Looking through my recent work, I was surpised to realise that I haven’t painted many paintings of Arranmore Island in the last couple of years despite visiting the islands in the summer. So I have put that right with a series of new paintings.
As always I am entranced by the journey to and from the island. You can read my short History of the Island here
Arranmore is lucky to be served by two ferry companies. There is The Arranmore Ferry (Blue) which is based on the island and Arranmore Ferry (Red) which is not. Yes, I know the names are almost identical, just a small matter of “The”. They both offer a fantastic 15 minute journey from Burtonport (Ailt An Chorráin) to Arranmore Island. On a calm and sunny day the view on the crossing are just heavenly. Sometimes there are dolphins too.
The ferrys sail through a narrow passage past a scattering of islands on the way to Arranmore.
Rutland Island (Inis Mhic an Doirn) lies between Burtonport and Arranmore, Donegal. William Burton Conyngham (a local landowner for whom Burtonport takes its Anglised form) had warehouses, a street of houses, a post office and a school built c. 1784 to capitalised on a the abundant herring fishing. Unfortunately, the herring disappeared very early in the 1800’s and the station fell into disuse. The island was inhabited until the 1950s. These are the remains of the fish factory and landing stage on Rutland Island.
Opposite is Inishcoo Island with Mount Errigal in the distance peeping out from under the clouds. The jetty in the left hand corner belongs the magnificent Inishcoo House (see painting below)- once a coast guard house, built in the C18th.
There are several tiny holiday homes dotted across the islands (and cows)
A you can see the views are quite idyllic. Whether from the ferry or from the island. To be honest, I wish the ferries were like the Circle Line on the London Underground, where you can ride the tube rround and round (it takes and hour and an half apparently, I have never done it) and you could ride them back and forth to the island all day!
In my last post I decribed visiting the abandoned fishing village of An Port tucked away in a remote corner of the Donegal shoreline (read it here).
We were inspired to seek out this very remote spot by American artist Rockwell Kent, who visited and painted the area in the 1920s. I was waiting for a book on the artist to write this post but it only had a couple of sentences about his visit to Ireland so the delay was unwarranted.
Rockwell Kent enjoyed Donegal and had originally intended to stay longer. He stored his larger paintings in Annie McGinley’s family home in Port (see my previous post about Port) but he actually spent most of his time in the neighbouring valley of Glenlough. He rented a old barn (byre) from hearing-impaired farmer Dan Ward. He lived in it with his second wife, Frances, and used it as his studio. The paintings of the views from Glenlough, especially of the bay and the giant sea stacks, are quite remarkable.
Welsh poet Dylan Thomas later stayed in Glenlough in the summer of 1935. His stay didn’t go too well, he found the soliditude difficult to bear and he described himself as “lonely as Christ”. He left without paying his bills (although his editor later paid them).
Following in Rockwell Kent (and Dylan Thomas’s) footsteps is easier said than done. For a man who loved to visit and paint inacessible and elemental places in Newfoundland, Alaska, Terra Del Fuego and Greenland, maybe this should not be a surprise; even a century later.
Glenlough is an anomaly in this modern world. It is a lost valley. It’s located on the lip of a gale-swept edge of north-west Ireland. It’s an inacessible part of a very remote county. No one has lived there for more than 30 years. There is no road in and no road out. There isn’t even a footpath. The local farmers ride the curves of the rough landscape on their quad bikes.
There is a song “The Road to Glenlough” by fiddler, James Byrne, from near by Glencolumbkille, Donegal. The title must be some sort of joke as there is definately no road to Glenlough. I know, I have looked very hard for it. You can find Glenlough Bay on a map. Here. Where that red tag is.
Map of the North of Ireland – the red tag marks Glenlough Bay, Donegal
Google confidently suggests that route to Glenough Bay is quite straight forward. The straight white dotted line should immediately suggest wild over-confidence on the part of AI. Compare it to the dotted blue line, which is the single track road to An Port. This road/track does not exist.
We decided to (sort of) follow the coastline from Port and climb up the very steep hill to Glenlough. The map only gives you a hint at how truly rough and rugged the terrain is. Its all elevated upland bog with and massive bolders dropped by glaciers thousands of years ago. The first part of our “walk” invovled a scramble up a steep path strewn with rocks (see photo below). I had my walking poles with me and I clambered up this section like a weird four legged beast. I have a lot of pins and screws in my left leg from a bad break I had two years agao, and this section terrified me. I would not have done it without the additional help from the poles.
