Posted on 28 Comments

Settling in

Emma Cownie - Settling In
In my empty studio
In my empty studio

Someone told me that once we got to Ireland, “it will be like being on holiday everyday!” Hmmm,  I have had some pretty eventful holidays in the past. Funny how the disasters are more memorable that the sunny easy holidays. Let me see. Here are three that come to mind; we once got flooded in a campsite in Yorkshire, had a sleepless night holding on to the tent during a gale at a campsite in the South of France, and finally we drove a tempermental campervan around Ireland a decade ago. It only started some of the time. A helpful Polish guy got it started very early in the morning so we could catch the ferry in Wexford.

Knockfola, Donegal
Knockfola, Donegal

So far, this “holiday-everyday-life” is proving to be pretty good (that’s a English understatement, by the way). There were quite a few “bumps” to start with, however. A lot of things seem to go wrong at the same time.  At first we could not get into the studio, as the door lock was jammed, then one of our dogs, little Mitzy had a stroke (the vets was over an hour’s drive away), Bingo the cat got lost and finally the toilet flooded and we couldn’t use it for several days. 

The studio makers sent someone all the way from County Tyrone to replace the lock so we could get in! The vets kept Mitzy in over the weekend and thank to a pile of drugs and lots of basket-rest, she has recovered well. Her balance isn’t great and her head is at a permanent tilt but she chase after the ball again and is still telling us what to do. 

Mitzy (with Séamas and Biddy)
Mitzy (with Séamas and Biddy)

Ann Marie at Burtonport Animal Rescue put out a notice on their facebook page, asking people to look out for Bingo, and it was shared many times. She gave us useful advice and support too. 

They do great work and need donations to keep up that great work. You can donate via this link.

Thankfully, Bingo came home late at night, after the traffic had died down.  The flooding toilet issue is more complicated, has been solved for the time being but will need some more work in future.  Don’t ask me to explain it. 

Donegal
This is my one and only summer drees

 We had a heatwave with unprecedent temperatures of 30 degrees celsius soon after we arrived. This was very unexpected and I had thrown out a lot of my clothes during the move and I only had one summer dress. Fortunately, I did have bathers so we could go for a swim in the sweathering heat. That was fantastic. The water was crystal clear and surprisingly warm (or not as cold as I thought it would be). 

Swimming at Cruit Island, Donegal
Swimming at Cruit Island, Donegal

As for painting. That was  bit more difficult. I was not able to paint for two months as I was either helping un/packing up the house,  paints were packed away  or I was just too exhausted to do anything. I knew it was going take a while to find my painting groove again as I needed to recover my energy levels and adjust to a new location.  I am very fussy about arranging my paints and the position of my easel and it took a while sort things out to my satisfaction. It took longer than I thought but I am getting there now.

Painting of Marameelan, Donegal
The Old House at Marameelan

What do I love about Donegal? The way it looks and sounds. Everytime we take a trip into the nearest town of Dungloe, to post a painting or to do our food shopping, I marvel at the views. At night, when I awake, I listen to the slience. I find it so relaxing. I had had enough of the noise of city life. Donegal is so beautiful too. There is so much abundant nature on our door step, quite literally under our feet. The length of the west coast of Ireland is called the Wild Atlantic Way,  and it really is wild in every sense.

A carpet of Flowers

A carpet of Flowers at Gweedore

Red deer, seen on ground 5 minutes walk from the cottage
Red deer, seen on land only 5 minutes walk from the cottage (photo by Séamas Johnston)

The weather is very mercurial. I thought I was used to rainy weather, living in Swansea in Wales, but this is something else. I may awake to thunder and downpours, but by lunchtime the sun is shining and the sky is full of fluffy clouds. Sometimes it may rain, the sun will come out and then it rains again, all in the space of ten minutes. Today, we are in the midst of a gale, that no one has seen fit to name, with 50 mile-per-hour winds. Standing outside in the buffeting winds is surprisingly envigorating.  I think its the negative ions.

Donegal Clouds
Donegal Clouds

It may be grey all all day or the sun might come out in a bit. Passing a window, I might be struck by the beauty of the clouds.  Sometimes I point them out to Seamas, or take a photo. Often just drink them in. I hope I never stop marvelling at them.

Come and Visit

In my Viewing Gallery
In my Viewing Gallery

We are now in a position to receive visitors to our private gallery, at the rear of Meadow Cottage, on a appointment only basis. We ask that social distancing is observed and that masks are worn inside the gallery.

Please call either our mobile no.s +44 782757 4904 or

+353 87963 5699 or landline +353 74 959 1593 to book a viewing.

Séamas and I look forward to seeing you

Posted on 12 Comments

Up Bloody Foreland, Donegal

Up Bloody Foreland

Bloody Foreland is one of my favourite locations in Donegal. It is one of the wildest, windiest and most beautiful places I have been. The light is sharp and clear.  You feel healthier for breathing the air here.

