June Bog Cotton

Cover photo ‘Cotton and Turf in Connemara’ by Deborah Watkins

 

The landscape seems to transform itself every couple of weeks in Connemara. Perhaps the most striking feature at the moment is the bog cotton that has sprung up amidst the peat and laid out stacks of turf. This plant seems especially strong this year, perhaps due to the mild weather and also the ash enriched soil following the gorse fires last April. After the fires, these same fields were reduced to a black shadow of charred roots and dirt. I find it remarkable that the same earth can not only renew itself in the space of a year but reinvigorate into an oasis of life and colour.

Bog cotton is a species of sedge which begins to flower in April or May. Fertilisation follows in early summer when it’s small brown and green flowers develop hairy white seed heads that resemble cotton. It can be difficult for the observer to discern from the roadside and the effect is rather like a field of large daisies but on closer inspection, the fluffy cotton heads are unmistakable. Unlike Gossypium cotton from which fabric is derived, this species is unsuited to textile manufacturing. However the plant does have a history of various uses as a cotton substitute – in the production of paper and candlewicks in Germany and as wound dressings in Scotland during World War I.

 

Bog Cotton close up by Deborah Watkins

Many headed bog cotton by Deborah Watkins

 

 

 

Bog cotton comes in two forms in Ireland – single headed and many headed bog cotton. The two plants are similar in appearance but flourish differently. The many headed bog cotton grows in pools of water – air canals in it’s roots allow air to pass from the surface to the roots in a kind of ‘snorkling’ process. The leaves of this plant are wide with red tips. The single headed bog cotton does not have these air canals. It grows on the drier surface of the bog and it’s leaves are long and needle like to conserve water.

 

Single headed Bog Cotton

Single headed Bog Cotton by Deborah Watkins

 

 

 

Bog Cotton by Deborah Watkins

Cotton fields of Connemara by Deborah Watkins 

 

 

Like many of our indigenous plants in Connemara, the bog cotton is special to this place and this particular time of year. It is also a reminder of the regenerating nature of the earth in even the harshest of conditions.

 

Gorse – The Colour of Summer

I wrote this piece for the May issue of the Connemara Journal, which will be available shortly.

April brought unexpected heat as well as more predictable showers this year –  a boon of warmth and rain that has resulted in a rush of growth all over Connemara. My own back garden seemed to come alive with colour overnight – new leaves and blossoms swelled in perfect haste, you could almost hear the growth. The gorse transformed itself invisibly from a few scattered flowers into a sea of deep egg yellow that steals a little further every day. Also known as furze, the scent of this impressive plant is subtle but heady, something like the delicate sweetness of coconut. Along with our native fuchsia, it is the shrub that most people associate with this part of the world and it’s hardiness and vivid beauty describe this place like no other. It is also one of our longest flowering plants, coming into it’s own in April (although blooms can be seen much earlier) and lasting right though the summer and into early winter.

 

Roadside 1

Late summer gorse and heathers at the roadside in Errislannin by Deborah Watkins

 

 

 

It is hard not to miss the gorse in Connemara at the moment, in thick banks along the roadsides and in great mounds and ridges that brighten the landscape. It is closely related to the brooms species of plant and they share similar characteristics with their dense slender stems and very small leaves. Gorse distinguishes itself with it’s sharp thorns ( which can measure up to four centimetres long ) and it’s bright showy flowers are always yellow.

 

Another photo of gorse

Gorse thorns and blossoms by Deborah Watkins

 

 

 

Gorse has a long history as a fuel because it is easy to burn and it burns very well, reputedly giving off as much heat as charcoal. The ashes it produces are rich in alkali which are very enriching for the soil so it is often burnt down to improve the quality of the land, a practice which is hazardous in dry weather.

Historically, the bark and flowers have been used to produce a yellow dye and gorse flowers have also been used to add flavour and colour to whiskey. In homeopathy the gorse is used as a remedy to give people courage. It’s evergreen leaves and long flowering blossoms are a reminder of the returning sun after short winter days, it’s cheery colour a promise of summer.

Celebrate the Season at Brigit’s Garden

(I’ve written about this place before, one of my favourite places to visit in the West. I’ve recycled it a bit and it will appear again in the next issue of the Connemara Journal.)

