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Ramelton, Donegal (The town with two names)

Ramelton- a Blog by Emma Cownie

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

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

 

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

The Mall, Ramelton_Emma Cownie
The Mall, Ramelton_Emma Cownie

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

Ramelton, Donegal
View towards the Bridge – Emma Cownie

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

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

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

Map of Ramelton, donegal Map of Ramelton, donegal

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

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

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

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

The Bridge, Ramelton
The Bridge, Ramelton

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

Ramelton, Donegal
Ramelton, Donegal – Emma Cownie

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

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

 

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

 

Painting of shops in Ramelton (Donegal)

Open for Business, Ramelton (Donegal) – Emma Cownie

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

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

 

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

 

Old Meeting House, Ramelton
Old Meeting House, Ramelton

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Ramelton, Donegal
Ramelton, Donegal – Emma Cownie

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

 

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

 

Find Out More

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

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

Look up individual buildings here

Read more about the Irish Linen Industry 

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

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

Chapter on Flax in Ireland here

A History Of Irish Linen In 1 Minute

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

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

Read more about Football Special here 

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Some Adventures in Paint

Some Adventure in Paint

I have been experimenting with different supports and media. The Jessica Brilli painting on wood got me curious about how it would be different from painting on canvas.

Jessica Brilli's "Cutlass" - with me holding it
Jessica Brilli’s “Cutlass” – Acrylic painting on wood panel

I could find very little information about the experience of painting on wood panels (but lots of information on how to prepare them). So I realised that I had to use trial and error to find out. I ordered some gessoed wood panels from Cork Art Supplies who delivered them very promptly.

My first effort was this painting. I painted a light ground of red ochre in oil before I laid down the painting. I found that achieving fine detail was much easier than on canvas. However, the colours didn’t behave the way I expected them too. My sky started off too dark. I found it was easy to wipe off the oil paint and repaint it a lighter shade.  I found that white areas also needed a further layer once they had dried to give them the solidity I required. The painting took much longer than I am used to to dry.

A painting of Inishbofin Donegal
A Place to Rest, Inishbofin, Donegal

I have painted in acrylics on canvas before and struggled with the speed with with the paint dries on the palette. I used to find the the paint had gone hard in the 20 minutes since I started painting. It drove me mad. However, after extensive reserach I worked out how to make a wet palette so that I could slow down the drying time of paint on the palette. I decided to use the quick-drying acrylic paint as an underpainting.

The acrylic painting was more of a sketch than a proper painting. The process forced me to simplify my images further and the final layer of oil paint gave the image a greater depth and richness of colour.

Acrylic Painting
Acrylic Underpainting
Boat at the Pier, Gola_Emma Cownie
Boat at the Pier, Gola (Donegal) – Final Painting

 

Some of the acrylic sketches really challenged me as the paint did not move and work in the way I was used to with oils. The greens and yellows were too transparent and looked messy. It was impossible to lighten colours, like the leading edge of the fence post,  once they had gotten too dark.

painting of GOla, Donegal
Fenced in, Gola – Acrylic Underpainting

The final layer of oil paint, however, enabled me to make my colours much more opaque and to to add much more detail in places, especially on the wire fence.

Fenced In, Gola
Fenced In, Gola

 

My final painting was a studies in mauves, blues and greys. I had added an additional layer of light grey gesso as a ground before I started painting.

Lighting the Way to Arranmore - Acrylic version
Lighting the Way – Acrylic version
Lighting the Way (to Arranmore) Donegal
Lighting the Way (to Arranmore) Donegal – Final version

 

I enjoyed experimenting and I ended up painting several painting at the same time, as I waited for paint to dry between layers.  The whole process forced me to confront my short-comings as a painter of acrylics. I did not enjoy that. It made me feel uncomfortable and brought out my “imposter” anxieties. I need to do much more work in this area to develop my skills.

It was also rather time-consuming and probably not a great project to undertake in the winter months, in Donegal, when good light is in very short supply. I am not sure that I would spend so much time on the underpaintings in future, as I liked my first painting the best. Although I would where there are large areas of white. I did enjoy painting on the wood panel and I will continue to experiment with them.

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On the cover – Eugene Vesey

Eugene Vesey
I was delighted to give permission to Eugene Vesey, poet and author, to use my artwork on the back of his book “Opposite Worlds”.  In the story, the main character Frank spends his honeymoon with Mary on Gola island.
My painting,  “Up From the Pier, Gola” looks great on the back of this edition -You can get a print of my painting here https://www.artmajeur.com/…/12510206/up-from-the-pier
Eugene sent me two copies of the book, which I am half way through and enjoying a lot. See the book on Amazon here https://www.amazon.co.uk/Opposite-Worlds-Eugene-Vesey/dp/1461075874 and on Barnes and Noble https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/opposite-worlds-eugene-vesey/1104007157
Back Cover of Eugene Vesey’s book with my painting on it.
Me in front of the study and large scale version of “Up from the Pier, Gola” in my old Swansea studio
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Studies of Inishbofin

Last Thursday morning Bingo, one of my two cats,  collapsed in the front garden under a hedge and we had to take him on the long drive to the vets to end his suffering. It broke my heart. I had had him for over a decade and loved him dearly. Hattie, his cat companion of the last 6 years, misses him too and she has been outside looking for him. That’s even sader. We are keeping her indoors for now.