House on Cnoc Fola
House on Cnoc Fola

The wind is always blowing. It is very remote and feels a bit like the edge of the known-world.

Derelict house, Bloody Foreland
A derelict house, Bloody Foreland

The name Bloody Foreland (Cnoc Fola in Irish means Hill of Blood) does not to refer to some past battle that took place here in mythic times, but  intense red hue of the rocks at sunset. The Irish language dominates here.

Folklore records that Balor, the one-eyed supernatural warlord was eventually slain by his grandson Lugh Lámh Fhada on the slopes of Cnoc Fola. Indeed, some say that the tide of blood which flowed from Balor’s evil eye stained the hillside and gave it its name.

Bloody Foreland, Donegal
Bloody Foreland, Donegal

I particularly like the incredible stone walls, made of massive granite boulders, that snake across the hills here. They date from the 1890s. They suggest to me a landscape where stones were plentiful and labour cheap. It is also the sort of place where writers come to get away from the modern world and think about writingDylan Thomas, travelled to An Port, further south to write poetry, but left without paying his bills.

Old Farm BuildingsOld Farm Buildings, Bloddy Foreland 

Bloody Foreland,  also makes a refreshing contrast to the slopes of Brinlack and Derrybeg, round the corner, which are heavily peppered with larger modern houses and bungalows from the era of “Bungalow Bliss“.

Houses on Bloody Foreland, Donegal
Houses on Bloody Foreland, Donegal

This is the first time that I have been able to paint Ireland whilst in Ireland. Previously, I have worked from my photos back in Wales. Now I think that being surrounded by these colours all the time is affecting my work in a different way.

I am experimenting a little with less detail and letting my under painting show through more – to give a greater sense of the roughness of the landscape here. I am feeling my way. I don’t know how my paintings will develop in the future, but not knowing is a sort of freedom from painting the same thing in the same sort of way.

Painting of Houses on Bloody Foreland

Up Bloody Foreland, Donegal

Posted on 12 Comments

Gola Staycation (2021)

Gola Staycation

Caravans tucked away on coastal inlets and islands are not an unsual sight in Donegal.  I am always impressed by their presence as there are no roads for lorries and it must have taken a good deal of effort and ingenuity to get it there. Getting to have a “Staycation” in 2021 amidst all the uncertainty of vaccine rolls out & third (or is it fourth?) waves looks like it will take an equal amount of effort! So instead join me in imagining the view from the static caravan’s wide window across the rugged terrain of Gola Island on this late spring morning.

Painting of caravan on Gola island, Donegal
Gola Staycation (2021) 100×65 cm
Posted on 11 Comments

Spring Newsletter 2021

Newsletter Cover

Here’s my spring newsletter which you will see is heavy on the visual and very light on the text!

Spring Newsletter 2021 Page 1
See more Gola paintings 

 

Spring Newsletter 2021 Page 2
See Large paintings 
Spring Newsletter 2021 Page 2
See  All Recently Sold Work 

 

See! That was easy to look at. If you wish to get regular (no more than once a month) updates about my work and news about exhibitions sign up here

 

Posted on 21 Comments

How to display Art in a Pandemic

Emma Cownie

We have been in full lockdown since last Friday and the the terrible weather (I write this to the sound of of rain lashing against against the windows) makes it a all a lot tougher to endure. The clocks went back too, so good quality light to paint by has been in short supply.  I have, nevertheless,  just finished a large scale painting and I am now working on a commission.

The Approaching Storm (On Dunlewy Lough), Ireland
The Approaching Storm (On Dunlewy Lough), Ireland – Work in Progress

 

I wanted to write about how you can “show” your work when you are social distancing. On this wordpress site I am able to show more than one photos of my paintings in the “shop” section.  It is useful to take photos of a painting in a studio so you can get a sense of the scale of the painting.

The Approaching Storm (On Dunlewy Lough), Ireland
The Approaching Storm (On Dunlewy Lough), Ireland

 

Here it is. My most recent painting ” The Approaching Storm (On Dunlewy Lough), Ireland” which is 100cm x 80cm (approx 39″x 31″). I will often post a “in the studio” photos of painting to help give a sense of the sense of the painting, but they dont really show the painting at its best. A real life exhibition would be good but its not pratictical (or allowed) at the moment. 

The Approaching Storm (On Dunlewy Lough), Ireland
The Approaching Storm (On Dunlewy Lough), Ireland – In my attic studio

 

The next best way of displaying my painting is using an online app which show the work “in situ” in a computer generated room.  Online galleries will often provide these sorts of images as part of the membership of the site (e.g. Singulart and Artfinder) but the choice of rooms is limited and often they won’t provide them for smaller works. 

Donegal Painting by Emma Cownie
Artfinder mock up

 

Donegal painting by Emma Cownie
Singulart Mock Up

 

I have spent some time searching online for apps so I could do this myself and have more control of the choice of rooms and colour of the walls.  It was difficult to find sites that showed works to scale.  There is not much point showing people a mock up that makes your painting look much bigger or smaller than it is in real life. That would be misleading. Unfortunately, most of the good ones were only available for ipads (we dont have one) or on android (too fiddly on a smart phone) and I was looking for a an app that I could use on my PC.