 

Longer, warmer days are here at last. If you are looking for somewhere different to enjoy the Spring air, look no further than Brigit’s Garden in Rosscahill, just outside Galway. If you haven’t been, it’s a must at any time of the year but especially in Spring and early Summer when the wild flowers come into their own. The garden is a not-for-profit organisation and registered charity set up by Jenny Beale out of her passion for nature and the environment.  Designed by Mary Reynolds ( the first Irish person to win a gold medal at the prestigious Chelsea flower show ) it is a ‘natural’ garden in every sense of the word. There are few straight lines – paths curve and wind, circles pop up everywhere  – sunken, interlocking, a tiny moon like island and a great sundial. Wild flowers and grasses, herbs and plants are celebrated in bursts of colour that greet you at every turn.

The design is based on the four Irish seasons – four gardens that interconnect and take you on a voyage through the Irish festivals of Samhain, Imbolc, Bealtaine and Lughnasa. The journey mirrors the cycle of life from conception and birth through to old age and death.

Samhain ( Halloween ) begins on the 31st October and marks the beginning of the cycle. It is celebrated in the Winter garden which pays homage to a time for death, with a promise of re-birth. It is a period of sleep and reflection, evoked by a mound of earth that has been shaped into the sleeping body of a woman, wrapped around a pool. Another figure made of bronze rests on the ground in an island within the pool. She is listening to the earth, waiting for it to stir again and bring forth new life.

 

Winter garden sculpture in Brigits garden

The bronze woman in the Winter Garden

 

 

 

Imbolc is the Spring garden. This is the old Irish name for the festival now known as St. Brigit’s day. In the garden’s cycle of life it is a place for the young, where children can play and enjoy the basketwork swings and a wildflower meadow.

May day heralds the festival of Bealtaine which is celebrated in the Summer garden. This is a time of young adulthood, sexual awakenings and marriage. The garden tells the story of Diarmuid and Grainne, the fleeing lovers in Irish mythology. Their bed is a grassy hollow facing the sun. A path of standing stones leads to a throne where the lovers unite and sit together.

 

Photograph of the Summer Garden in Brigit's Garden

The Summer Garden

 

 

The Autumn garden marks the festival of Lughnasa which begins in August. It is a time of harvest and celebration. Spiral beds contain herbs for cooking as well as healing. Two circular lawns interlink to create a large space for dancing and a long table provides a picnic area. Three yew trees mark the exit of the Lughnasa garden which signifies the end of the cycle and the possibility of renewal which lies ahead.

There is much more to see – a woodland walk, a living willow play area for children and a wishing tree. You can round off your visit in the cafe which offers a tempting variety of home baked cakes. A treasure of a place, almost on our doorstep and well worth a visit.

Marie Coyne – Photographer, Genealogist, Poet

Cover image of wild seas at Inishbofin by Marie Coyne

 

Marie Coyne is a native of Inishbofin off the coast of Cleggan in Connemara. She is an accomplished photographer, a genealogist and a proud custodian of her island heritage. She is also a poet.

Marie has spent all her life on the island and has a long interest in documenting and preserving the old ways of island life. Twenty years ago, Marie set up the Inishbofin Genealogical Project, researching the families of Bofin and the surrounding islands. She began by going from house to house, compiling thousands of names and details on large sheets of paper before bringing it all together on a computer program. It is a living resource which is still being added to and which has circled the globe.

As part of her interest in local history, Marie set up the Inishbofin Heritage Museum in 1998. This is an eclectic mix of everyday items from an old island cottage, some farm and fishing implements and an impressive collection of photographs representing all aspects of island life.

If you have not already discovered Marie through her research, you may well have come across her photographs. A fine photographer, Marie suceeds in capturing the fierce beauty of this place through images that are both artistically eloquent and impressive as records of journalistic importance. She has been exceptionally busy in recent weeks documenting the storm damage on the island that has effected so many. Her photographs have helped to bring the plight of the islanders to the attention of people on the mainland and to local and national politicians and journalists.

The island was hit  dramatically on February 1st, St. Brigid’s day. An unusual combination of severe Atlantic storms and high tides tore away at the East end pier and an old fish curing station which dates from 1897. These before and after photographs taken by Marie show the extent of the destruction.

