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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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Trading Paintings with Jessica Brilli

Jessica Trade

I was delighted a while back to be asked by one of my very favourite artists of all time, Jessica Brilli, to trade paintings. Jessica has been a big influence on my own style of painting so I feel very appreciated and validated by her contacting me to say she loved my work and wanted to own some and have my work in her home.

I have always have found myself drawn to and influenced by painters who have a special relationship with colour and light and Jessica Brilli’s work is full of sunshine and nostalgia. She combines American realism with graphic design elements, simplifying elements and focusing on everyday scenes and objects. She was Jessica was also awarded as Pollock-Krasner Foundation grant in 2021!

Jessica Brilli's works
A selection of Jessica Brilli’s works

 

The paintings we traded: – My painting of Gola Island called “With A Road Running Through It” a rural minimal oil painting.

With a Road Running Through It _ Emma Cownie
With a Road Running Through It
With a Road Running Through It – me posing with my painting on a blustery Donegal afternoon.

 

With a Road Running Through it - with Jessica Brilli
“With a Road Running Through It” in the USA  with Jessica Brilli

 

In return, Jessica sent her painting “Cutlass” of a vintage American car – acrylic on wooden panel. I was very excited to open up the packaging and see one of her paintings in the flesh. I didn’t realise that it was painted on wooden panel rather than canvas. I really liked the weight and solidity of the wooden panel. It was also a real pleasure to see the brush stokes and the layers of paint close up. You cannot get a sense of these things in photos at all. So I have been quietly obsessing about how this painting was made as well as the elegance of its composition. There  is a pleasing tension in the slight unbalance of shadows and tiny brush marks that suggest great confidence in the artist’s execution. I really enjoy looking at it.

Jessica Brilli's "Cutlass" - with me holding it

Jessica Brilli’s “Cutlass” – with me holding it

Cutlass on the wall in our Donegal cottage
Cutlass on the wall in our Donegal cottage
Painting of Vintage car
Cutlass- Jessican Brilli

 

"Cutlass" with one of my husband's self portrait and one of my Gola paintings
“Cutlass” with one of my husband’s self portrait and one of my Gola paintings

 

Vintage tape measure
The Vintage tape measure – also sent by Jessica as part of her trade

 

I was fascinated by the vintage tape measure Jessica also sent me – it was a weighty object. I was quite struck by its solidity. I think I am too used to plastic tape measures that have beeb made in China. It also only measured inches – not cm. I am only used to tape measures with both inches and cms on them. It amde me realise that despite all the American culture we are exposed to in filsm amd TV shows, we have very few American goods here on this side of the Atlantic. It felt quite exotic and exiting.

I would like to thank Jessica once again for agreeing to trade paintings with me. I am honoured to have her painting in my home. It has given me a real boost. I am now exploring the world of wood panels!

 

https://www.instagram.com/jessica_brilli_artist/

https://www.facebook.com/jessicabrilliartist/

http://www.theniceniche.com/this-week/jessica-brilli-artist

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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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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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Summer Newsletter 2021

Here’s my summer newsletter. I am shutting up shop for a  month from 20th June to 20th July. All going well, we will be safely installed and open for business (online at least) in Donegal by mid-July. I am already longing to get back to my painting routine.  I can’t quite  believe that after being ground so long by my broken leg and the pandemic that we will actually move house/studio to another country by then. It’s a huge step!  Fingers crossed it all goes smoothly!

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Mental Health Awareness Week

Mental Health

On Thursday I did something I have never done before. I did a presentation to a bunch people in London via the internet. During the darkness winter days of lock down I have sat at my computer and listened to quite a few people give presentations on subjects as diverse as Art (Jennifer Pockinski, Elizabeth O’Reilly), Irish Language (Manchán Mangan), Irish Bogs (Creative Rathangan Meithea), Irish Cottages (Ulster Architectuaral Society) and Literature (Gabriel Byrne) and thoroughly enjoyed them.