Bingo
Bingo

 

So my concentration hasn’t been great. I have struggled to write anything, although I had almost finished another blog. Every time, I looked at images, trying decide what painting to start next, I am crippled by indecision. So I have been painting instead a series of small studies. Playing with composition, and simplifying images. The idea is to reduce detail to the minimum.

Caravan at Magheraroarty
Caravan at Magheraroarty 24x18cm

 

Inishbofin #2
Inishbofin #2 24x18cm SOLD

 

I then moved on to slightly larger canvases. The photographs of the paintings don’t quite capture their colour. Unfortunately, they have a blueish cast to them.

Inishbofin #3

Inishbofin #3  30x24cm

Inishbofin #4
Inishbofin #4  30×24 cm

 

Inishbofin #5
Inishbofin #5  30 x34cm

 

Inishbofin #6
Inishbofin #6 30x24cm

 

Inishbofin # 7
Inishbofin # 7 (SOLD) 30x24cm

 

Inishbofin #8
Inishbofin #8 30x24cm

 

I will continue with these and hopefully I will find it within me to paint some much larger versions. In the meantime, we have a large rescue cat we have named Tadhg (pronunced “Tag”) from Burtonport Animal Rescue, in the office. He is named after a famous Irish rugby player,  called Tadhg Furlong, on account of his robust physique.

Tadhg Furlong
Human Tadhg,  the rugby player

 

Unfortunately, Hattie hissed  at him when she first saw him, so we are introducing them very, very slowly. Swapping scents and feeding them on opposite sides of the same door etc.  Tadhg was a stray and hasn’t had much experience of the indoor life, so he’s getting used to things like doors (they move when you rub up against them, you know) and mirrors (there’s a big black and white cat in window thing in the bedroom next door he’s worried about). He also loves carpets and heating. When he wants a break he sits under the chair in the corner of the room. I hope we can successfully integrate Tadhg into our animal family!

Tadhg liks his basket
Cat Tadhg likes his basket

 

See all the studies here

 

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Affordable Art in Donegal

Affordable Art

The rain finally stopped yesterday morning and the temperature rose a few degrees. We just had three days of steady rain. The temperatures also went up a bit. I was amused to discover that this “event” made the news. The headline in “The Donegal Daily” an online newspaper read: “Weather- Another Mild Day in Store for Donegal”. This publication is favourite of mine. It is a heart-warming mixture of stories with happy endings (swimmers get into trouble in rip tide but they are all rescued by a passer by and a lifeboat crew), lost dogs, sport stories and local crime cases (often from two years ago).

Anyway, we felt encouraged by the dry (ish) weather to do some light food shopping in Dungloe and then drive to an Affordable Art Fair in Derrybeg, Gweedore. This Art Fair was held at An Gaillearai, which is located at Ionad Aislann, Na Doira Beaga (Derrybeg).

Ionad Aislann, Na Doira Beaga
Entrance to Ionad Aislann, Na Doira Beaga

We have never been to Ionad Aislann before and I was very interested to see what this cultural centre was like. I know that “Ionad” means a centre of some sort in Irish but I didn’t know what the word “Aislann” meant. I tried looking it up on google translate but drew a blank so I thought it might be someone’s name. It was wrong. “Áislann” is a word derived from combining two words from the Irish vocabulary of South West Donegal, Áiseanna (facilities) and Lann (building).

Lots of Praking!
Lots of Parking!

The centre also houses, amongst other things,  a public library and nursery. When I looked it up here I discovered that the building hosted much more than that: a theatre/cinema, sports hall, meeting rooms, local history centre, PC centre, a gym and a tea room! This cultural centre was set up in 1992  expressly to cater for local people as well as for visitors to the area, including the many artists like me who come to live here. It was also meant to help strengthen bonds within the local community via cultural/artistic pursuits and leisure activities.  

Affordable Art Fair Poster
Affordable Art Fair Poster

 

The Gallery is large and airy and there was plenty of room for visitors and artists. Everyone was wearing masks too which was reassuring. 

Inside the Art Fair
Inside the Art Fair

Some of the artists showing include (in no particular order); Ian Gordon, Cathal MacGinley, Peadar McDaid, Heidi Nguyen , Mary Toland, Gay OToole and Nora Duffy. We had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with two of the exhibiting artists, Heidi Nguyen and Gay O’Toole. We met Cathal Mac Fhionnghaile/Cathal MacGinley when we visited Inishbofin last month.   Here is a selection of the work on display. 

