquay Street built c. 1760 – 1779 (with steps)

There were cellars and attics for servants to live in. The family usually lived on the first and second floors, with perhaps a business office on the ground floor.

House on Shipquay Street - you can see the basement under the stairs
Very grand house on Shipquay Street – you can see the ground floor accomodation under the steps built c. 1760 – 1779


Fanlight: llustration: Emma Kelly
Fanlight: llustration: Emma Kelly


A special treat are the arched fanlight windows above the doors – many houses have lost them but these on London Street, opposite the Cathedral still have theirs.

Georgain doors Of Derry
Georgian doors Of Derry: London Street built c. 1800 – 1819

Some of the doorways are relatively simple, with  plaster or precast concrete or stone surround and steps.

Georgian Doors of Derry, London Street
Georgian Doors of Derry, London Street

Georgian Doors of Derry, London Street

Georgian Doors of Derry, London Street built c. 1800 – 1819

Georgian Doors of Derry, Pump Street
You can see the scale of these Georgian houses on Pump Street

Some of the doors are very grand even if they have fallen in disrepair. This one is in Pump Street. For a city with a housing shortage there is a surprising number of vacant properties in the city.

Georgian Doors of Derry, Pump Street
Georgian Doors of Derry, Pump Street built c. 1820 – 1839 – Old Convent of Mercy


17th century Shipquay Street
17th century Shipquay Street: From John Hume’s “Derry Beyond the Walls”


Green Doors of Derry
Green Doors of Derry


Georgian-style buildings outside the walled city

In the early-Victorian Derry’s economic and population boom went from strength to strength. In 1821, at the time of the first Irish census, Derry had a population of 9,313. It grew rapidly during the 19th century and had reached a population of 40,000 by its end. This population boom resulted a Catholic ghetto outside the city walls in an area that wouls later become known as the Bogside. Its also lead to a more formal expansion of the city with the laying out of new streets along a geometric pattern, to the north-west of the walled city. This grid pattern echoed the layout of the streets within the walls.

Map of Derry-Londonderry
Map of Derry-Londonderry

These new streets included Queen Street, Great James Street and Clarendon Street. Although this was the Victorain era, these town houses were built in the Georgian style. A Gazetteer of 1844 noted that there were several “good streets, which contain merchants residences” and the newly built Great James Street which included a Presbyterian meeting house. This new part of town was now deemed “respectable”!

Clarendon Street was street was originally known as Ponsonby Street; named after the Rt. Rev. Richard Ponsonby (1772-1853), Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, however by the 1850s the street had been renamed Clarendon Street in honour of the Fourth Earl of Clarendon, George Villiers (1800-1870), Lord Lieutenant of Ireland between 1847 and 1852. Throughout its history the occupants of Clarendon Street were of the city’s merchant and professional classes. Several grand terraces were built within relatively dense, urban street patterns, many with rear mews and yards accessed by back alleys.

The Red Doors of DerryThe Red Doors of Derry


It should be noted that these fine “gentleman’s” houses were for the Protestant business (largely Presbyterian) community. The Catholic inhabitants of the city were largely confined to the overcrowded Bogside. Many of the worst houses they loved in have gone now. Piecemeal slum clearance was followed by largescale urban redevelopment in the 1960s and 1970s. Some of that development  has gone now too.

The Merchanta House, Quueen street
The Merchants House, Queen Street Photo Credit

A greater degree of ornamentation is found on the gentleman’s houses on Clarendon Street which have a lot of detail on their wooden surrounds, some on Queen Street have inset stone pillars. The impressive nature of these wealthier houses is enhanced by the steps up to the front doors and the decorative railings (see above photo).

Georgian Doorways of DerryGeorgian-Style Doorways of Derry: Great James Street –

Georgain doors Of Derry
Georgian doors Of Derry: Princes Street


The city and its surrounding area is choc-a-block  with heritage and history – both ancient and very recent. It’s what I love about the place; the that fact there is so much history here and that its preserved and commenorated. Derry as it exists today is an interesting hybrid of very old and modern buildings. Ideas about Conservation seem to have evolved slowly. Concerns of the city planners in the early 1970s seem to focused on preserving the character the walled city alone. In 1974 part of the walled city was chosen as one of four schemes for European Architectural Heritage Year and a co-ordinated repainting scheme for London Street was been carried out. However, some old buildings were demolished to build new shopping centres in the walled city.  It is also noticeable that some of the buildings that feature in a report of 1977, namely the Old Convent of Mercy (see photo above) and the more modern Austin’s Department store are both vacant and have fallen into disrepair. It is probably testament to the lack of investment in the city.