Mental Health Awareness Week
Artfinder: Mental Health Awareness Week

This Thursday, I got my chance to see behind the scenes of these sorts of events and talk about my experiences for Mental Health Awareness Week with On Thursday I did something I have never done before. I did a presentation to a bunch people in London via the internet. During the darkness winter days of lock down I have sat at my computer and listened to quite a few people give presentations on subjects as diverse as Art (Jennifer Pockinski, Elizabeth O’Reilly), Irish Language (Manchán Mangan), Irish Bogs (Creative Rathangan Meithea), Irish Cottages (Ulster Architectuaral Society) and Literature (Gabriel Byrne) and thoroughly enjoyed them.the team behind the online gallery, Artfinder (www.artfinder.com).  I was also featured in a news blog on their website. During the pandemic many people are probably used using Zoom or Teams for their work meetings but I have never had this experience before. I think this is why I suggested a quick trial hook up the day the before. I had also seen things go slightly awry during those webinmars. My personal favourite was when the speaker’s  laptop battery suddenly died and he had to rush off to find another laptop and the chair had to fill in for ten minutes whilst he did this!

Googlemeet and Zoom

I am so glad that we did a practice run with Jane and Kirsty. We started with Zoom. The sound on my laptop was dreadful and everything sounded like it was underwater. Jane and Kirsy sounded like a couple of unintelligable dolphins! Between my old Laptop and a ropey internet connection (Now TV, or “Not, Now TV” as we like to call it in this house), it wasn’t working. I wanted the throw the laptop across the room, cry and/or swear a lot. Obviously, I did neither.

What I wanted to do to my laptop

Eventually, Kirsty, the tech genius,  came up with the idea of doing the meeting with Google Meet. “It is very low tech”, she said. “That’ll suit me just fine, I am low tech”, I said! The rest of the test worked well and we had a chat about what it was like working remotely.

On the afternoon of the presentation I waited nervously for the meeting to start and even said a prayer beforehand. Then all these youthful faces pinged onto the screen. More and more until it was full with 9 boxes and more names listed along the top of the screen of people I could not see.  I am not sure if the prayer helped because I still had problems getting my screen to share my powerpoint. Thankfully Michal (the CEO) talked me through which buttons to press , in which order and we were finally in business.

Not the Artfinder Team – but my screen did look a bit like this

I then had that wierd moment before you start speaking that seemed to stretch on for ever. I looked at my screen. All I could see was my presentation, no faces now, which was odd too. I  took a big breath and began.

OK – I am just going to give you the highlights.

  • In 2006 I started having panic attacks on the motorway – I saw a  couple of (not very good) therapist/hypnotherapists and bought a lot of books on panic attacks.  It did not solve my problem. I avoided motorways.
  • 2012 Minor Car Accident – which led to me developing PTSD & Burn Out (also known as a “Breakdown”). This resulted in hypervigilance/nightmares/flashbacks/inability to concentrate/exhaustion. I found a very good therapist and had EMDR therapy (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and during the course of this therapy started painting every day. It was a very slow recovery and it took a year to return to work part time
  • How art has helped me with my recovery / mental health over the years: – I find it calming, restorative, meditative and it boosts my fragile self-esteem. It also improves my concentration & energy levels. It provides a positive focus to my life, I find the colours therapeutic and painting also provides an intellectual challenge as there is a lot of problem-solving in painting. It also provides social connections through blogging & social media

As this was a presentation to Artfinder staff I talked about how important Artfinder has been in my journey into becoming a professional artist.