Gay O Toole
Gay O Toole
Work of Gay O Toole
Work of Gay O Toole

 

Heidi Nguyen
Heidi Nguyen
Heidi Nguyen
Heidi Nguyen
Heidi Nguyen
Heidi Nguyen

 

Cathal Mac Fhionnghaile
Cathal Mac Fhionnghaile

 

Cathal Mac Fhionnghaile
Cathal Mac Fhionnghaile

 

Cathal Mac Fhionnghaile
Cathal Mac Fhionnghaile – we bought the middle one!
Ian Gordon
Ian Gordon
Ian Gordon
Ian Gordon
Maura McGlynn
Maura McGlynn

 

Nora Duffy
Nora Duffy
Nora Duffy
Nora Duffy
Nora Duffy
Nora Duffy

 

Mary Toland
Mary Toland
Sarah Lewtas
Sarah LewtasKarol Mac Geirbheith

Karol Mac Geirbheith

Karol Mac Geirbheith

Karol Mac Geirbheith

Karol Mac Geirbheith
Karol Mac Geirbheith

 

 
Peadar McDaid
Peadar McDaid

 

Peadar McDaid
Peadar McDaid – we also bought the middle one (top row).

 

As our house is already over flowing with paintings we generally don’t buy other people’s art (although I have one painting by Welsh landscape artist, Warren Heaton, in the bedroom) but we changed the habit of a lifetime yesterday and bought two small paintings at the art fair. I know that Séamas wanted to buy more. We left the two paintings on the wall with red stickers next to them (hoping that sign of success would encourage more sales) and will go back on Thursday to pick them up.

After so long in lockdown and avoiding people, it was really great to go out somewhere and to meet new people. Ionad Aislann certianly did its job of helping to strengthen the bonds between local community via cultural/artistic pursuits and leisure activities. It was well worth a visit and if you are in area I would highly recommend stopping by.  The Art Fair is on for several more days, from 12 to 5pm until this Thursday 14th October 2021. 

 

 

 

 

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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

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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

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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

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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 

 

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The Art of Composition (or how to avoid going off at a tangent)

Art of Composition

I have found that my energy is slowly but steadily returning after my operation on my broken leg in March (although painting light is shrinking with the shortening days).  I spent much of the spring and early summer sitting in my chair wishing I could go outside into the fresh air or climb the stairs to my attic studio. I painted watercolours instead, and thought a lot about colour and composition. I learnt to simplify my images and edit them with more ruthlessness than I had done before.

Gola Island
Gola Houses (watercolor)

I have attempted to carry these lessons into the compositions of my oil paintings. I suspect that I need to go further. I am always torn between a desire to accurately convey what is probably a well-known location to local people, and the need to create an effective composition. In otherwords I want to create an engaging painting, regardless of whether a viewer has visited Donegal or not.

Painting of house on Gola, Donegal, Ireland
Blue Door, Gola (oil on canvas) SOLD

Here’s an example of editing my composition. I used several reference photos for this painting of Bád Eddie (Eddie’s Boat) but you will see that I decide to leave out the all the lamp posts. I felt they made the picture look cluttered. I also left out the the skylights on a couple of the houses for the same reason. I did, however, decide to include a couple of series of fence posts on the right side of the painting as they lead the eye down the hill.

Bad Eddie at Bunbeg
One of the reference photos for Bád Eddie at Bunbeg

Painting of Bad Eddie, Bunbeg,Ireland
Bád Eddie, Ireland. (Oil on canvas) SOLD

I have gone further with my editing of the reference image in my most recent painting of Arranmore. This is a painting of a (probably abandoned) white house that I had painted a watercolour of earlier in the year .

Watercolour of Irish cottage, Donegal
The White house, Arranmore, Ireland (watercolour) 

A lot of the compositional work is done when composing the reference photograph, but there is often a bit more tinkering to be done to clarify the image further.

Landscape painting of Arranmore by Emma Cownie
The White Bridge, Arranmore, Ireland (100cm x 65cm) (Oil on canvas)

Here you can see that I have again removed most of the telegraph poles, just leaving one further down the road. The fence posts as usual, get to stay. The ones on the right led the eye down the road. The central part of the painting on the right side is too cluttered for my liking too. It’s very confusing for the viewer. I have since discovered that this is because there are too many “tangents“. The word “tangent” usually just indicates that two things are touching, but in art the term describes shapes that touch in a way that is visually annoying or troublesome. This also describes those telegraph poles I removed. It all makes for an image that is easier to “read”.

Tangent Chart – From emptyeasel.com

I also removed a several of the buildings so that there is a clear view over to the tiny island of Inishkeeragh with its solidary summer home. Finally, I also simplied the pair of yellow buildings to the far right. I found the semi-abstract result pleasing and I felt that the lack of detail balanced the detail in mud, rocks and grasses on the near side to the left of the painting. I like to balance detail with areas of flat colour, such as the roof of the house or the sea, as I think that too much detail all over makes the head sore. The human brain doesn’t process images in this way any way. Our eyes/brains will focus on one or two areas and “generalise” other larger areas of colour.

Thus, I hope I have created a succesful painting rather than slavishly copying a photograph.

White Bridge Arranmore, (in situ)
White Bridge Arranmore, (in situ)

Read more about avoiding confusing tangents in compositions here  

and also in this article Compose: A Touchy Subject 

or watch this youtube clip