Eventually I came across a site called “Canvy” which has a free plan which allowed the use of 12 “rooms” and unlimited downloads. It was very esay to use. It was a matter of importing images of paintings, typing dimensions (this is very important so images are to scale) and choosing your backgrounds. It is all drag on drop. It seems to automatically add a frame which might be a bit misleading as I dont frame my paintings, but paint around the edges in a neutral colour (usually blue). Very importantly, the final downloaded images do not have watermarks. It has a plugin which links to Etsy.

There is also a paid plan for $15 a month (40% reduction if you signed up to an annual plan)  with access to over 200 “rooms”, it offers a 30 day free trial for the full version. Maybe there are better sites out there, I would be interested to hear what other artists use. 

Here what a few of the mock-ups look like. Which is your favourite? 

Painting of Errgial, Ireland
The Approaching Storm (On Dunlewy Lough), Ireland on blue wall
Painting of Errigal
The Approaching Storm (On Dunlewy Lough), Ireland on a brick wall
The Approaching Storm (On Dunlewy Lough), Ireland
The Approaching Storm (On Dunlewy Lough), Ireland on mustard wall 

 

The great thing is that you can put together a mini exhibition too! 

Donegal paintings in situ
Donegal paintings in situ

 

After looking at al these photographs, I decided to lighten the clouds at the bottom of the Errigal painting. I felt that the black storm clouds were distracting to eye away from the moutnain and its reflection in the loch. 

The Approaching Storm on Dunlewy (Final Version)

To find out more

http://www.canvvy.com

Posted on 26 Comments

Bád Eddie, Bunbeg, Ireland

Painting of Bad Eddie by Emma Cownie

From Magheraclogher Beach (Bunbeg)
From Magheraclogher Beach (Bunbeg) (Private Collection)

 

I decided to apply the detailed techniques I have used for painting the hilly city of Swansea to the rural homes of the coastal townland of Bunbeg. I am usually drawn to painting old fashioned Irish cottages, as I like their clean lines and simple shapes. This time, I decided to challenge myself by painting modern Irish houses. The homes of this part of Bunbeg are almost all modern homes, although there are one or two old cottages tucked in amongst the two-storey houses. I found the arrangement of houses on the hilly a pleasing one. I was particularly keen on the road that snakes its way down the hill on the far left of the composition. I decided to leave out all the lamp posts as I felt the cluttered the scene. However, the real joy of the composition is rather unexpected (if you have never seen it before, that is) shipwreck on the right-hand side of the painting. Bád Eddie. 

Mageraclogher beach, Bunbeg,  on the West coast of Donegal,  is a vast, beautiful, and usually windswept beach. It is like a natural amphitheater. In its center,  fleetingly illuminated by the autumn light, just for a moment is the ruined hulk of a boat.

Painting of Bad Eddie, Bunbeg,Ireland

Bád Eddie, Ireland. 

This is a shipwreck, known locally as Bád Eddie, Bád meaning boat in Irish/Gaeilge.  I initially thought “Bad Eddie” was a nickname like Paul Newman’s character in the movie The Hustler, “Fast Eddie”. It made me think the wreck had been some sort of errant boat, but no it just means Eddie’s Boat in Irish. This is, after all,  Gaoth Dobhair (Gweedore), an Irish speaking area of Ireland. 

There are shipwrecks and there are shipwrecks. I am very familiar with images of bones of the Helvetia that have lain submerged on Rhossili Beach on the Gower Peninsula for over 120 years. Bád Eddie, however, is loved in a way that the Helvetia can only dream of.  She has starred in a pop video with Bono and Clannad, no less! She has had a film about her life made and broadcast on the TG4 the Irish language channel (see the film below, it is well worth watching), she has her own popular Twitter account too – Bád Eddie @CaraNaMara

Bád Eddie’s Twitter Page

Bád Eddie, isn’t her real name. She was actually named Cara Na Mara (Friend of the Sea). Her first career was as a fishing boat and she was originally built in Brittany, France, and bought by local fisherman Eddie Gillespie. In 1977 she needed two planks repaired and she was towed ashore onto Magherclougher beach and somehow got left. The repairs were never done and she has lain here for over 40 years.  So this, if there can be such a thing, is a  happy shipwreck. No one died when this ship was washed up. No one had to rescue the crew.  There are no sad memories, except for Eddie who never fixed his fishing boat.

Bád Eddie in her better days: From Twitter

In fact, Bád Eddie has helped create nothing but good memories.  Over the years she became the playground to the local people and families on holiday in Gweedore. She has featured in thousands of family holiday photos and locals include her in their weddings, communions, even christenings. Sadly, the Atlantic Storms have taken their toll on Bád Eddie, and there’s less on her today than when I saw her two winters ago.  