  • My husband, Séamas, joined the Artfinder site on my behalf in April 2013. He also set up a website a blog for me.
  • My first sale on Artfinder was in June 2013. It was a giclée print of “A Tenby Reflection” for £39
  • I sold my first painting  via Artfinder July 2013
  • In the last 8 years I have sold over 800 works via Artfinder and gained over 6000 followers, which makes me the most followed artist on the site!
  • I left teaching in 2017 and became a full-time artist – I put a lot more time and energy into my painting, my website, blogging and social media sites

Early Work

Painting of Tenby Harbour
Tenby Reflections (2013) My first sale on Artfinder

Perpetual Light (2013)

The Light Refracted

Winter Morning Light on Parkmill
Winter Morning Light on Parkmill

Gower woodland painting
A Slender Light

Gower Paintings

  • Evening on Three Cliffs

    Coloured Sands at Three Cliffs

    Ireland

  • Donegal painting of area around Cloughcor, Arranmore
    Around Cloughcor (Arranmore)

    From Cloughcor To Maghery
    From Cloughcor To Maghery (Arranmore)


Mental Health, the Covid-19 pandemic and other emergencies

  • PTSD – I tend to think of the worse possible outcome to most things at the best of times. I usually have to talk myself down from my initial extreme reaction, but for once in early 2020 I was RIGHT!  This new virus was an end-of-the-world scenario!
  • I kept a diary to help cope with the sense of panic and anxiety I was experiencing and then. I took my dogs for a walk in the woods on my own (Séamas was in Ireland)
  • I tripped and broke my leg and had to wait 5 hours for the emergency services to rescue me. You can read that long story here.
  • I spent 9 days in hospital waiting for an operation to pin my leg.

During my long recovery from this experience, I reflected on the differences between how we all, myself included,  treat physical and mental health issues. With physical health issues there is the physical pain (there was certainly lots of that), the practical difficulties of getting around, frustration at the loss of independence and the physical exhaustion as your body heals. I also discovered that this sort of trauma was easy to talk about. There was a lot of public sympathy & concern from people.

It was a lot easier to deal with than mental health issues. I was delighted to realise that I dealt with the trauma and pain with (mostly) good humour and fortitude – although that wore off a bit when my rehab took a whole lot longer than I was expecting.  I felt mentally sound even if my body wasn’t.

In contrast, when I experienced my mental breakdown, there was a lot of isolation, shame, fear, embarrassment on my part as well as physical exhaustion.  I had always been a tough, independent and reliable person and I hated that my breakdown changed that. I still struggle with accepting my limitations. It was clear that a lot of other people felt sorry for me. That was not easy to bear either.

One of the few positives of the pandemic is that people have been more open about how they have struggled with their mental health. I think that it has shown people that a lot of mental health issues are related to having to bear “unbearable” situations. My huband, Séamas,  says I didn’t have a breakdown down but a break through. My life, as it was, was making me ill and it had to change. During the pandemic that unbearable situation was universal. Everyone had to deal with having our freedoms curtailed, especially the freedom to see our family and friends. Many people people discovered that the joy of doing things with your hands/body such as gardening, yoga, painting, baking saved their sanity. I know that in my darkest hour I was making scones with Séamas! Art continues to keep me sane.

I answered a number of questions from Michal and staff at Artfinder. What came up: Had I painted before the 2012 accident? What can Artfinder do to help people with Mental Health Issues? How do you help someone with mental health issues? Different therapies and medications and how they might work for person and not for another.

The presentation wasn’t recorded, and in a way I am glad about that. I don’t think I would have been so open about my experiences if I thought what I said could be picked over and examined by people who weren’t present at the time. It was a strange situation to give a talk to a group of people I couldn’t really see. When I have given talks before I have had people’s faces and body language to help gauge their reactions to what I was saying. This time I didn’t. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the whole thing afterwards because of this although the staff were all very positive. I hope that my audience got something out of  the experience!

