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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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Inishbofin, Donegal

Inishbofin Donegal (3)

Our visit to the island of Inishbofin last month was one of those rare “perfect” days in life.  The weather was warm and sunny with enough of a sea breeze to blow away any viruses. We have been looking and admiring from afar the tiny, remote island of Inishbofin, off the coast of Donegal, for quite a while now.

Location of Inishbofin
Location of Inishbofin, Donegal
Inishbofin, Donegal
Inishbofin, Donegal

It is 3km/2miles  from the pier at Machaire Uí Rabhartaigh / Magheraroarty  but that didn’t stop me painting the shoreline of the island a couple of years ago. I also wrote about the island (here) long before I ever got the chance to visit it.

Donegal Painting of Inishbofin
Across to Inishbofin
Donegal landscape painting
Storm Over Inishbofin

Emma Cownie

It is very easy to confuse the Donegal island with the more southerly Inishbofin near Galway on the internet as google likes to show you maps and ferry pages for the Galway island, even if you type in “Ferry times inishbofin, Donegal”. I think this must because a regular ferry service in Donegal was only started this summer by Harry Coll and his brother, Owenie. Harry has recently retired from his life as a fisherman in Killybegs, Donegal, and decided to buy a boat called Saoirse na Mara II ( which translates, I think, as “Freedom of the Sea II”) in order to run a daily ferry service to the island. As far as I can tell, they have not received any government funding to help them in their venture.

Inishbofin Ferry
Inishbofin Ferry

You will notice that the flyer for the ferry is in Irish and English. This is an Irish speaking area of Ireland, the Gaelteacht. This was the first place I heard Irish spoken this year, in fact.  Inishbofin is an Irish-speaking community and it was a real pleasure to hear people speaking Irish/Gaeilge,  although I could only pick out the odd word as I only have a very basic understanding of the language. We were told by the islanders that “Inishbofin” is  actually pronouced “Inish-bofin-yeay”. You can here that pronunciation in this Irish-language video here.

The name Inis Bó Finne means “island of the white cow” in English. The white cow, Glas Gaibhnenn, was owned by a blacksmith on the mainland but was stolen by Balor, the mythical one-eyed King of neighbouring Tory Island and hidden on Insishbofin. This wasn’t any old cow, it was a magical cow. It had huge teats that never ran dry which produced an unending supply of milk. Obviously, such production required a great deal of fuel and in no time the cow ate all the grass on the island and had to move on elsewhere. The island is tiny, a mere 2km long and 1km wide or about half a square mile/300 acres so I could well believe that the Bó Finne ate all the grass pretty quickly. Yet, although it looks tiny from the mainland yet it doesn’t feel that tiny when you are on the island.

Magheroarty Pier (Inishbofin is in the distance)
Saoirse na Mara II at the Magheroarty Pier (Inishbofin is in the distance)

The first inhabitants are believed to have been of Scandinavian origin, who arrived at the time of the Viking raids on Ireland’s coast in the C9th and C10th. Their descendants are thought to have been exterminated by Cromwellian soldiers in the mid-C17th. I wondered whether they had all been killed as I noticed that all the islanders had blue eyes, possibly suggestive of Scandinavian genes. Subsequently the island was settled by mainlanders from Donegal escaping oppression, poverty and famine. We met one islander who jokingly said his family had “recently” moved to the island,  in the 1840s.

Map of Inishbofin
Map of Inishbofin

It is said that the islands potatoes, like those of neighbouring Tory Island were unaffected by the potato blight which destroyed the main food source of Ireland’s peasantry in the mid-C19th. The blight, and other factors (such as criminal mismanagement of resources by the British Government) led to An Gorta Mór  or “The Great Hunger“; starvation and famine fever which led to over a million deaths and mass emigration.

Approaching Inishbofin
Approaching Inishbofin

As recently as the 1960s, a population of roughly 120 islanders enjoyed a tranquil, if tough, existence, fishing and farming. Nowadays, only a few islanders spend all year on the island, farming on a part-time basis. Many of the houses on the island  have been renovated, mostly for use as holiday homes. From March to October many of the former inhabitants return to fish for lobster, crab and Atlantic salmon, or to gather shellfish and pick edible seaweeds such as cairrigin (carrageen) and creathnach (dulse) from the rocks. Other families move back for the school holiday in the summer months. The new ferry service has made visiting the island even easier for families and day trippers.