Decorated for Christmas: Image Donegal Daily

 

The locals love her and also recognize that she is a big tourist attraction and they want her preserved to keep that tourism alive. So there is an ambitious plan to create the first permanent sculpture in the sea in Ireland, a stainless steel full-size replica of the boat, incorporating what is left of the structure. I think a sea sculpture is a brilliant idea. There are some amazing sea sculptures in England,  “Another Place” by Antony Gormley at Crosby, Near Liverpool in England and “The Scallop” by Maggi Hamblin at Aldeburgh, on the Suffolk coast – both have had their share of controversy (The Scallop has been called “The most controversial piece of Art in Suffolk”) but  they have certainly increased tourism to their areas. I don’t imagine the Bád Eddie sea sculpture will cause too much controversy. The difficulty is around getting enough money together to build it.  The project has the support of Donegal County Council, but more funding is needed so a gofundme campaign has been set up.

You can support the campaign here https://ie.gofundme.com/f/bad-eddie

 

Read more about the campaign to save the wreck here.  

https://www.rte.ie/news/ireland/2020/0829/1162078-bad-eddie-donegal/

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/aug/31/donegal-locals-campaign-to-turn-beached-boat-into-work-of-art 

Watch Bono and Clannad  with Bád Eddie

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ty2V7yRPbCc&ab_channel=ClannadVEVO

Wild Atlantic Way Stories 

Bád Eddie

Posted on 28 Comments

The Cottages of Donegal

Cottages of Donegal, Ireland
Donegal painting of Owey Island
Owey in Late Spring

I love the Donegal islands for their peace and quiet. Oh, the relative absence of cars, the abundance of nature but I particularly love their houses. You may have noticed that I painted quite a few of them, lately; lovely long strings of houses.

Donegal Painting of Inishbofin
Across to Inishbofin SOLD

I love their simple clean lines. I enjoy the old-style aesthetic. In Donegal, houses were whitewashed and woodwork was painted red. You still see a few houses like this. Sometimes you might see one with a thatched roof. Usually, their thatch has been replaced with tiled roofs.

Traditional Donegal House
Traditional Donegal House (with a thatched roof)

When is a house a cottage? When it’s small and old and hand-built by its inhabitant, I suppose. In England, the term cottage originates from the Anglo-Saxon term for the peasant or “cottar”, in Irish the word for these houses is “teachin” or “teach beag” which means small house. You can watch a short film on how to say “teach” in Irish here, you may think that word looks like an English word, but it’s pronounced very differently in Irish.

Cottages literally grew out of the landscape that surrounded them. It stands to reason that in the past homes were built from local materials. If the stones and wood had to be carried by donkey or man-power it wasn’t likely to come from very far away. Stone would predominantly be used in coastal and rocky areas, muddy clay in the midlands and even turf in boggy areas.

media_200599
Photographs of a Gweedore cottage by James Glass

Cottages came in different sizes; from the tiny laborer’s cottage or Bothán Scóir (a one-roomed house with mud floors and often not even a window); the byre dwelling (a slightly larger cottage that was shared with the animals) to the thatched mansions – two-storey thatched farmhouses that were often extended from single-storey cottages as the occupants become wealthier.

In Donegal  “direct entry” houses were typical, where the front door open directly into the room with the fireplace. The most popular form of cottage is that with the living area at the center with the hearth fireplace and a bedroom on either end.

The fireplace or hearth usually formed of stone and located at the center of the house with a bedroom behind it to further absorb the heat. Most families lived in a single room. 

Traditional large fireplace (Kerrytown< Donegal)
Traditional large fireplace (Kerrytown, Donegal)

 

Interior of cottage with family. Aran Islands, Co. Galway, c. 1900
Interior of cottage with family. Aran Islands, Co. Galway, c. 1900
 
Note the bed by the fire
Note the bed by the fire

 

In rural Ireland, they did not usually own the land it stood on.  This is why landlords could evict tenants for non-payment of rent (usually, if they wanted to replace people with more profitable sheep), even those the occupants had built those houses themselves. In the case of  John George Adair of Gleanveagh, he had the houses pulled down after the tenants were thrown out! This was common eviction practice.  Anyone who has seen the excellent film Black 47 will know that this practice, could and did, lead to the death of old and frail tenants  in winter. 

Painting of Donegal, Arranmore
Over to the Rosses (Donegal, Ireland) SOLD

 

Houses were designed through necessity.  The general rule was that the front door of the cottage faced south, to shelter the house from the prevailing westerly winds. Windows were small in order to retain heat in the winter and to keep cool in the summer. Ground floor windows usually faced to the south, not on the gable ends.

Meadow Cottage
Meadow Cottage – note the first-floor window in the gable end

There were often small windows on the first floor of the gable walls where there were loft accommodations. The walls of a cottage were typically about 600mm thick to support the roof and beams, this led to the attractive deep window reveals found in most cottages.