 

Damage to East End by Marie Coyne

 

 

 

This powerful storm also effected the north of the island where a narrow stony beach separates Inishbofin Lake from the Atlantic. Lough Bofin is a rare example of  a sedimentary lagoon. The salinity of the lagoon varies as sea water enters by percolation – fresh water enters in large volumes during periods of heavy rainfall. It’s completely natural condition makes it one of the rarest of it’s kind in Europe. The powerful waves caused a serious rupture in the beach opening it up to the ever encroaching Atlantic.

 

Map of Inishbofin

Map of Inishbofin

 

 

 

Marie’s photographs show the beach before the storm and the extent of the damage afterwards.

 

Damage to the north Beach by Marie Coyne

 

The North Beach after the storm

 

 

 

With many Irish towns in turmoil after the floods, the islanders knew that they could not afford to wait for outside assistance. Every available piece of machinery was tracked over to the site and work began on the reconstruction of the beach. Marie recorded their efforts in a series of photos and film footage that document a remarkable reversal of events. Together, this small community succeeded in preserving access between the Middle and North Quarter of the island and protecting this important natural resource for future generations. Marie paid homage to the workers during this process through a series of stunning black and white portraits which make a wonderful collection and will ensure that this event will be remembered and talked about for many years to come.

 

Mending the north beach by Marie Coyne

 

 

PJ by Marie Coyne

 

 

Andrew by Marie Coyne

 

 

John by Marie Coyne

 

 

 

Lastly, a poem by Marie who is a person of many talents. You can read more of her work and view her extensive collection of photographs by visiting her facebook pages at www.facebook.com/Inishbofin-Genealogy and www.facebook.com/InishbofinHeritageMuseum.

 

Poem by Marie Coyne

 

 

 

Lone Journey

 

 

When the moon got up tonight

she came to my feet

and gently washed her face

in rippling lake water,

 

She dried herself

with passing white clouds

and set sail for ocean night,

 

Out there all alone

she is making empty silver roads

I wish I could walk upon.

 

 

 

Poem and photographs reproduced with kind permission by Marie Coyne

Land of Weather

Cover image ‘Land of Weather’ by Karinna Gomez

 

(This piece features in the December edition of the Connemara Journal.)

 

About  a year ago, I bought two etchings by an artist called Karinna Gomez. Karinna is from Fairbanks, Alaska in the United States. She makes small series of prints – mezzotints, woodcuts and etchings, sometimes hand coloured with water colours. To my shame, these prints were only recently taken out of their packaging and given the frames they deserve.  Now that they have pride of place in my home I can honestly say that I take pleasure from them every single day.

There is something wonderfully mysterious about this icy place, so isolated and exposed, it reminds me a little of Connemara. I love the contrast between the white hills and valley and the dark central group of trees, lit by red and orange speckles. These are ‘persimmons’ – an orange red fruit that grows on the ebony tree and which can tolerate and adapt to a wide range of climates, including harsh northern weather. They beam like tiny beacons in this wonderful scene and seem to me to be symbols of hope and optimism which is perhaps fitting as we reach the end of another year.

 

Persimmons in the snow

 ‘Persimmons in the Snow’ by Karinna Gomez

 

 

 

December is a good time for reflection and I feel grateful to be able to say that I have had a rich and fulfilling year. I thank God too that my family are all in good health. I know that this is not so for everyone and  I think of some of my closest friends especially who have had a difficult twelve months for different reasons. Whatever our circumstances, I think it is part of the human condition to look forward to the coming year with hopefulness and expectation. These are some of the thoughts which I have brought to this poem below as a kind of homage to this beautiful etching.

 

 

 

Land of Weather

after the etching ‘Land of Weather’ by Karinna Gomez

 

 

 

A

star

looks down

on that snowy

mountainscape.

It is so cold there,

wild abandoned place.

Vastness and silence stretch

sharply over snow and ice,

empty hills retreat into fathomless black.

Billow of cloud rushed by a northern breeze,

braced in the heart – a startle of persimmon trees.

 

Survivors huddle together.

Nest of tangled debris,

silver twigs, tiers

of frozen leaves,

scattered boughs.

Berries pulse a blood red tint,

flashes of gold flood

the moonless night –

 

Yearnings

of an earth bound

constellation.

 

 

 

Deborah Watkins

 

 

If you would like to see some more of Karinna’s work, you can visit her shop at www.etsy.com  – type KarinnaGomez in the search box. Her works are for sale at remarkably low prices, so why not treat yourself or a loved one to something special.