Irish moss or carrageen moss (Irish carraigín, "little rock" from wikipedia
Irish moss or carrageen moss (Irish carraigín, “little rock” from wikipedia

The morning we visited the island there were lots of people waiting at the Magheraroarty Pier for the ferry and the Coll brothers made several trips to bring them all over to the island. The trip only took ten minutes and the sea was smooth.  Stepping off the ferry we were transported to a tranquil and calm world. All the time I was on the island  I saw one car and heard only birdsong and the wind. It was bliss.

The Pier at Inishbofin
The Pier at Inishbofin

Inisbofiners working on a roof

Inishbofiners working on a roofDrying in the sun

Drying in the sun

Muckish Mountain on the Horizon
Muckish Mountain on the Horizon

The island has two halves connected by a narrow, sandy col. There are two villages on the island, one near the harbour of An Clachan (Cloghan), and the other a short distance away at An Garradh Ban, also known as East Town.

Painting of houses at Clogan, Inishbofin
Road through Cloghan, Inishbofin, Emma Cownie

Map of Inishbofin from www.boffinferrydonegal.com

Map of Inishbofin from http://www.boffinferrydonegal.com

The southern half of the island is fertile and was cultivated in the past in the traditional “clachan and rundale” manner, involving communal usage of scarce arable soil and cattle pasture. The ancient field boundaries are still in place, though the fields have now reverted to grassland, providing essential habitat for geese and especially corncrakes – flourishing here, unlike in the rest of the country.

Corncrake
Corncrake

Aerial View of Inishbofin (from Inishbofin Ferry facebook page)

Aerial View of Inishbofin (from BoffinFerryDonegal.com facebook page)

The islanders are very friendly and several people stopped to chat to us to tell us about the island. They have a reputation for speaking to visitors (preferably in Irish Gaelic, but in English too) and like telling stories about the island and its history. One of the islanders, Daniel,  mentioned the mystery of the missing millionaire. In 1933 Arthur Kingsley Porter, a professor of Fine Arts at Harvard University, bought Glenveagh Castle in the heart of the Derryveagh Mountains and made it his home. He also built a house on Inishbofin which he used for weekend breaks with his wife. On the morning of 8th July 1933 Kingsley Porter disappeared after going for a walk the morning after a massive storm, and was never seen again.

Arthur Kingsley Porter
Arthur Kingsley Porter

Conspiracy theories abound. Had he accidentally fallen from a cliff or had he taken his own life? Had Arthur been murdered? Or had he faked his own death and re-emerged with a new identity on mainland Europe? All of these are a possibility, as Arthur was gay at a time when it was illegal and regarded as deeply shameful (50 states criminalized same-sex sexual activity until 1962). To make things worse, Harvard, Arthur’s employer was running an anti-gay campaign. The college held a secret court to expose and expel gay students and faculty. Two students, accused of being gay, had already died by suicide. Arthur was fearful his homosexuality would be revealed and there would be a scandal. So here we have a possible motive for suicide.

Lucy and Arthur
Lucy and Arthur

At the inquest – the first to be held in Ireland without a body – his widow, Lucy, told of her frantic six-hour search with local fishermen. “I think my husband must have slipped off the cliffs, fallen into the sea and been carried away,” she said. Some of the islanders thought that his wife might have done away with him. Yet at the same time there were rumours of a boat that had been seen near the island at the time of his disappearance. If anyone had the money to start a new life in a new country it was Arthur, and Arthur knew Paris with its gay nightlife well as he had studied there as a student in 1923. I suspect however, that if he had started a new life in Paris, he would have eventually been recognised by one of the many American emigrées who also lived there.

Boats on Inishbofin
Boats on Inishbofin

Anchorage on Inishboffin is too exposed to leave boats afloat and so they are pulled up onto the foreshore.