In the follow year, 1978, Clarendon Street  was included in to conservation area and many of its buildings were listed and this was  extended in 2006. This has been a great success. Clarendon Street is well-preserved and a thriving business distict; home to many dentists, solictors and other professionals. There are only a few empty properties here. I would argue that more buildings in the Conservation Area should be listed to give legal protect architectural features such as windows frames proportions, wooden doors and pillars their surrounds. There are a few houses in the surrounding streets that have had their door replaced with white PVC doors, with original features lost forever. This piece-meal destruction of the character of this unique part of the city needs to be halted and reversed. The heritage of the city is both vibrant and unique and deserved to be cherished and protected. After all  it is everyone’s favourite type of architecture.

Map of Conservation Area
Map of Conservation Area (Listed buildings in yellow)
The Doors of Derry #3 (1)
The Doors of Derry #3


Buy Prints on here 

Find out More 

Georgian Architecture 

Characteristics of the Georgian Town House

Find out More about  the buildings of Georgian/Victorian era Derry

Historical Map Viewer (for all NI)

Database of Historic Buildings

Conservation in Derry

Stay in Geogrian Derry 

Out of Town – Hampstead Hall, Culmore

Interactive digital map

Books on the History of Derry

Discover Derry, Brian Lacey, 2011

Hume, J., ‘Derry beyond the walls: Social and economic aspects of the growth of Derry 1825-1850’ , 2002.

Brain Mitchell, The Making of Derry: An Economic History, 1992 

T.H. Mullin, Ulster’s Historic City, Derry Londoderry, 1986

The building and rebuilding of Derry


‘City of Derry: An historical gazetteer to the buildings of Londonderry’ Belfast: Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, 2013.

Digitising Demolished Derry: Videogames as Public History

Photographs of Derry now gone

A History of Derry

48 Hour In The Historic Walled City Of Derry ~ Londonderry, Northern Ireland

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Whiterocks Beach and Dunluce Castle, Antrim

Whiterocks & Dunluce

Northern Ireland’s Tourism is very impressive. At Whiterocks Beach, just along from Portrush, there is not one, not two but three small carparks and a public toilets which are all free to use.

Aeriel view of car parks

What’s more, there’s another car parks specially for horses and their horseboxes.  I will point out though, that there is height restriction barrier on the carpark closest to the beach. I watched the driver of a car with bikes propped up on its roof rack stop, consider getting them knocked off by a bar and then reverse away to park just outside the carpark.

The beach is stunning. Very, very long at three miles. It had the softest sand that made us super tired the next day.

 Whiterocks Beach, towards Portrush
Whiterocks Beach,looking  towards Portrush
Life guards with quad bike
Life guards with quad bike


The cliffs here are unusual as they are made of  chalk – Cretaceous Chalk, which is soft  – whereas most of the causeway coast is made of basalt which was spewed out of volcanoes. The basalt headlands are dark grey and contrast with the luminescence of these chalk cliffs.

If you look at the geological map (below) you can see the top right-hand corner of Ireland is coloured dark red for volcanic rock. Don’t get excited, Mount Slemish the closest volcano (near Ballycastle) is extinct. Apparently the last eruption was approximately 60 million years ago. It’s a wonderful word to roll around the mouth – Slemish or Slieve Mish, means Mis’s mountain in Irish. It is where the young St Patrick was a slave and made herd sheep. It is also where he found God.

BGS Map of British Isles

BGS Map of British Isles

The cliffs along Whiterocks Beach are dotted with lots of interesting geological landforms – cliffs, shore platforms, caves, arches, and sea stacks. The eroding power of the pounding sea on the chlak rocks is well illustrated. It’s a living geology lesson!

Whiterocks Beach, at low tide
Whiterocks Beach, at low tide
Painting of Whiterock Beach, Portrush, Antrim
Across Whiterock Beach, Portrush


Arches at Low tide: Photo credit Seamas Johnston
Arches at Low tide: Photo credit Seamas Johnston


You can see the rocks change at Dunluce. The soft white chalk cliffs are replaced by grey basalt rocks that plunges 30 foot down to the sea. Erosion is taking place along these cliffs too,. The north walls of the castle (that’s the far side from this angle) fell into the sea in the C18th.

Dunluce Castle from Whiterocks Beach
Dunluce Castle from Whiterocks Beach


Further along the beach,  at Magheracross, just before Dunluce,  there is a carpark with viewing platform so vistors can admire the stunning seastacks below. There are several pull-in points along this road. It makes stopping to look at the heart-stoppingly beautiful views, or take a photo, a lot less hazardous to tourists and passing traffic.

Whiterocks Beach, Portrush
Seastacks Whiterocks Beach, Portrush


Viewing platform - Whiterocks Beach, Portrush
Viewing Platform – Magheracross


There is another viewing platform looking out east towards Dunluce castle (partially hiden by the headland). Dunluce Castle (just) peepng around the cornerDunluce Castle (just) peepng around the corner

Dunluce Castle is a location which is genuiunely iconic. Yes, it’s a very over-used term but the causeway coast contains several iconic locations that are instantly recognisable including Mussenden Temple and the Giant’s Causeway itself.  Both of which are looked after by the National Trust. Dunluce Castle is owned by the MacDonnell family, although it  is in the care of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.

