Featured Image The Stained Sheep (1) Sketch with Pen, Watercolour and Tippex. S O’Dwyer 2019
I have slipped into a different time zone in my script. As now I am talking about my second visit….. and to all outward appearances absolutely nothing has changed since 38 years ago.
In November of 2019 I was invited to stay in that house (see part one) by my friend Rory O’Connor with the permission of his family. I met his father who lives in nearby Dooagh with his daughter Étaín’s family. I was stunned by their generous hospitality and help there, especially when I heard a knocking in my engine which turned out to be a broken pinion bolt of some kind which might have been brought on when I drove up the back road into the old quartz quarry.
Étaín travelled all the way to Castlebar to get the part I needed to have it fixed. For this I am forever grateful.
Both of these names…. Rory O’Connor and Étaín echo Irish history and mythology. The last high king before the Norman Invasion, Rory O’Connor (1116-1198) and the famous twice born Étaín, daughter of King Ailill of the Ulaid , wife of the “sídhe” (fairy) *King Midir from the grand tale with the grand romantic name “The Wooing of Étaín ”.
I got to know the O’Connor and Molloy family a little as we warmed ourselves in the November evenings at the homely and atmospheric Gielty’s bar and restaurant https://www.gieltys.com . Sean Molloy, Étaín’s husband also does a great deal of work for the locale. While I was there he was away editing a fascinating project called “Stories from the Wild Atlantic Way” https://www.facebook.com/StoriesFromIrelandsWildAtlanticWay
The quarry is full of perfect white rocks which I collected and there is a stunning view there of the mountains, hills and the old “famine village” now deserted.
Despite the lateness in the season, the pure winter air, the low bright sunshine brings out the most dramatic colours and shades in the distances and the places in between on Achill Island. It is very much another place with another frame of mind that accompanies it.
It is immaterial and ephemeral. Time simply goes different here, ask anyone they will say the same. You are at the edge of the world on the threshold of that “other”. In order to benefit you must shed the stresses of your life like an old coat. Then the symbols and meanings behind everything becomes apparent.
I gaze at Orion in the sky again. The Constellation of Orion can be found as the first or last card of the major Arcana in the Tarot deck. He is the joker, he does not have a number unless you regard zero as a number. He is the fool, the vagabond and potentially the hero. He travels through the deck, followed by Canus Major lapping at his heels. He embarks upon, or ends his journey. With my car breaking down I feel like him. I tripped when I arrived here. I am Orion, you are Orion. I am Spartacus you are Spartacus. I am Cuchullain , you are Cuchullain, I am Étaín you are Étaín (the mythological Étaín). Orion is the archetype of all fools, heroes and heroines. Their story is actually an allegorical template for our own lives as we travel our spiritual journey and pass through the different thresholds.
I gaze at night to where the light never ceases to shine, I try to catch a glimpse of Hy-Brasil, the island reported as been visited as far back as 1375. Roderick O’Flaherty in ‘A Chorographical Description of West or H-Iar Connaught‘ (1684) tells us…
“There is now living, Morogh O’Ley (Murrough Ó Laoí), who imagines he was personally on O’Brasil for two days, and saw out of it the iles of Aran (The Aran Islands) , Golamhead [by Lettermullen], Irrosbeghill, and other places of the west continent he was acquainted with.”
Irish Myths inform us that it is it is covered in mist except for one day every seven years when it can be seen. There are old maps which show Hy-Brasil and reports from people who have visited it including a report from an expedition that “left Bristol in 1480 and 1481 to search for the island; and a letter written by Pedro de Ayala, shortly after the return of John Cabot (from his expedition in 1497), reports that land found by Cabot had been “discovered in the past by the men from Bristol who found Brasil” (Not to be confused with the country of Brazil). Interestingly Graham Hancock makes a mention of Hy Brasil in his book “Underworld: The Mysterious Origins of Civilisation “
The unusual circular shape of the island was confirmed by both Saints Barrind and Brendan, who separately walked the shore to determine where the island ended, but apparently never found it.So it can’t have been too small a place. We already know of swells that can make the beach in Dooagh disappear so maybe the sea has covered over this enigmatic place. The last documented sighting of Hy-Brasil was recorded 1872 when the writer T. J. Westropp and several of his companions saw the island appear and then disappear. He saw Hy-Brasil three times , and he brought his mother and some friends to witness and record the Island’s presence also.
The famous nobel winning German writer Heinrich Böll took up residence in a cottage by the beach at Dooagh in the 60’s to write about his experiences of the island and to form something of an environmental philosophy. I have not read his works but a brief look at his bio reveals a writer of substance closely affiliated with ireland and the residency named after him in Achill is still going on to this day in that old cottage.
The American painter Robert Henri took up his brushes and painted beautiful portraits of the islanders of Achill (see Mary Agnes, one of the children of Dooagh (1924)). He was part of the American Realist Ashcan School movement and a leader of “The Eight” which rebelled against the painting establishment of the day.
His stunning portraits capture a time when families dug holes in the ground called booleys which they bordered with five or six rows of rocks. Upon this they built a sod roof. Then they then stepped down into this hole in the ground and cooked, ate and slept there. These were designed to avoid the hard biting winds which sweep the island. They then would take their few belongings to these booleys from their cottage homes to another part of the island following their livestock seasonly to tend them and help them survive the harsh conditions of the time. In a certain way this was a much simpler life than we have come to create for ourselves now.
The well known Irish Artist Paul Henry’s (1877-1958) colourist works record his time there 1909 to 1919. Paul Henrys work were very helpful in promoting the tourism of the west of Ireland in later years. He’s an example of how an artist can give back a great deal of what they see to the local area which economically was one of the poorest areas of Ireland at the time. Through the painters eyes can see many things that the photographer misses. The particular tone of the distant mountain in aerial perspective , the many colours hidden inside a cloud, or the poise of a sheep that does not believe they have any less value than a human as they block your way along a road unafraid of cars. An artist can also recapture something of the past and imagine what was in a place imbuing the image with a presence the nowness of photography can fail to grasp until it too becomes part of history along with its subject.
I do not romanticise it but there are times I do envy its simplicity. I am a romantic though and making art serves my romantic goals. It opens the doorway to larger vistas. To inner and outer visions. A good friend once told me that if you are truly an artist you should be able to make art anywhere. Out here on the perimeter of Ireland I carry everywhere with me, my small pack filled with sketchbooks, watercolours and cameras.
Camille Souter in an expressionist style caught the time as well as the place in her work. In her nineties now, her work is evocative of an emotion, a memory, a fleeting thought or an intuition of the presence of meaning behind an object. She exhibits very rarely but I have heard of her name ever since I was in Art College in the 1980’s. Her work was regarded as important even back then. She did however have an exhibition in 2019 in Westport .
Her small colourful pieces in particular have a very tactile feel to the paint and a speedy brush style that leaves an accidental trace that is brought into action in an urgent way. She has lived on Achill and works in her studio called “The Folly” there. She has been painting since the 1950’s after an illness apparently changed her life after she worked for a brief time as a Nurse.
The channels are freed up . There is so much around to capture. I will bring back many images to the studio to develop ideas from them. I only show a very few of them here. If only our hurried lives gave us more time to enjoy what the practice of creativity has to offer. After stealing an extra day because of the repair of my car I have to hope the wonderful specialness of Keem and the people there remain with me and sustain me until I find the next gem along the crystal path.
Some links for further information ….