We first passed the remains of the village of Port.
The climb up hill seemed to go on for ever. Up and up. First we followed sheep tracks upwards. The sheep aren’t very interested into getting to Glenlough and so we were on constant lookout for ways upwards in the right sort of direction. The sheep track kept vering off to the left and right. I had never walked somewhere where there was no human path before. I found it quite exhausting looking for a way up. The ground was springey underfoot. It’s bogland. It was mostly dry. It was one of those cimbs where you keep expecting to reach the brow of the hill but there’s just more boggy incline, going up and up!
Eventually, there were spots where we could pause and take our bearings. The view was something else.
I haven’t mentioned that it was very windy too. We stayed away from the cliff edge. He sat in the shelter of a dip in the landscape to eat our sandwiches and look at the view towards An Port.
Dont go too near the edge!
Finally, after a lot of walking when we were thinking of turning back, it appears. Our view of Glenlough Bay. We stand and gawp at it in wonder. It is vast and the colours are vivid. The colour of grass on the stacks is an intense green, the colour of the sea is a cold blue. The sea water is very clear and you can see the massive boulders on the raised beach from up here. It is hard to covey how stunning it is in a photo or a painting. We watched the shadows cast by the clouds pass over the landscape. It was mesmerising. The last time I starred at a landscape in such wonder when was when we visited the incredible Grand Canyon.
I wish we could have got closer but we were already very tired and decided to come back another time to go down to valley of Glenlough itself. I am not sure I am able bodied enough to make it down to the beach (see the video by Unique Ascent below) but we could come back with a drone camera and take photos. I just want to see the buildings where Rockwell Kent and Dylan Thomas stayed all those years ago.
Unique Ascent’s video makes the visit to the shore of Glenlough Bay look so easy!
There is a definite shift in the seasons. In summer here, the light seemed to stretch on for eve; well past 11pm. Suddenly the days have started shortening fast. It is now dark before 9pm. It has rained solidly for the last two days. In typical Donegal fashion, the sun has come out and everything is bright and fresh.
Artimus (aka Artie) our Donegal rescue cat has just passed me to go outside in the catio to smell the breeze. He used to be a stray. It’s hard to believe as he’s so beautiful and such a softie. He now enjoys the warmth and comforts of indoor life (especially hiding under the towel rail) but he still enjoys the smells and sounds of rural life outside. We lost three pets in the last year (two cats and a dog) and I am not letting him outside when there’s a busy road at the bottom of the garden. I cant face the heartache, if I dont have to. So Séamas, built a catio. Or the cat veranda as I like to call it. Both of our cats, enjoy it but Artie, especially so but not when it’s cold. He’s been in and out of it four times in the last twenty minutes. I think he wishes it was warmer. He must have found life as a stray really tough!
Errigal from Cruit Island, Donegal:-This was one of a pair of large paintings I started before I got ill. It sat in it’s greyscale state for over a month and a half until I recovered enoungh stamina to complete it! Large painting require a lot of strength as you lift your arms/hands above your head, even if you are just moving the canvas. I was very glad to finish it.
I enjoyed painting the rolling landscape; splattered with rocks. I took great pleasure in adjusting the colours in oil paint and “tightening up” the details. The rash of rocks amongst the boglands is quite unique to this part of Donegal. Further south towards, Glencolmcille, there are far fewer bolders and rocks. There the bogland blankets the landscape uninterupted. There are far fewer houses there too. This area of Donegal, the Rosses, however, is dotted with houses old and new. I like that the old houses nestle in the nooks and crannies of the landscape; keeping out of the prevailing westerly winds and showers.
I have decided that perfect is the enemy of good, and I need to give up on the idea that I should write lengthy blogs posts, as I end up writing nothing! So here goes,
One of the many great things about being back in West Donegal is that I can paint much larger paintings as my art studio is much bigger here than in Derry. So I now have two on the go!
These are both painted in acrylic paint. I find it easier to make adjustment in the value/tones in acrylic before I move onto a layer of oil as a final layer. Acrylic can act as a foundation layer for oil, but not the other way around. I had forgotten how physically tiring painting a large painting is. My arms are tired!