If you are a fan of the epic Game of Thrones you may think there is something familar about Dunluce – it was used as Castle Greyjoy although modified with CGI.

Dunluce and as Castle Greyjoy in Game of Thrones
Dunluce (below) as Castle Greyjoy (top) in Game of Thrones


Antrim and Scotland map
Antrim and Scotland map

Dunluce is a beautiful ruin. Although it was founded in C13th, what you can see  is largely the remains of the castle that was mostly built in the C16th. The first documented owners of the castle were the MacQuillans but  it was taken over by the MacDonnells in the 1550s, Scottish settlers descended from the Scottish Clan MacDonald, after numerous battles. The Scottish Isles are very close. On a clear day you can see across the North Channel to Mull of Kintyre and the Isles of Jura and Islay.

Sorley Boy MacDonnell developed Dunluce Castle in the Scottish style, paying for the refurbishments through the looting of the Girona, a gallion from ill-fated Spanish Armada, which was wrecked in a storm on Lacada Point, further along the coast. The cannons of the ship were kept and can still be found in the Gatehouse today.

Loot from the Girona
Loot from the Girona


£10 Bank Note commertaing the Girona
NI £10 Bank Note comemorarting the Girona


I was intrigued to read that there used to be a town next to the castle of Dunluce but it was destroyed during the Irish uprising of c.1641. What does not survive in the present day can be as intriguing as what does survive.   It had been home to maybe as many as 300 Scottish settlers. In 1642 a contingent of Irish rebels attempted to capture the nearby castle, but were repulsed and as they retreated they set fire to the town. Badly damaged, the settlement never fully recovered and by 1680 it was abandoned. There was nothing but fields there now. Artists impression of what the 17th century town may have looked like (by Philip Armstrong and ©Northern Ireland Environment Agency)

Artists impression of what the 17th century town may have looked like (by Philip Armstrong and ©Northern Ireland Environment Agency)

Sadly, we did not get to visit the castle itself as the car park was full (they only had the one). It’s just an excuse to go back when it’s not a bank holiday!


Find out More

The Rising of 1641 

Geology of the Causeway Coast 

Archaeology and Dunluce Town

Dunluce Castle, Northern Ireland – Epic Medieval Castle on the Cliffs

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Helen Merrigan Colfer: Tribes and Tribulation

Helen Merrigan Colfer

We recently went to see Helen Merrigan Colfer’s solo exhibition at the Alley Gallery, Strabane. She is a sculptor & painter. She lives & works on the tip of the Hook Head Peninsula, County Wexford, Ireland.  She works with resin & steel. Her work is quite incredible and very engaging.

This exhibtion included paintings, many resin sculptures and parts of her lockdown diaries that started as a series of notes she wrote for her mother-in-law Noreen, who was living “with” (but cocooned)  Helen and her husband during lockdown.

Helen Merrigan ColferHelen Merrigan Colfer

Portrait of Noreen – Helen Merrigan Colfer

The scultpures were all about the same size, I didn’t measure them but I would say they were about 2 foot high. There was work there from 2016  and more recently. The earlier work was highly coloured but darker and heavier. This is not surprising as these pieces in Tribes and Tribulations was made while she was recovering from childhood trauma. Her counsellor encouraged her to return to her art after emotional difficulties meant she had given up.

It is evident that she is working through disturbing emotions. The eyes of all the figures of the scultpures were either hidden behind a mask/bag or closed. Shoes are a theme too – I was drawn to the large red boots and shoes that many of the the figure wore. The arms of the figures were either missing or constrained by corset/straight-jacketed affairs. There are some free arms, but those are the later works that seem lighter, paler and more at peace.  The smaller the shoes the lighter the emotions.

I don’t think you needed to know the details of her dyfunctional childhood to realise that there was a lot of frustration, anger and grief in these work. They contrast quite starkly with the out-pouring of love for her mother-in-law, Noreen, in the lockdown letters.  We all remember lockdown as a frustrating and frightening time when many emotions were heightened. Noreen was clearly  cocooned in love, even if it was from a distance. I liked the mixture of letters, sculptures, video and paintings. I found it an invigorating mix.

This is a touring exhibition but I don’t know where it will be headed to next but its well worth seeing.

Helen Merrigan Colfer

Helen Merrigan Colfer

Helen Merrigan Colfer
Helen Merrigan Colfer
Helen Merrigan Colfer
Helen Merrigan Colfer


Helen Merrigan Colfer
Helen Merrigan Colfer


Helen Merrigan Colfer
Helen Merrigan Colfer


Helen Merrigan Colfer
Helen Merrigan Colfer
Helen Merrigan Colfer
Helen Merrigan Colfer
Helen Merrigan Colfer
Helen Merrigan Colfer – one of her later pieces



Helen Merrigan Colfer’s Website 

Video link to the exhibition here