(2007) We were actually in Ireland to promote a book about an Irish-American bandleader, so Art wasn’t our primary mission this time. But we managed to see a bit while we were there. Just a couple of days until we were expected in Athlone, near the center of Ireland, and then a few days before having to be in the South. So we began with a short tour through Counties Mayo and Sligo in the northwest.

First stop was CONG, home of the film, The Quiet Man. No Art here, but a nice little village, not nearly as touristy as we expected. The original country cottage fell apart years ago, so a replica was built - in the town. Cong is in the south of County Mayo, so we drove west and tried to see Croag Patrick, but the mountain was almost completely enshrouded in clouds. As was the sculpture enveloped in fog at its foot along Clew Bay.

This is the National Famine Memorial, magnificently sculpted by John Behan. It is called Coffin Ship and is the country's largest bronze sculpture. It hauntingly recalls the horror of the Great Hunger that decimated Ireland in the 1840s. Metal skeletons are intertwined to form the ship, which overlooks the bay from which thousands sailed for America, Australia and Canada. The monument was unveiled in 1997 to mark the 150th anniversary of the famine.

The Mullet Peninsula looked intriguing on the map, so we decided to make BELMULLET our destination for the night. Coming from the south as we approached Belmullet we spotted a sign off to the side of the road that described the North Mayo Sculpture Trail. We made a couple of notes and immediately were off in search of what appeared to be the nearest sculpture on Claggan Island. There were no signs for Claggan Island, or Point, but we did end up at Trawmore Point where I asked a woman if she knew where the sculpture was. She tried to explain that we needed to go to another point, but that doing the points was grand. And if we followed her to her parents’ house so she could pick up a few things, she will lead us to where we want to go. We met her father and her mother and learned that it was the baby’s birthday, but he was sick the night before and had to go to hospital. The helping woman was a nurse and they were soon to move from their home near Claggan. We followed along the beach, as instructed, to a thin track that connects Claggan to the mainland (it’s really a peninsula), but eventually, our way was blocked by sand drifts (after I had already plowed through several smaller dunes). We began to walk out to the island, when we hailed some kids who said it was a couple of miles to the sculpture, although we later learned that it wasn’t that far. Back to the car, I carefully turned around and drove on the sand back to Belmullet. It’s best to make this journey at low tide when there is more hardpacked sand to drive on. I have included this narrative because it took place while searching for Art.

After a dinner of pan-fried plaice and a pile of carrots and fries, with a Guiness at An Chéibh (ahn cahve), there was still light enough to venture down the Mullett to look for a couple of sculptures. At the very tip, we found Deirbhle’s Twist amid the wildly strewn rocks near Blacksod Point and then Idir Dhá Sháile at Feorinyeeo Bay.

 Deirbhle’s Twist

Named by artist Michael Bulfin of Dublin, in honour of the sixth century St. Deirbhle, according to tradition she rests at nearby Fál Mór. Water from her well is said to have curative properties for eye complaints. Custom also has it that if you can pass three times through the small east window of her Chapel, heaven is your reward; another says that passing seven times means you will not die by drowning.

Story goes that a beautiful daughter was promised to a man but she refused marriage. The suitor pressed the issue and followed her about. Deirbhle fled to Fál Mór on Mullet, where she tended to the sick and poor. Eventually the man found her and continued his pursuit. In desperation she asked him what it was about her that made him so inconsolable. When he replied that it was her eyes, she plucked out her own eyeballs and threw them to the ground. The suitor left heartbroken, but where the eyeballs landed, a spring arose from the ground and she used that water to cleanse her eye sockets. The water miraculously restored her sight, and thereafter, people made pilgrimages to the spring/well to be cured.

We discovered a tourist information open late, so we bought a sculpture trail guide which made finding the next sculpture much easier. Idir Dhá Sháile – Between the Tides - addresses the life cycle of the whale. Katherine West, of Edinburgh, installed this negative-space work next to Mullachroe Beach on Feorinyeeo Bay.

 Idir Dhá Sháile

Tír Sáile is the name of the North Mayo Sculpture Trail. In 1993, the celebration Mayo 5000 dedicated fifteen contemporary sculptures created by artists from Denmark, Japan, Great Britain, the USA and Ireland. From Ballina through Ballycastle to Fallmore, each is situated on a unique and often breath-taking location along the rugged coastline, covering miles of unspoiled beauty along the coast of Northwest Mayo.

The next day we went to the Mullet’s west/Atlantic coast in search of sculpture. I say search, because signs for Tír Sáile are scarce and the three we looked for in the morning were not in the book. Our hostess told us about them. An American, evidently, had decided to get involved.