IMG_2439
Cottage with outhouse (Gweedore)

You may have noticed that many old Irish houses are not one single unified block, but are made up of several extensions, a kitchen at the back, an extra room to the side. Homes were enlarged when money was available. Often this money was earnt far away from home as hardship forced family members to look for seasonal work far away in Derry, Tyrone or even in Scotland.

Donegal painting house Gola
A House on Gola SOLD

Modern houses in Donegal, like modern houses in most places, are comfortable, spacious with plenty of windows. Older people, here as elsewhere, I suspect prefer bungalows for their lack of stairs.

New Houses, Letterkenny, Donegal
New Houses, Letterkenny, Donegal

Yet, there is still a space for the old style.  On Cruit Island there is a holiday village of new-build holiday homes in the “old” style.

 

They are single story with thatched roofs but they are large, comfortable, and furnished with wooden rocking chairs, and folksy bedspreads. They also have a beach a stone’s throw away. Obviously, there are real old houses you can stay in on Cruit Island too.

Donegal painting of thatched cottage, Ireland
Donegal thatched cottage #2 SOLD

I sometimes wonder if I am painting a “fake” version of Ireland. I am giving the impression that all of Donegal is covered in little quaint white houses? It isn’t, but they are there. Especially in the Rosses and on the islands. Not all of the houses are quaint in  North-West Ireland; the “bungalow blight” that affects parts of Donegal has been commented on by others.  I suppose I am drawn to the clean lines of the old houses.

Painting of Irish Cottage in Donegal
On the Way to Arranmore (SOLD)

This is a theme I have explored in a different context, previously. A couple of years ago I explored the “Hollowed Community” of Brynmill and painted the Edwardian terraces that surround my home in Swansea. I was also interested in a lost community. The old way of life (pre-internet) that is fast vanishing, where your neighbors lived next to you for years, not for weeks or just the summer months. 

Donegal painting of Owey Island
Owey Island (SOLD)

 

See available paintings of Donegal 

To find out more about the history of the Irish cottage see the links below

http://www.askaboutireland.ie/reading-room/history-heritage/folklore-of-ireland/folklore-in-ireland/vernacular-architecture/The%20Irish%20Cottage/

https://www.irishamericanmom.com/the-thatched-cottage-as-a-symbol-of-ireland/

Why do irish cottages have so few windows? 

https://www.nihe.gov.uk/Documents/Community/traditional_buildings

Irish Cottage History

 Places you can visit

http://www.glenfolkvillage.com/

https://www.museum.ie/en-IE/Museums/Country-Life/Exhibitions/Hearth-and-Home

Doagh Famine Village

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Gola Island – Oileán Ghabhla

Donegal Painting of Gola
Donegal painting of Gola Island
Oileán Ghabhla (Donegal) SOLD

Gola is a Donegal island I painted and thought about long before I set foot on its shores. I have written about it before here. Last month I was fortunate to visit it. The wind had woken me in the night. The early dawn had me awake by 6.30.  I felt so tired and my limbs ached that I drank the last can of caffeinated energy drink that was sitting in our fridge (leftover from the epic drive up north). 

We drove the 40-minute drive from Burtonport to the little harbour at from Magheragallon Pier, Bunbeg.  The final part of our drive was along single-track road across flat grasslands which were home to both a graveyard and a golf course. That sounds grim but there’s plenty of space for both here.

Gweedore from Magheragallon (Machaire Gathlán)
View of Gweedore from Magheragallon (Machaire Gathlán)

It was the most perfect of days. The sun was shining, the sea was sparkling and flat and the sky was a hazy light blue. The sand was very light, but not white. The sea was incredibly clear and on a clear day like this, you could easily see the seabed, giving the sea a beautiful turquoise colour.

Magheragallon Pier
“The Cricket” at Magheragallon Pier (Machaire Gathlán)

The pier is well set up for waiting travelers with benches and a portaloo. We sat on a bench and waited for Sabba the boatman to give to signal to get on board. Seamas, my husband, tells me that Sabba the boatman has been sailing since aged 7. He has a facebook page here where he will post times of sailings and photos.

Fisherman off Gola
Fisherman off Gola

It’s only a 15 minutes crossing. As soon as we set foot on the island, I am struck by the sense of peace here. Most of the sounds you are of nature. Birds singing. Sheep bleating. The wind. That’s it.

Gola
Gola Pier

This is because there are very few motor vehicles here, one or two cars and some tractors.

IMG_2711
A fine red tractor

Gola is in the Donegal Gaeltacht, where many people speak Irish. They are brought up speaking Irish at home and in school. So the signs are in Irish. Some have English translations, but not all did.

In 1911 as many as 169 people lived here but in the 1960s people started leaving as jobs and a better standard of living on the mainland and abroad had a stronger appeal than full-time life on the island. Only a handful of people live here all year round now.

Gola is part of the Gaeltachta - an Irish speaking area of Donegal.
Gola is part of the Gaeltacht

It’s so peaceful. The land is covered vast stretches of long yellow prairie-like grass spotted with rocks and a few sheep and their sturdy lambs. The houses are scattered across the island along tracks.

