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Maghery and Crohy Head, Donegal

Blog Cover Maghery

We are all told to stay local in Wales, until July anyway. I am still recovering from the operation to pin my broken leg so all of my journeys are very short, and very slow, anyway. I have been taking more adventurous journeys of the mind to Donegal, and to the little village of Maghery in particular.

It lies just a stone’s throw (4 miles or about a 10-minute drive) down the road from Dungloe (I regard Dungloe as the center of my universe when I am in Donegal because it has supermarkets like Lidls, Aldis, Supervalu, and The Cope).  The Irish name for Maghery Glebe is An Machaire. We know that people lived here over 5000 years ago because they built stone circles, left tombs, a Crannóg, and a stone fort.

Maghery Beach with Arranmore in the distance
Maghery Beach with Arranmore in the distance

We have only ever been to Maghery twice. On both occasions, it was to visit Crohy sea arch. We failed to find the arch, but we did see some very fine sea stacks called Na Bristí on our second visit. We also found found two beautiful beaches, a Napoleonic signal tower, and Second World War look out post and my favouite, and an Éire Sign.

I would like to visit again, but instead, I can only visit online and “in paint”. The drive through the village has inspired my latest series of three paintings. (The first two paintings have gone to collectors in France and the USA). I was drawn to paint the pink and mauve old houses in particular, mixed in with the white stone cottages.

Driving into Maghery
Driving into Maghery SOLD
Pink House Maghery
Pink House Maghery – SOLD
Painting od Donegal Village
Through Maghery, Donegal Ireland

Its only now that I realise the mauve house in my 3rd painting is a very similar colour to the early morning sand on the pristine beach nearby.

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Maghery Beach, with Maghery village and  Napoleonic signal tower

People have been looking out at the Atlantic Ocean and the surrounding land from the hills near Maghery for hundreds of years. They haven’t always been admiring the view, either. During the Napoleonic Wars, a signal tower was built on the headland in the years 1804-6.

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Signal Tower at Maghery

This was one of a series of 12 towers built along the Donegal coastline, to watch out for invasion from French forces. We dont have these in Wales, although Wales invaded by a French force in 1797. That’s beacuse it was not built to protect the Irish population from the French, but because the British did not trust the Irish not to welcome the French with open arms. A few years earlier Irishman, Wolfe Tone, had attempted but failed to land a French force near Lough Swilly. The plan had been to throw the British out of Ireland. His landing failed but there was a successful landing of French forces further down the coast in Mayo. A brief declaration of an Irish Republic followed, but the Irish Rebellion ultimately failed, after a series of battles in Wexford culminating, in defeat at Vinegar Hill.

The signal tower is thus a symbol of deep mistrust by the British. This particular tower is well preserved and surrounded by walled farmer’s fields. The men who were garrioned here communicated with neighbouring signal towers by raising and lowering a large rectangular flag, a smaller blue pendant and four black balls in various combinations along a system centred on a tall wooden mast. This must have been very difficult if not impossible in poor weather conditions.

About 200 meters down the road is the Second World War Eire sign. I am not sure why but I was more excited to see this than the tower. Perhaps, because it was tucked away, designed only to be seen from the air. Perhaps also beacuse it is cut into the grass like a prehistoric chalk horse.

Eire 74 sign at Maghery
Eire 74 sign at Maghery

The letters spell the word Éire, which means “Ireland” in the Irish language. Over 80 of these numbered Éire signs were dotted around the coast in WW2 to warn bombers they were flying over a neutral country. Northern Ireland being part of the UK, however, was not neutral. Hence the need to signal to German bombers that this was not part of the UK and thus not part of the war. Yet, the fact that they were numbered was certainly a helpful navigational aid to Allied pilots. Allied aircraft were allowed to fly over Donegal to airbases in County Fermanagh. If any aircraft crashed, if they could claim they were on a non-combative mission, they would be repatriated. While it was easy for Allied pilots to make that claim, it was not realistic for Luftwaffe pilots to do so, they tended to be interned. 

I didn’t realise it at the time but this is just an updated version of the Napoleonic tower. The ruins above the Eire sign is that of a coast watch station. Coast watchers worked around the clock in pairs, reporting every activity observed at sea or in the air by telephone.