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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!
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!
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.
We are all glad to see the back of 2020 but I am pausing for a moment to reflect on some of my painting sales over the year. Sadly, my accident and having my leg in a cast meant that I couldn’t get up the steep stairs to my attic studio (or anywhere else) to paint any oil paintings for over three months but things have ticked over during 2020.
I would like to say thank you Rob and David who waited a very long time in the cold with me for the ambulance to come, to the paramedics and firebrigade who got me out of the woods, to NHS staff at Morriston who fixed my very broken leg and looked after me, as well as to the Physical Therapists who gave me lots of advice on exercises over the phone. I still have a way to go!
I have to say an absolutely massive thank you to my brillant husband, Séamas, who trudged up and down two flights of stairs with trays of food many times a day (and lost weight doing so) for months. He kept my spirits up when I got frustrated and tearful. It wasn’t that often as I was so glad to be home but it was all hard work for him in the midst of a pandemic! He also kept the show on the road by packing up and arranging the shipping my paintings. He was, and remains, utterly wonderful!
Here’s a selection of some of my sales from 2020
Here’s to a happier and healthier 2021 to everyone!
I have recently been spending time with my parents in the Cotswolds in Gloucestershire. On a bright sunny Sunday morning I explored some of the winding tracks of a near by village called Chalford and Chalford Hill. Where is that? In the South West-ish of the English Midlands ( see map below). The Parish of […]
I was absolutely delighted to spot Claire Keegan’s “Foster” (and my painting on the cover) at the BBC’s screen of this year’s British Academy Film Awards, known as the BAFTAs. The Irish language film “The Quiet Girl” was nominated for Best Screenplay (Adapted) catagory. The film’s director Colm Bairead wrote the screenplay, adapted Claire Keegan’s beautiful novella. The moving film was also nominated for the Best Film Not in the English Language.
I am very excited to have an article in today’s Irish Independent on Sunday about me and work by Niall McMonagle. Below is my expanded Q & A interview that was much edited to feature in Niall McMonagle’s What Lies Beneath feature . It’s interesting to see that the online version had a different […]
New Work & Recent Sales
Washing Line, Arranmore _Emma Cownie
Inishcoo (To The Fore of Arranmore) – Emma Cownie
Kinnagoe Bay (Inishowen, Dongal)
Over Glenlough Bay, Donegal-Emma Cownie
Still, On Gola (Donegal)
An Port, Donegal_Emma Cownie
House on Ishcoo, Donegal-Emma Cownie
On Rutland Island, Donegal -Emma Cownie
Spring on THree Cliffs Bay, Gower_Emma Cownie
Sun on the Reeds (Glentornan, Donegal)-Emma Cownie
View from the Pier (Portnoo)-Emma Cownie
From Port to Glenlough (Donegal)
Fishing Boat at Port Donegal-Emma Cownie
Portnoo Pier, Donegal_Emma Cownie
Down to Rossbeg Pier, Donegal
Errigal reflection (Donegal) _Emma Cownie
Errigal from Cruit Island. Donegal _ Emma Cownie
Over to Fanad Lighhouse (Donegal) _Emma Cownie
Errigal painting – A Commission 2022
From Arranmore (Donegal)- Emma Cownie
Abanoned (Glentornan, Donegal) -Emma Cownie
Ferry Home (Arranmore, Donegal) by Emma Cownie
Summer Morning on Pobbles Bay
On the Way to Kinnagoe Bay (Drumaweer, Greencastle)
Down to Doagh Strand (Donegal)-Emma Cownie
Lambing Season at Fanad Head
Fanad Lighthouse (Donegal)
Down to the Rusty Nail
Carrickabraghy Castle, Inishowen
Upper Dreen_Emma Cownie
Portmór Beach, Malin Head, Donegal
Down to the Rusty Nail, Inishowen
The Walls of Derry
Painting of Derry City
Derry Walls by Emma Cownie
Shipquay Gate by Emma Cownie
Over to Owey Island (Keadue) Donegal
Lighting the way to Arranmore
Old Stone Cottage in front of Errigal (Donegal
Boat at the Pier, Gola
House on Inishbofin, with distant Seven Sisters (in studio)