Boat for Sale on Gola
Boat for Sale on Gola

Some of the houses are modern, others have been renovated and are still lived in during the summer months at least, others are boarded up but many lie ruined, without roofs or reduced to crumbling walls.

Houses on Gola
Houses on Gola
Houses on Gola
Houses on Gola

It was interesting to see the houses on Gola close up after looking across the water at them from Dunmore strand (see painting below). The houses are spaced much further apart than I supposed them to be. I was not satisfied until I had walked all the way to the southern tip of the island, so I could turn and look back at the houses. In this way, I could make sense of what I saw in early spring.

donegal painting of Gola, West Donegal.
Spring Light on Gola

The houses are close but not that close. All of their front doors face southwards, towards the mainland. Mount Errigal and Muckish are off in the distance. I didn’t realise that you could see Muckish this far south. I suppose I have had never been here on such a clear day before.

Gola - View Towards the South West
Gola – View Towards the South West

I tried to take a photo of two camera-shy woolly donkeys in a field. They took exception to my presence and brayed very loudly at me. I got the message and left them in peace. Even the sheep eye you up, they are not used to strangers. They seem to look at you as if they are saying “You are not our farmer, what are you doing here?”.

Donkeys on Gola
Donkeys on Gola – No photos please!
Port an Chruinn
Port an Chruinn
Cottage to Let
Cottage to Let

Gola 2

Houses facing the mainland

On they way back to the boat we pass the infomation centre – an Teach Beag – its a large shed with tables outside. We are hot and I fancy a cup of tea. I try out the one bit of Irish I know on the man behind the counter “Dia duit” (“Hello”) I say. He then says something back to me which I dont understand. That stumps me. Turns out that he just said “Hello” back to me (“Dia is Muire duit”). I need to get a few more phrases/word in Irish under my belt!

This is Paddy Joe, who is 73 years old and still volunteers for the local lifeboat (training and teaching younger volunteers). It is noticeable how fit and active people in Donegal are, especially the men. We talk in English. I love listening to his accent, Irish is his first language. It’s musical. Part Ulster accent, part something else, something almost Scandinavian.  Certainly, of the north. It sort of reminds me of the halting accents of Welsh-speaking farmers in North-Wales, as they seem to trip over their words as they think the right word in English.

Paddy Joe tells a story of going fishing down the Kerry coast and stopping in a pub for a drink. There are Irish speakers there but they do not understand the Irish speakers from Donegal, and the Donegal Irish speakers do not understand them either! I know that its similar in Wales, where Welsh speakers from the North use many different words from those in the West or South.

Some of the few trees on Gola
Some of the few trees on Gola

We decide to catch the 2 o’clock boat back as we have eaten all our sandwiches and the next boat is at 6pm. There is plenty more island to explore on another visit. We haven’t seen the sea arch at Scoilt Ui Dhúgáin, the lake Loch Mhachaire n nGall.

Clear Seas off Gola
Clear Seas off Gola (Bloody Foreland in the distance)

The boat is setting off,  when Sabba spots two girls who came across with us at 11am. He returns to shore to pick them up. They get on the boat looking very relieved. They clearly didn’t fancy waiting until 6pm for the last boat back. The sky is starting to cloud over as we cross and by the time we reach Magheragallon Pier it is overcast.

Donegal painting Gola
A House on Gola SOLD

Read more about Gola Island here

Posted on 14 Comments

Those Uncertain Roots – Retracing the Past in Gweedore

Painting of Donegal Errigal
Donegal painting, a beach on a sunny day.
Dunmore Strand (with Mount Errigal in the distance- SOLD

I have written before about how my husband, Seamas, is a bit obsessed by Donegal’s highest peak, Errigal,  and how loves to tell me that you can see Errigal from different places such as the beach, the airport, the house, the top of the garden and so on. His father helped run a boxing club named after the Donegal peak too. Actually, after spending the week getting sucked down the rabbit hole that is “family history” research, I have decided this love of Errigal is in his genes.

Painting of Donegal and Errigal
Over to Kinclassagh SOLD

If you have ever attempted to trace your family tree you will know how absorbing and frustrating it can be. There are many dead ends, but there are also many highs. Tracing families in Ireland can be difficult as a lot of 19th-century census records were destroyed, however, the 1901 and 1911 censuses are online (http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/)  and free to search.

Furthermore an excellent site www.irishgenealoy.ie gives you access to images of birth, marriage, death records. I think I found this a more startling insight into Irish History than all my years teaching 18th & 19th century British History at High School. The course title was something like “The History of Wales and England 1785-1914”. In fact, we covered relatively little about the History of Wales (except for the Chartists and the Rebecca Riots), but quite a lot about the History of Ireland. I learned that you cannot begin to understand the History of England without knowing about the history of Ireland.

