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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.