I will finish with a quote from “Anthem” by the Canadian singer and poet, Leonard Cohen.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Spring Tide, Three Cliffs Bay
Spring Tide, Three Cliffs Bay


Read More about

Mental Health Support

https://www.mind.org.uk/

EMDR therapy

https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/treatments/eye-movement-reprocessing

https://www.healthline.com/health/emdr-therapy

ArtBeat 1
Artbeat Feature on Artfinder

Posted on 15 Comments

Out on Gower again

Out on Gower

On Thursday afternoon I went on my first proper “Walk” with a capital W since I broke my leg and ankle last spring (read about my horrible adventure here).  It’s not that I haven’t visited parts of the coast since March 2020. I took numerous short strolls along flat grassy parts of Gower (Mumbles, Oxwich and Pennard) last autumn before we were launched into the never ending autumn/winter lockdowns. Thursday was the first time I really challenged myself  and ventured along tracks that I would not have thought twice about walking along before. We left the dogs at  home to give our full concentration to walking (and not tripping up).

Life recovering from a broken leg and ankle is all about surfaces and angles. A lot of my walks involve looking at the ground. I make myself stop when I want to look at the scenery. Rough ground can be challenging for my ankle. Going down hill is a lot harder than going up. I often think of my ankle as being like my sewing machine foot when I try and make it  sew thick fabrics! Unfortunately, my sewing machine foot has been known to fall off. I am not sure if that’s a reminder to take care or its just not a great analogy.

For non-sewers, a sewing machine foot
For non-sewers, a sewing machine foot

My ankle doesn’t just have to contend with up and down movement but side to side movement too. I have done a lot of practicing standing on my left leg and on my toes. My muscles are 90% there but not quite what they once were. I have been told that I have to keep doing the exercises until the left leg/ankle is as good as the right one.

Cefn Bryn at our backs and the "cottages" of Penmaen.

Cefn Bryn at our backs and the “cottages” of Penmaen.

Anyway, Thursday was election day. Something I had completely forgotten. I usually get out and vote first in the morning but I had been waiting in for a delivery of paint and it had slipped my mind. That is until, we arrived as Penmaen and saw the “Polling Station” sign in the car park. “Oh, no!” I wailed. “The suffragettes will be spinning in their graves. I have to vote!” “Perhaps, you could vote here?” my husband, Séamas, suggested hopefully. “No it doesn’t work like that, you have to vote in your own area with a piece of paper and a pencil. It’s not that hi-tech, yet”. “Oh” he said.

My journey around the coast near Penmaen
My journey around the coast near Penmaen

 

We usually launch ourselves down an uneven track towards the coast but Séamas was worried that the uneven gravel  would be too much for me. I agreed.

The final uneven stretch
The very uneven track

So I thought about it, and came up with an alternative route.  We turn off the the right and along a wide grassy path across some fields. This was a nice gentle stroll. I paused and admired the view. Behind us was Cefn Bryn and the cottages that line the main road. They are hardly visible from the road, partially hidden by stone walls and trees. From here you could see that these houses all have very large windows from which to see the magnificent views. I wondered how many of them are holiday homes and how many are lived in all year around.

Cefn Bryn at our backs and the "cottages" of Penmaen.
Cefn Bryn at our backs and the “cottages” of Penmaen.

 

The waters of Oxwich Bay sparkled off in the distance. The tide was in.

The Track from Penmaen Towards Nicholston Woods (Oxwich in the distance)
The Track from Penmaen Towards Nicholston Woods (Oxwich in the distance)

Once we walked across the field I faced my first challenge as the path dropped away down hill. Gower really isn’t accessible to the disabled, is it? I thought to myself. That’s why you only see the really elderly at Rhossili where they have  a massive car park and wide tarmac paths.

I shuffled cautiously down this part of the trackI shuffled cautiously down this part of the track (we just came from up there)

Our solution was for Séamas to walk right up in front of me so I could rest my hand on his shoulder for extra balance if I needed it. That worked surpingly well.  I found that so long as I went really slowly, and I mean REALLY slowly, shuffling really, I was fine. We finally reached the coastal path and turned left.