Further along the road is Crohy Head. I think techically is Crohy Head, South. Although there is space to park and a sign announcing its presence, you can sense that the local authority are not all wildly keen to promote this attraction in case people fall down the steep field/cliff face trying to get a good look at it.

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The Sign for Na Bristí

I am sitting here with my pinned leg resting on a chair, and it’s twitching unhappily at the sight of these photos now. My leg does not like to think about rough terrains right now. I can just about manage a slow walk around my local park these days (it’s going to be a long slow build up to full recovery). We must have been mad! I thought so at the time too. Still, my husband Séamas who climbed down to the beach to take some photos whilst I sat on the hill holding onto some yapping dogs. To my shame, there was an artist with his easel painting en plein air at the top of the field. I wonder if he could hearing me hushing the dogs and telling Seamas to hurry up.

Sadly, the light was, in my opinion, in the “wrong direction” and early morning would be a better time of day to catch the sea stacks. The sea arch, was just out of sight around the corner. I think that I will save up and buy a drone to take photographs from higher up without imperilling any of my (or my husbands’) limbs! Or a boat. Things to dream about from my chair.

Here is a marvelous drone photo of Crohy Head.

Crohy Head
Sea Stacks and Sea Arch at Crohy Head (Photo: Gareth Wray)

 

As with all of Ireland, you scratch the surface and discover an ocean of history. These are some of the sites I used for research:-

Information & photos

http://maghery.ie/maghery_history.html – this is an excellent site

https://singersongblog.me/2018/10/11/an-ancient-coast-and-5000-years-of-irish-history-maghery-in-beautiful-donegal/

https://www.townlands.ie/donegal/boylagh/templecrone/maghery/maghery-glebe/

https://www.irishtimes.com/news/environment/ireland-s-napoleonic-era-signal-towers-1.1253929

https://irishsignalstations.wordpress.com/the-irish-signal-stations/

http://eiremarkings.org/

https://coastmonkey.ie/eire-signs/

https://donegalheritage.com/2016/02/14/templecrone-an-interesting-donegal-parish/

Local walks

http://magherycoastaladventures.ie/sli_na_rossan.html

http://www.walkingdonegal.net/article/maghery-dungloe-coastal-walk/

https://www.kincasslagh.ie/walks/maghery-walk/

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Back in the studio!

Finally, I managed to scale the steep steps to my attic studio! One step at a time. Holding on the handrails.

Ah, what pleasure it was to be back in the attic. It has a view out the back of the house. It is a great pleasure to look at the wooded parks and hills of West Swansea instead of the unrelenting concrete streets and terrace houses out the front of the house. I have a number of commissions to fulfill but I wanted to “warm up” with some small paintings first as I have been working with watercolours for the past two months. Here’s a selection:-

My first reaction to oil paint was how slow it all is in comparison with watercolours. With watercolours, most of the effort goes into planning and preparation and then the execution of the painting itself is quick. Putting oil paint on the canvas was more laborious that watercolours. I also had to rummage around for looking for the right sort of paintbrushes, a few times. I could not quite lay my hands on what I needed. But,  ah! The paint did what I thought it was going to do. What joy! If I changed my mind about a composition or decided that something did not work I could wipe it off the canvas. It did not reproach me for making a mistake by showing it to the world for ever! Nice!

Anyway, I sat down and started a series of new Donegal paintings. Here they are.

Painting of Donegal Cottage
Wee House on Gola, Donegal (SOLD)
Painting of Storm Clouds Over Inshbofin, Ireland
Storm Over Inshbofin, Ireland

Painting of The Two Tin-Roofed Sheds, Ireland

The Two Tin-Roofed Sheds, Arranmore, Ireland

Painting of house on Gola, Donegal, Ireland
Blue Door, Gola

Landscape Arranmore Ireland

The Old Stone Shed Arranmore Ireland

These paintings are from the past few weeks. I have also worked on two commissions. It has been slow work at times as I often need a lunchtime nap to keep my energy levels up. I do my rehab exercises several times a day which can be very tiring. On a positive note, I finally got to speak to a physiotherapist, Josh, who has been very helpful. He has posted exercises to me and giving me guidance on how much to do.  I can walk upstairs reasonably well, but downstairs one step at a time. When I get tired my ankle gets sore and I limp. I try and avoid that if I can.