Artist/architect Travis Price, who espouses the philosophy of “Spirit of Place,” brought students to Belmullet to explore what this means by creating these installations.

Our first stop was on Annagh Point where Price’s piece enjoyed a spectacular setting amid the landscape littered with rock. The ocean is on three sides. Rock, rebar, and steel.

The next piece was nearby at the end of a 334 stepping stone walkway. Also rock and steel.

The last of the three was on Deerance Point. A spectacular piece that included a rebar topped enclosure of a blowhole through the rock to the ocean below. The slanted rock entry was also very nice.

Back in Belmullet we found that the latest project was without Travis Price, but learned that the workers were students from Washington, DC’s Catholic University as they applied slabs of polished granite to the base. Nearby was the Reconnections pedestrian bridge, part of Tír Sáile, built on the site of a previous span by artist George Trakas from Quebec/USA.

On the way out of town I stopped at An Chéibh to leave a tip for Inga, our waitress. I admired some of the artwork in the bar, so the tender quickly told me about the gallery down the street. But when we got there (this was the first Monday she was open for the season) she had less art and more glass and gifty stuff. The young woman on duty was very nice, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic about Art. She told us about the Tory Island Artists and how to get there, though it was too far north for us, unfortunately. Tory Island is a finger of rock, 9 miles off the coast of Donegal. The school was founded by James Dixon and Derek Hill, who attracted the interest of a few locals who began painting in a unique, yet primative style.

James Dixon was born in 1887 and while he worked as an islander worked, he was also a self-taught artist. He fished, harvested crops with a sickle, made jewelry, and when a storm raged over the island, he would go to his workshop and paint dramatic scenes. It was in 1956 or 58 when he met Derek Hill, a well-known English painter who spent the summer on the island. The story goes that when Dixon came upon Hill painting a scene, he said, “I can do that.” And when offered paints and brushes by Hill, Dixon replied that he preferred to use the one he made from his donkey’s tail. A friendship developed, and through this, Dixon’s work became known on the mainland of Ireland and England. His art was shown in numerous exhibitions, his first solo show being at The New Gallery in Belfast in 1966, followed by one at Portal Gallery in London.

There were others on the island who worked in an unsophisticated style and in 1968 there was a group show in Belfast which was well received and they have not looked back. A Tory Island artist painting hangs in the National Arts Association office entry.

Heading east now, we found the next sculpture in the Tír Sáile, Stratified Sheep by Niall O’Neill of Dublin, in Ballinaboy, but had less luck on the next one, Caochan, near Dun Caochain. It was an open, rather desolate looking part of Ireland. Continuing east we came upon the famous Ceide Fields – site of a Neolithic farm; claiming to be the largest Neolithic site with only a small portion exposed. Stone here was supposed to have been used for a fence and was supposedly dated at 5,000 years old. We may have seen the sculpture Wind Trees, by Nigerian Eilish Ó Baoil, which was supposed to be immediately to the east of Ceide Fields, but we were not sure.

So we continued on to BALLYCASTLE, home of the Ballinglen Arts Foundation which invited artists to live and work in Ballycastle in Foundation-owned or rented cottages together with studio and gallery space. All art produced is property of the Foundation and was being collected for a future museum of contemporary Irish art. Ballycastle was very small and we had lunch just a few doors down from the gallery. Inside, the walls were covered with pictures signed to the proprietress, Mary.

We skipped the sculpture at Ballycastle Holiday Cottages and headed back to the coast at Downpatrick Head. Fritze Rind of Denmark’s sculpture Battling Forces was there on the coast. And further up the cliff we found cows, a statue of St. Patrick, and an old concrete lookout bunker with a great view. To the north you can see Dun Briste, a column of stone rising from the ocean.

We kept going around Downpatrick Head to Rathlocken and Kilcummin Harbor – site of the French Landing of 1788. Not enough for a village, just a few lobster traps, and Simon Thomas’ Tonta na mBlianta. The native of Portsmouth, England used a seaside retaining wall for a canvas.

A helpful local who led us to Tearmann Na Gaoithe (Meditation Hut) by stonecutter Alan Counihan, and explained that Echo of Nawasape could be accessed by walking through the field or driving around. To make a long story short, we walked and walked around and through cow patties. I finished in bare feet, without finding the sculpture. Upon retrieving the car, we found the artwork by Mariyo Tagi from Japan, was on the other side of the road.

It was getting late so we had to skip the last two sculptures and raced north to SLIGO.