Inishbofin Panorama (Donegal)
Inishbofin Panorama (Donegal), Emma Cownie

Inishbofin has witnessed a number of maritime tragedies. In 1929 an island fishing boat was cut in half by a steamer in thick fog off Bloody Foreland, and all but one man drowned. Another boat was swamped in 1931 in the “keelie”, the sound between Inishboffin and InishDooey. During the Second World War, in December 1940, a Dutch ship by the name of Stolwiik broke down after leaving a covoy in a westerly gale. The Arranmore lifeboat made truly heroic rescue of the crew. Read more about it here.

The old phone box - once the island's only phone
The old phone box – once the island’s only phone

The island has a stunning coastline and a view that include Mount Errigal, the Seven Sisters and seascapes stretching from Cnoc Fola to Tory Island.

An oil painting of Inishbofin island, Donegal, Ireland.
A Passing Cloud on Inishbofin, Ireland, Emma Cownie
View from Inishbofin
View from Inishbofin

I will end with some a film and some paintings of Inishbofin by the very talented artist Cathal McGinley. His paintings were on exhibition in the parish hall on the island – my photos aren’t great but I hope you get a sense of the intense colours and energy of the paintings. Cathal chatted to us outside his beautiful cottage for over an hour and kindly gave us a cup of tea and a bag of carrigeen.

It was quite a shock getting off the ferry at  the busy pier at Magheroarty after the incredible peace of the island. We will be back.

Cahill McGinley's Cottage (with origami scuplture)
Cathal McGinley’s Cottage (with origami scuplture)
Cahill McGinley
Cathal McGinley
Cahill McGinley
Cathal McGinley
Cahill McGinley
Cathal McGinley
Cahill McGinley exhbition on Inishbofin
Cathal McGinley exhbition on Inishbofin

Getting there – The Ferry 

The journey only takes 10 minures (weather permitting)

To book the ferry from Magheroarty Pier to Inishboffin Island:
– Telephone Harry on 087 4345892
– Text – Whatsapp – Viber message to 087 4345892
– Email on: boffinferrydonegal@gmail.com
– Social media (facebook / Instagram) www.boffinferrydonegal.com

Find out more about Inishbofin 

Inishbofin & Inishdooey (Co. Donegal)

About the Corncrake

https://www.corncrakelife.ie/inishbofin-and-inishdooey

More about the mysterious “death” of Arthur Kingsley Porter

https://www.rte.ie/radio/radio1/highlights/1237410-the-disappeanance-of-american-millionaire-arthur-kingsley-porter/

Mystery of Glenveagh’s lost millionaire comes to the fore

About the boats and maritime incidents

see the excellent book Donegal Islands, by Ros Harvey and Greg Wallace (2003)

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The Stillness of Summer

Paintings of Donegal by Emma Cownie

Before I moved to Donegal, if you had asked me to name a constant feature of Donegal weather, I would have said the wind.  Don’t get me wrong – the air here is refreshing. It’s like drinking water when you are thirsty.  My husband says its the negative ions. There is usually a breeze, sometimes its a gentle one but in autumn and winter it can become a punishing gale that howls around the house, making it hard to sleep at night.

We have a grey breezy day here today, with rain forecast for later. Hopefully the breeze will help blow away the midges that are hanging around our garden.  Midges, if you havent come across them  before, are tiny flying insects that, at best annoy you and at worst bite you. The Irish version may or may not be related to the infamous Highland version, I am not sure. Yesterday afternoon we watched them swarming in a cloud outside our kitchen door! They like grey damp days, not like the days in my three paintings!

These paintings attempt to capture this summer’s stillness when there was very little breeze and it was uncharacteristically hot. Clouds are usually a feature of the skies here but there were several days when there were none.  It’s climate change manifesting itself in these spates of hot summer days and (soon to come) fierce autumn and winter storms.

Painting of houses Meenacladdy Donegal Ireland
Meemacladdy, Donegal, Ireland
Landscape painting of houses at Lines, Marameelan
Electricity Lines, Marameelan (Donegal)
Painting of Irish house in Donegal
Not a Cloud in the Sky (Bloody Foreland)
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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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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