What did I learn from watercolours? That I can and should edit and play around with compositions more. I simplified my images as much as I could. I changed the skies or left out an inconvenient house. I found this freeing and I brought an element of this to my oil paintings. For some reason, I have felt to need to be truthful to the real-life locations I painted. I realise now that I don’t have to. I can happily leave out a telegraph pole or a lamp post if it confuses the composition.

What do I miss about watercolours? The tidiness. Clean clothes and hands. The lack of chaos. The speed. The brushes that don’t wear out by the time you have finished a large painting. The lightness. They convey the lightness of birds better than oil colours. Also the convenience, I could pack away all my paper, paints, and brushes in one big bag. I am looking forward to using them outside when I can walk much longer distances!

Emma Cownie Artist
Painting in the studio with my leg up!

 

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Watercolour painting

Watercolour painting by Emma Cownie

Watercolours are not usually my thing but circumstances have changed that, for the time being. When I came out of the hospital after my operation to fix my broken left leg, I knew that I going to off my feet for at least 6 weeks. I also knew that it would probably take another 2 to 3 weeks to be fully mobile again. I had all sorts of vague ideas about oil painting again but when I got home I realised that they were hopelessly impractical. My house is full of steep and narrow stairs, so that meant I was going to pretty much confined to my bedroom.

My husband, Séamas, went to a lot of effort to set up the bedroom ready for me. He dismantled the round kitchen table and reassembled it in the bedroom. He also brought up an armchair and two dining chairs for me to sit on and rest my recovering leg on. The table is not very big so that means that the only sort of paint I can hope to use in this limited space are watercolours.

Emma Cownie at her temporary workplace
Organised chaos on the ex-kitchen table

I have a love-hate relationship with watercolours. They are portable and come in cute little boxes but they are the least forgiving of all mediums. If you make a mistake it shows. I used to dabble in them many years ago but I always prefered to use acrylics, oil pastels and oil paints, because with all of those mediums you can scrape back or paint over mistakes. Not so with watercolours. They show you up are the second-rate artist you fear you are!

Cloughcor Cottage Arranmore
Cloughcor Cottage Arranmore

 

In my first efforts with the watercolours I used them in pretty much the same way I always had done.

Whilst I was reasonably happy with the foliage and grass in the picture, I thought the sky was too muddy.

 

Crug Hywel, Brecon Beacons
Crug Hywel, Brecon Beacons

 

I decided I needed some technical help. So I got Séamas to go up to the attic and dig out my tiny Collins Gem book on Watercolour Tips by Ian King. What a marvel this book is!

It has many excellent pointers on mixing watercolour paint, making washes, the translucent nature of some colours, as well as the importance of simplifying the composition.

 

 

Four sketches of Table Moutain
Four sketches of Table Moutain

So I took these points on board, in particular the importance of simplifying the image. I realised that less is more. It changed what I painted. I was much happier to edit my compositions in a way that I don’t usually in my oil paintings. So I decided to simplify my compositions as much as possible and paint a series of studies of the houses on Gola Island.

I was cautious, however, of unintentionally taking on another artist’s style of painting. I wanted the skills but not the style. I didn’t want to paint like these watercolourists, I wanted to paint my way, but in watercolours. I also wanted to keep the paint as “light” possible to keep the painting looking fresh and airy.

It might sound odd, but I wasn’t familiar with the properties of the colours in my paint-box. Blue watercolour paints act differently to blue oil paints. I needed to experiment and learn how they were different.

In the end, to help me understand what each colour could do I painted each one on a piece of paper so I could look at it when deciding which color to use. This helped me enormously.

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My watercolours

I also struggled with how to paint a “simple” wash for some time. One online artist recommended mixing up a lot of paint so that it was “like tea”.  This did not do the trick for me. I was reassured by another artist that washes were actually pretty tricky and some colours were harder to use than others. I found this reassuring. I helped me keep perservering. There’s nothing like someone saying “Oh, but it’s easy” to make you want to give up when it’s not easy!

Eventually,  after a conversation with my mother (who was a keen water colourist), I tried a different brush and also several pots of water. One to rinse my brush in, the others to dip my brush into before I put it in the watery paint mix. That seemed to work for me. I felt slightly more in control of the process and my skies were less lumpy.

I have a long way to go but I am lot happier with my paintings and I hope that I can use these skills to paint “en plein air” when my leg is better it is safe to go outside again, whenever that will be. Until then, I will keep practicing!