We stayed at a B&B north of town that catered to horse riders, so the breakfast conversation was interesting, even though it was rainy and cold. We stopped first at Creevykeel a large Neolithic stone tomb, before visiting the grave of William Butler Yeats at the church where his great-grandfather was known as the “Red Headed Rector.”

The Yeats Society displays interesting photographs in the Yeats Memorial Building downtown. Learned about his brother Jack Butler Yeats who was an artist and the father, John Butler Yeats, was also an artist.

The Flower Girl, 1883 by John B. Yeats

 Morning After the Rain by Jack B. Yeats

Just up the street we found the shop of Michael Quirke.

“They’re Heroes – they have no brains.”

“Heroes are groin-stuck because it’s embarrassing and it takes a long time to die, giving the victim plenty of time for final words.”

“You Can Never Make Enough Maeves.”

According to Michael Quirke.

His father was butcher and he tried his hand at it, but decided to be a wood carver instead. He opened a shop across street and when father died (1960) moved into the old butchery. He left in place the stainless steel window meat racks, great butcher’s blocks, long workbenches, and the white tile walls. He even used the old meat cutting band saw for slicing wood.

“Men are basic: My sword’s bigger than your sword. Women are more complex.”

Michael Quirke kept a regular patter going while he worked. He spoke of Odin, Moses, and Genghis Khan. Or names from the Egyptian, Hebrew, Celtic, Christian, and more. Telling story after story. He said that a psychiatrist/friend would come into the shop occasionally and sit there listening to Michael talk to the customers. He said it was his therapy.

Michael’s carvings were very special on many levels, but primarily, they were good to look at. We got one of Brigid. Gobstuck. Another of Michael’s words.

We saw a few references to something called the Hazelwood Sculpture Trail which was supposed to be near Sligo, on the north shore of Lough Gill. (Lough Gill is the home of the Yeats' famous Lake Isle of Innisfree.) Tourism didn’t have any information. So with some vague directions, we drove almost to Dromhair (in Leitrim) before turning around and trying every road until, in what looked like a residential neighborhood, we spotted a sign for Hazelwood – not the trail, however. We drove into the very dark wooded peninsula. The shore was lined with rowboats and we came upon some men cutting trees blocking the road. They explained that there was almost nothing left of the sculpture trail as there had been vandalism. Besides we could go no further due to the tree cutting. What we do in search of Art!

Sligo was also home to Model Arts and the Niland Collection of Twentieth Century Irish Art, on the other side of the Garavogue River. Housed in a 140-year-old schoolhouse, this outstanding collection included work by Jack B. Yeats, Paul Henry, and Evie Hone among many others. Founded by librarian Nora Niland in 1960 by borrowing three Yeats paintings for display, this has become one of the leading centers for contemporary art in the country.

Killarney Harbor by Paul Henry

It was time to head for ATHLONE for my engagement. We stayed at the Inny Bay B&B, out near the eastern edge of Lough Ree. When we got a chance, we went north past Tang to the studios of Michael and Patrick Casey in Newtowncashel near Longford. Father and son carve in bog oak and bog yew, and their work can be found all over Ireland. They have done altar furnishings for churches and sculptures for fountains and other outdoor installations.

There was entertainment scheduled at a pub called "Murray's" that was very near our lodging. The building sat all by itself on the side of a little used road in the middle of almost nowhere. So we went over around 9:00 pm and got to know the regulars.

I am sorry, but there is no way I could even come close to doing these people justice, and their names were soon forgotten. The entertainment was Tony, who looked a little like Gene Kelly, and he had a cold. But all by himself, he carried in his gear and set up PA, keyboard, guitars, mics, then played and played.

The popular one was Marie as the only house rule was that you must dance if asked. And she, like all the women, young and old, were asked constantly, and the little room, lined with chairs, was filled with twirling girls, and the old guys just standing there.  Tony took only one eye-blink-long break all night. Lizzie, the proprietress, poured the Guinness – several at a time (because “you can’t hurry the Guinness.”) The change went into small plastic cups and bills in a basket on the ancient shelf. She kept a small ice bucket behind the bar and doles out the cubes one at a time because when it was empty she had to go out through the lounge to a back room for more ice. Along the way she rearranged chairs and collected empty glasses. Slow but steady, with a ready grin for the regular customers. The place was usually called "Lizzie's" because this stooped, hunchbacked lady had been proprietress of the place most of her life and it was run by her mother before her, as an old photo on the wall attested. And most of these folks have been coming there for almost as long.

