An Port has loomed large in my imagination for a long time. It’s very remote and quite difficult to get to. To reach it, you have to drive down a very, very long single track road (it’s about three miles but it feels longer) on the way to Glencolmcille. There are plenty of sheep and only a few people.
At An Port there is a small quay and a tiny deserted fishing village which looks out over a small bay, surrounded by cliffs and truly massive slabs of rocks and sea stacks. Its one of those landscapes that you imagine can be found all along the west coast of Ireland but is actually unique. When I visited Texas in the late 1990s I thought it would all look like Monument Valley, thanks to those John Ford films. I was surpised to find it was pretty flat.
The village was still inhabited in the 1920s. The hillside is littered with the remains of the stone houses
There is one inhabited house, now an AirBnB property. You can see it on the hill behind me in the photo my husband took of me (below). This was Annie McGinley’s family home.
I first heard about Port in 2018 from a TV programme about the famous American landscape artist Rockwell Kent and his stay in Donegal the 1920s. Rockwell Kent is probably best known today for his illustrations for Moby Dick.
Unfortunately Kevin Magee’s film (in Irish with subtitles) “Ar Lorg Annie” or “Searching for Annie” is no longer available but you can see a short clip on Youtube here. A friend of Kent’s, Rex Stout, had funded his trip to Ireland. He paid him $300 a month on the condition that he had the choice of two painting when he got back. This is one of them in California, “Prince Charles’ Cove”.
Rockwell Kent and his second wife Frances Lee Higgins (they were on honeymoon) spent several months in the near by valley of Glenlough on a farm belonging to farmer Dan Ward. Kent stored many of his paintings back at Port, in the home of Annie McGinley, who modeled for him. Her she is.
Rockwell Kent returned to Donegal, 32 years later. He had wanted to buy Dan Ward’s farm but it had already sold to another farmer. Instead he sought out ‘this singularly lovely teenage girl with whom I had danced many a jig’ and found her in nearby Crobane, married, midddle-aged and ‘broad-beamed’. She had had 14 children, 12 had lived.
Rockwell went to find Annie’s long abandoned cottage in An Port where in 1926 he had dried his Donegal paintings. It turned out to be the only structure still standing, barely supporting the weight of an overgrown thatched roof, a year or two from dereliction. ‘This house, we thought, we ought to buy and fix and have as a place to come every year …’ but he didn’t.
If you look on the left hand side of my painting “An Port” (below), you will see tiny fence posts along top of the cliff. They help give a sense of scale of the huge cliffs and rocks. I can’t remember who first described this landscape it as the “land of giants”but it truly apt.
It is hard to do justice to this incredible landscape but I think that Rockwell Kent’s paintings do. He really capures the majesty and warm colours of Donegal. He also excels at Donegal skies and light. I am really in awe of him.
I wish I could see the original paintings but this is very unlikely. It seems that none of Rockwell Kent’s large paintings stayed in Ireland. Most of them are either in the USA or in Russia. But that’s another story.
I have added a few links about the artist below.
Rockwell Kent and Donegal
https://www.sullivangoss.com/artists/rockwell-kent-1882-1971 Includes a chronology of his life (but doesn’t mention his Irish trip)
Stay there/near by
There is the amazing Cropod too which got rave reviews in the Irish TImes more than once – https://www.irishtimes.com/life-style/travel/2022/09/01/cabin-fever-12-get-away-from-it-all-cabins-to-retreat-to-this-autumn/
How to Get there
Climb the stacks (if you are brave enough – not me!)
https://uniqueascent.ie/ There are some excellent guides to the seastacks of Donegal on this site.