I would like to thank Séan Ó Domnhaill for the use of his photographs of the red-roofed Post Office on the Outer Hebrides and the Isle of Lewis.

See my oil paintings here 

For some of the tips on watercolour paintings that I looked at :-Olly Pyle’s

https://www.ourlandscape.co.uk/post/basic-watercolour-kit-where-to-start

I particularly liked Anthony’s site:-

https://watercoloraffair.com/complete-guide-to-watercolor-wash-techniques/

 
I collect lots of tips on my pinterest page here:-
 
 
As well as examples of watercolourists whose work I admire here:-
 

 

 

 

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The Road by the Loch, Ireland

Landscape Painting of Donegal Ireland by Emma Cownie

A while back I came across a quote on the internet that has stuck in my mind:- “If I knew the world was to end tomorrow, I would still plant an apple tree today.” I was quite struck by this sentiment, especially in the light of current events.
I could not remember who said it. So I did some research. I was intrigued by what I discovered online. I found a number of statements:-

  1. It was originally said by Martin Luther, a 16th century German monk yoJyC
  2. It was originally said by Martin Luther King Jnr, the 20th century African-American Civil Rights Campaigner. NzGsK
  3. It wasn’t said by 1) or 2)!

This puts me in mind of one of my favourite internet memes by that teller-of-truth Abe Lincoln…
Lincoln-quote-internet-hoax-fake
Just joking!
The apple seed quote apparently originates in Nazi Germany in the 1930s, in the Protestant Confessing Church, which used it to inspire hope and perseverance during its opposition to the Nazi dictatorship.
To be honest, it doesn’t matter who said or when (although there’s a lesson about taking things at face value there) because I like the sentiment. No matter how dreadful things seem, they will pass. Eventually.
Here is my apple seed for this week.

Donegal Ireland landscape painting Emma Cownie
The Road by the Loch, Ireland (80x60cm/ 31.5×23.5″)

 
 

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Down the lane, Arranmore, Ireland

This is a follow on from my last post about composition and large landscape paintings. Included a small study of a view of Arranmore, Donegal. The study used a diagonal composition.

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Study 10cmx14cm (SOLD)

 

A Beginners Guide to Composition
A Beginners Guide to Composition (Diagonal Composition)

When it came to a much larger painting (60x80cm – approx 24″ x 32″) I decided on a slightly different composition. It wasn’t that I didn’t think the small painting worked, because it did, but because paintings in the “landscape” format are more popular with collectors than those in “portrait” format. It might have something to do with wall space, I am not sure. If you are not sure what “landscape” and “portrait” format is, it’s just about which round the painting is positioned. “Landscape” has the longest side along the bottom, “portrait” has the shortest side along the bottom.

Landscape format allowed me to include the sweep of the hill as it fell away from the viewpoint towards the sea. This composition used the rule of thirds, so the painting has a different energy to the study.

Beginners Guiiode to Composition (rule of thirds)
Beginners Guide to Composition (rule of thirds)

 

landscape painting of Arranmore Island, Ireland
Down the lane, Arranmore (SOLD)

The position of the viewer is slightly different, it has moved to the left and so more of the house in the foreground can be seen. The larger painting also has a red tractor in the lane, which the study did not, which draws the eye down the lane: hence the title.

Detail - Tractor
Detail – Tractor

I particularly enjoyed painting the different textures of crops and grass in the field that were not visible in the study painting. The widened composition also included the large cross on the shore to the left. I did not realize it at first but the wall in the corner of the painting is a graveyard wall. This is the graveyard of St. Crone’s chapel.  Saint Crone was a sixth-century Irish saint descended from King Niall Noígíallach (‘of the Nine Hostages’) and a contemporary of Saint Colmcille (St. Columba of Iona). Saint Crone was very active in the Rosses area. The parish of Dungloe on the mainland also takes its name from her; Templecrone.

Detail - The Cross
Detail – The Cross

So executing a study can be a useful tool in thinking about the composition of a larger work. It will show if a composition works or not but it can also suggest improvements and variations. Interestingly the study is a painting in its own right, it has a different, lighter feel to it. Small paintings often take just as much thought and effort as larger ones even if they are quicker to execute.

My PC just crashed. I am not sure if that’s a result of the effects of Storm Dennis (we had downpours all night long here) but I am going to stop here!

 

 

landscape painting of Ireland_Emma Cownie
View From Arranmore, Ireland