We tracked Seamas’s great-grandmother’s family, the Colls, to an area of Donegal known as Gweedore. They lived in a townland called Meenderrygamph (Min Doire Dhamh in Irish) which is on the edge of a mountain not far from the Clady River, and the modern-day Gweedore Court Hotel. Maybe they would have been able to look up and see Errigal as they worked their land. This was very marginal land and life was very tough indeed. The Coll’s land in Meenderrygamph was on the edge of peatlands. The grazing was rough. Their family had worked it for generations and but it was not theirs. It was rented.

Donegal painting of Mount Errigal, Ireland
Passing Clouds on Errigal

This was typical of 19th-century Ireland. The ordinary Irish people, who were mostly Catholics, did not own the land they farmed. It was rented from Protestant landlords, who made it virtually impossible for Catholics to own land. Few, if any Catholics in Gweedore, had the right to vote. Up until the 19th century, the population of the area remained low and the lack of roads in the area meant that landlords, agents, and the police generally did not interfere in tenants’ lives. It is evident that this wasn’t from lack of trying. Around 1834 local people had beaten up “two revenue police parties” who had been collecting tithes for the (Protestant) church. The police gave up and left Gweedore.

Without interference from Landlords, the people were able to graze the whole area, and the land was divided up by a system known as “rundale.”  This was an ancient form of land division that, despite its faults, allowed everyone access to the best land, water and common grazing – it’s not dissimilar to the open-field system of farming used in Medieval England. This was a sustainable system of farming that worked well on marginal land that was very difficult to farm.

That all changed, however, when Lord George Hill (1801 -1879) bought up large areas of land in Gweedore in 1838 and started “modernising” things. Some of these changes may look like encouraging developments to modern eyes. The first road into Gweedore was constructed in 1834 when the Board of Works constructed a road from Dunlewey to the Gweedore River and Lord George Hill further improved the roads on his estate, he built a Hotel for visitors to the area. Lord Hill also built the port of Bunbeg in the late 1830s to encourage fishing. He also built a grain store on the quay, opened a shop and a bakery and encouraged women to knit socks for sale. Lord Hill, however, made sure that no one else opened up in opposition to him. Margaret Sweeney was evicted for trying to set up a bakery without permission.

Lord Hill’s land reforms were certainly not welcomed by the people in Gweedore. Lord Hill outlawed the building of any further new houses, any subdivision of land, or the sale of land. He had the area surveyed during 1841-1843, and then began to allot new consolidated larger holdings to each tenant. Under these circumstances, providing land for sons was impossible and the only option for them was emigration.

James Glass of Gweedore people phot
Photo by James Glass of Gweedore people

There were partial crop failures in 1831, 1837, 1854 and 1856, and complete crop failure in the years of “the great famine” (1846-48). Surprisingly, there was not a great loss of population in the Gweedore area compared with other parts of Ireland. This was probably partially due to the efforts of the landlord, and also to the availability of edible seaweed. Lord George Hill tried to help his tenants; he wrote begging letters to the Society of Friends (the Quakers), the Irish Peasantry Improvement Society of London and the Baptist Society. He sold grain below cost and sooner than directed, contrary to government policy, although he was recompensed generously by the government for grinding Indian Corn.

Lord George Hill believed the famine was a judgment by God on the people for their morals and farming practices! He actually said “The Irish people have profited much by the Famine, the lesson was severe; but so were they rooted in old prejudices and old ways, that no teacher could have induced them to make the changes which this Visitation of Divine Providence has brought about, both in their habits of life and in their mode of agriculture.” He saw the famine as justification for phase two of his reforms. Sheep.

The Scottish Blackface, like several other breeds of sheep, was brought to Ireland by Lord Hill (and other landlords) as a way to make up for lost revenue during the famine. This made life very hard for the farmers of Meenderrygamph. The farmers were deprived of their mountain grazing. If their animals wandered onto unfenced land (that had previously been common land) their animals were impounded and the farmers were saddled with massive fines of £2 or more. Things were so bad that John and Daniel Coll had had to apply for poor relief.

Not everyone took this lying down, of course. In December 1856, around forty Irish tenant farmers raided the house of a Scottish shepherd and ordered him to leave the country. More raids followed. Hundreds of sheep were killed (or went missing). Hundred were found dead on the land near Meenderrygamph. This was known as the Gweedore Sheep War.

We know that a Thomas Coll had been arrested for the perpetration of “outrages” and was in jail in 1858 but we don’t know if he was one of the Colls from Meenderrygamph. By the following summer, numerous arrests had been made, new taxes put in place (to pay for the police), and the police presence expanded. By summer 1858 the Gweedore Sheep War was effectively over. The Irish farmers had lost, the sheep remained.

People of Gweedore as photographed by James Glass 19th century
People of Gweedore as photographed by James Glass

The Colls in Meenderrygamph were much reduced in number. In the 1850s there were 6 families bearing the surname farming the land there. By the end of the century, there were only three Coll families, two of whom were sons of Daniel Coll, possibly the late Denis Coll had been his son too, we don’t know. Where had the others gone? Many Gweedore families started to emigrate to America and Australia in the 1860s, perhaps this is where they went too.