The fab coastal path (with sign)
The fab coastal path (with sign)

Me on the Nicholston Woods section of the coastal path
Me on the Nicholston Woods section of the coastal path

 

Here the path enveloped in Nicholston Woods. Stretches of the path had bluebells scattered amongst the trees.

Me pausing, as I look at the next bit of path
Me pausing, as I look at the next bit of path

 

The next section seemed to plunge off into the distance and I almost lost my nerve. As I said, down hill is a lot harder than up hill for me. “We could shuffle down on our bums, if its too difficult?” I suggested. “No, it will be fine if we go slowly” said Séamas.  So we did our slow shuffle again, with Séamas in front: “I can fall onto you I said”. Thankfully I didn’t need to. There are no photos of this part except the last bit where I got more confident again as it was uphill.

Careful now!
Careful now!

The View Towards Great Tor
The View Towards Great Tor

 

At the top there is a beautiful old wooden gate where you can pause and take in the view of Great Tor. Adders (Britain’s only poisonous snake)  have been seen along this part of the path already this year. I saw one once many years ago near here. It wasn’t interested in us, it just moved away quickly. We didn’t see any today.

The undulating Track (no adders today)
The undulating track (no adders today)

 

The next part of the track was easy but lengthy and I could feel myself tiring a little. I was cautious about over doing it and not being able to get back to the car. PTSD makes me conjure up the worst scenarios in mind at a moments’ notice. I briefly, I imagine the amubulance and emergency services having to rescue me all over again and me having to explain why I thought a coastal walk was a good idea. Time to rest and stop thinking daft thoughts. Séamas is with me. I am not alone. I have not broken my leg again. We find a bench and look at the view and listened to the birds singing.

Looking back, from where we have come
Looking back

 

And up!

Some wonderful fluffy clouds
Some wonderful fluffy clouds

 

Now I know I should be sensible and just turn back and go home but I really want to see Three Cliffs. It’s been so long. I have learnt that if I want to go far with this leg/ankle the trick is to go slow and steady. Speeding off does it no good at all and it start to hurt. So we carried on. A little more slowly.

It's further than I remember
It’s further than I remember

Marching off again!
Marching off again, slowly!

 

Finally. This is the view I came for! I sat down and rest and looked across the bay. We watched the cloud shadows as they moved across the land. It was wonderful.

Clouds Shaddows
Cloud Shadows, Three Cliffs, Gower

 

Finally, we decided to return back to the car. I decided to face the uneven track. As its uphill, it might be OK and it was.

All up hill (that's fine by me)
All up hill (that’s fine by me)

 

Yes, still very uneven
Yes, still very uneven

I had to stop and rest several times, but I made it! I was disappointed to discover that I had walked less than 2 miles. I felt like a much bigger adventure than that! It was an important step to restoring my confidence again.

When we get home I staggered off to the local polling station to vote. All covid measures were in place. All the doors were open, there were big circles on the ground to tell people where to stand in socially distanced queue. Fat chance! As usual, there was me and the election people and no one else. The majority (60%) of people in my area don’t care about the suffragettes and don’t bother voting. The masked-returning officier was behind a screen, she did not touch my polling card.  I went into the polling booth to cast my vote but found the usual pencil on a string was missing.  This threw me. The returning officer had a collection of pencils on her table. I dug around in my bag for a pen. I noticed that one of the candidates lives in Penmaen.  I wonder if we passed their house today. So at least one of those houses is lived in all year around. I cast my votes and folded up the three sheets of paper and pushed them into the large black metal box.  The suffragettes can rest easy.

I waited to see if my leg and ankle would hurt afterwards. They weren’t too bad although both legs ached a bit from unaccustomed walking and that kept we awake in the early hours until I took a painkiller. I was too tired to paint. I am still feeling very tired three days later, but I think I will be back to normal tomorrow.

Spring Tide, Three Cliffs Bay

Spring Tide, Three Cliffs Bay