There were some charmers. One man I called The Leprechaun, gave an exhibition of Irish dancing while Tony played (aided by a large glass of amber liquid) and made wisecracks. Alone on the dance floor, The Leprechaun struck a pose, a stance, and then slowly revolved while occasionally, with great flair, placed his hands on his hips for a measure or two. Tony kept promising some lightning moves and tried playing the music faster, but they never happened and then it was over. The Leprechaun’s brother, a gentleman who served in the US Army, asked Marie to dance with the can’t-miss line, “It’s now or never.” When she commented to him on how crowded the dance floor had become, he replied: “You wouldn’t want to have eggs in your pockets.”

One young blond girl was “light on her feet,” it was observed, and there was a cute old couple that got up occasionally and danced. The old gent even sang a song. There were a few other outsiders, but they were all Irish. A girl in a pale yellow dress with a blond streak in her bangs and a big smile, spun and spun all night. Her girlfriend often danced with one old guy who wore a wide tie and an oversized keychain. When not spinning, she’d just put her hand on his hump. There was even a boy with Down Syndrome out there dancing. We celebrated his 16th birthday at midnight with a rousing chorus.

The next day we went to DUBLIN and our first stop was the Irish Museum of Modern Art, west of St. James Gate. The building was originally the old Royal Hospital Kilmainham, the finest 17th-century building in Ireland. The Royal Hospital was founded in 1684 by James Butler, Duke of Ormonde and Viceroy to Charles II, as a home for retired soldiers and continued in that use for almost 250 years. IMMA became resident in May 1991 and since its opening the Museum has rapidly established itself as a significant and dynamic presence in the Irish and international arts arena. The permanent collection comprised of over 1,650 works. Temporary shows we saw included exhibitions by Anne Madden and Lucian Freud.

Beneath the Bow, 1991, Michael Warren

Girl with White Dog by Lucien Freud

Next up was the Hugh Lane Gallery on Parnell Street. Admission was free, and the collection featured some interesting European and Irish Impressionists, like Bonnard and Roderic O’Conor. Paintings and sculpture by Degas and John Lavery (Belfast-born artist), Manet (Concert at the Tuilleries), Monet (Waterloo Bridge), Renoir, Berthe Morisot, and Vuillard. They were also proud of their Francis Bacon studio and have a room for Irish-American abstract artist, Sean Scully. Founded in 1908, it was once known as the “Municipal Gallery of Modern Art” it has been renamed “Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane.”

Sean Scully

Studio of Francis Bacon

We walked down O’Connell Street, through hordes of tourists, across the Liffy, through Trinity College (home of the Book of Kells which we have previously seen) and out to the National Gallery of Ireland in Merrion Square, also free. In addition to representative works by Irish painters including Jack Butler Yeats and John Butler Yeats, the collection included works by Americans J. S. Sargent, Gilbert Stuart, Benjamin West, and Whistler; plus Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Rubens, Corot, Degas, Delacroix, Millet, Monet, Sisley, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Fra Angelico, Bellini, Michelangelo, Tintoretto, Titian, El Greco, and more.

The featured exhibition was entitled Treasures from the North and had lots of Irish paintings from the Ulster Museum, including Roderic O’Conor who painted Fields of Corn, Pont-Aven in 1892 (above).

The next day (7/7/07) we went to the Bellewstowne Races outside Dublin (picked no winners), then headed south, as we were expected in Killarney. On the way we passed through CLONMEL, which appeared to be in the midst of a festival of some kind.

One day, after we got settled into our almost mountaintop cottage on Mangerton, we were able to get away and stopped in CORK to see what we could find. What we found was a city in construction as it seemed that every roadway was torn up. We did find the Crawford Art Gallery, however. Their collections range from 17th century to contemporary, as the collection was formed in 1819 and now contains more than 2,500 pieces. In 1924 the museum acquired twenty-four drawings by Harry Clarke, a leading craftsman of the Arts & Crafts Movement in Ireland and book illustrator. This included the preparatory sketches (below) for a window illustrating John Keats' poem, The Eve of St. Agnes, now in the Hugh Lane Gallery.

On the way back to KILLARNEY, we noticed a few sculptures along the N22. They were mostly stone, but varied and were found on both sides of the road from the Kerry line to town. The most distinctive piece was of a horse rearing up with a helmet on his head that made him look like a unicorn. We were able to get the name of the artist from the tourist information. The Sculpture Road to Killarney, is a work by Tighe O’Donoghue Ross and his son. While it was fun looking for the Art often hidden by tall weeds, there was no place to park therefore no good opportunity to stop and see or photograph the work.

Capal Mor - The Unicorn

So ends this part of our journey, as we continued onto Paris. I will leave you with miscellaneous Art we found along the way.

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