The Land War of 1879 to 1882 saw the issue of rents take a deadly turn. Lord George Hill had died in 1879 and his son, Captain Arthur Hill, took over the Gweedore estate. This coincided with the rise of discontent over “landlordism” in Ireland and through a judicial review some rents were reduced on the Gweedore property and 10,000 acres of mountain grazing was given back to the tenants by the Land Commission which sat at Bunbeg. However, Father McFadden, the chairman of the National Land League, an organisation founded in 1882 to oppose “landlordism,” this was not enough and he organised a boycott on the payment of rent. In return, Captain Hill began to evict tenants.

Family Evicted from Hill estate in 1880s
Family Evicted from Hill estate in 1880s
Gweedore Priest
“Fighting” Father James McFadden

Father McFadden, known as the “fighting priest of Gweedore” was put in prison 6 months in 1888 for organizing a boycott and the non-payment of rents. Things got worse in February 1889 when, having finished mass at Derrybeg, Detective Inspector Martin turned up to arrest him again for encouraging resistance to local evictions. The locals quickly acted to defend the priest but in the melee, Inspector Martin ended up dead on the steps of the Priest’s house, some claimed that he’d hit his head on a curb, others that he’s been beaten to death. It was a shocking death. The priest and 40 of his parishioners were charged with murder. Incredibly, the murder charge was dropped and Father McFadden pled guilty to obstruction of justice. The parishioners were charged with manslaughter and given long sentences. McFadden’s was banned from involvement in any further political activities by his bishop and he was transferred to another Donegal parish.

A generation later, life was still very hard for people in Gweedore. It was, over this period, one of the poorest parts of Ireland. Many left, some temporarily for work in Scotland or permanently in America and Australia. Seamas’s great-grandmother Rose Coll had to leave home as a teenager to find work possibly as a servant in a farm near St Johnston. She spoke Irish and English but could not read or write. Looking through records of the area, this seemed to be unusual for people of her generation. Most young people could read by the end of the 19th century. She could not, nor could her two brothers. Healthcare was also a luxury they could not afford. When Rose’s father had died a decade or so earlier in 1888, the registrar’s record noted that he had suffered from some sort of “debility” for two years. The precise cause of the illness was unknown as the family had not been able to afford a medical attendant in all that time. Possibly when her father died, Rose and her brothers were kept home to help with the farm.

Modern day Meenderrygamph
Modern-day Meenderrygamph, Gweedore

So, family history ends up raising more questions than answers but it really makes you appreciate how much we take for granted in life today, the ability to read and write and reliable access to food, healthcare and to a good pair of shoes. To illustrate, I’ll leave you with some incredible photos of Gweedore in the 1870s and 1880s taken by Derry photographer James Glass.  

If anyone reading this knows of the Coll family from Meenderrygamph and can help us fill in some details my husband and  I would greatly appreciate it?

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Dunmore Strand, Donegal

Painting of Donegal landscape beach,

I have been ill this week so this is a short post.

In last week’s post, Seamas, my husband and I were standing on rocks looking out towards Gola island in Donegal. This week we are looking back inland to Dunmore Strand, and beyond to Mount Errigal.

Donegal painting, a beach on a sunny day.
Dunmore Strand (with Mount Errigal in the distance)

As soon as I saw this scene I knew I wanted to paint it. I loved the dark shadow under the protruding lip of the undulating dunes.  It gave the impression that the grasses were merely a thick blanket laid across the top of the sand.

 

Scattered along the beach and in the water, were granite rocks. These were so large that they were more like massive boulders. They were a beautiful pinkish colour close up. The sand was also very slightly pinkish but closer to the shoreline it was almost white. Lines of seaweed marked the rising and falling tide.

 

The tiny white houses gave a sense of sense scale of the dunes. They reminded me a little of boats on the surface of a heaving sea; humans eeking out an existence on the edge of nature. The ocean itself was calm and benign. It was as clear as glass at the shoreline and further out was a beautiful turquoise. It is not always this smooth creature, in autumn, I have seen it roaring and thrashing the shoreline like a wild beast.

 

Mount Errigal dominates this part of West Donegal, known as Gweedore. The mountain looks close but it’s an optical illusion, it’s actually about 10 miles away to the east. The top of Mount Errigal was swathed in clouds. The mountain always seems to have clouds around its shoulders, or totally smothering it. I had to wait for about 3/4 of an hour for the mists to part for a clear view of the peak. The clouds near to me were dirtier rain-filled clouds that were building and threatening to release their burden on the land somewhere nearby.

 

Another wonderful thing about this beautiful beach is that on this chilly April afternoon is that there was not another soul there. The only people we saw were the postman in his van on the way down the long lane to the beach.

 

My next post will peer “through a glass darkly” at Seamas’s Donegal family history (it is very dark in places) and the History of Gweedore along with the controversial issue of modernizing landlords.