 

Winter Jasmine

We’ve been away and hence the inactivity here and elsewhere. My family and I have just returned from a culture ( and fun ) soaked trip to London – more about that another time and much work to do here on the painting front. However I pause today to post a photo of my gorgeous Winter Jasmine plant. This was green and unremarkable before we left and now it is a tumble of delicate scented flowers. This is remarkable for me who has failed many times with this garden. Dead plants have often been flung into the hedge by me in a fit of disappointed pique. This little wonder was bought in Lidl two years ago when I was tempted by attractive packaging and the promise of sweet scent but it looked like a small stick. I was pleased when it didn’t die and seemed to settle into our thin and loamy soil. This year I attempted to train it up the side of the hen coop by tucking little sprigs into the wire and low and behold it took off!

I think our hens are very pleased with their new surroundings – might even make for tastier eggs..

 

My Winter Jasmine plant

Clifden Nature Studies

Cover image Wildflowers by Caroline Conneely 

( Caroline is a first year student in Clifden Community School and she was presented with a prize for this photograph by Clifden Library this September )

 

I recently attended a meeting in Clifden Library about ‘Biodiversity’ in our town which was co-ordinated by Clifden Tidy Towns and local environmentalist Marie Louise Heffernan. Marie Louise and I have been friends for many years so I wanted to offer my support and learn a little more about this thing called Biodiversity. So what is it you may well ask? As it turns out, it is a topic that is more than a little close to my heart because in the simplest of terms Biodiversity means our natural world and how we fit into it. I would have known it as ‘Nature Studies’ when I was in school and I remember it as a subject that was given a lot of importance.

 

Photo 2 of Bog Cotton

Bog Cotton by Deborah Watkins

 

 

 

Sandra Shattock from the Tidy Towns began the meeting by introducing Brendan O’Malley who spoke about Biodiversity from his point of view, as a farmer working in the area. Brendan talked about recognising the importance of the natural world around us, whether it is a field or a seashore or a roadside. He spoke about the variety of wild plants and grasses on our doorstep that might be overlooked as weeds but which thrive when allowed to do so, without human interference. He also spoke about finding a balance between making a living from the land and respecting it, perhaps returning to an older kind of husbandry which is kinder to nature.

 

purple 1

Gowlaun Lake, Clifden by Deborah Watkins

 

 

 

Marie Louise followed with an outline of a proposed schedule of events which will contribute to the production of a Biodiversity Plan for Clifden. The idea is that people will start to engage each other on the subject and question what can be done in our town to best preserve and maintain the natural world. In this way, the process will become an interactive one where all ideas are welcomed and considered. You can get involved by joining some of the many activities over the next few weeks. There’s something for everyone and the events are spread over mornings and evenings with talks on garden bird identification, mammal tracking and even a bat walk! You can find out more information on Marie Louise’s website at www.aster.ie

 

Keelin Kennedy – Painting with Thread

Cover image ‘Mountain Scene’ by Keelin Kennedy

 

I wrote this piece for our local newspaper the Connemara Journal a few weeks ago –

Keelin Kennedy is a visual artist and a native of Connemara. She is also a therapist, having almost finished an intensive three year course in Art Therapy. The strong practical element of this course has meant that Keelin has been able to continue and develop her own work throughout her studies. The quality that makes Keelins art unique in my view is the way in which she combines different materials to convey her subject.

 

Foggy Day by Keelin Kennedy

‘Foggy Day’ by Keelin Kennedy

 

When I studied art ( a long time ago ) there was a perceived divide between the disciplines of fine art ( painting, printmaking and sculpture ) and  craft design ( ceramics, metalwork, glass work and embroidery ). Fine art painting was considered to be a higher cause, attracting artists who ‘had something to say’ as opposed to the craft subjects which were often perceived as the option to take if you didn’t get accepted into painting. Of course this is utter nonsense and it vexes me now just to think about it.

Keelins work seems to effortlessly combine the separate skills of painting and embroidery. She manages to blend paint and thread seamlessly in her delicate and subtle depictions of the Connemara landscape with all it’s contradictions and nuances, it’s fierceness and it’s muted beauty. The landscape is Keelins main concern but she is also interested in abstraction so there is often a playfulness about the way her paintings are composed. She draws her inspiration from her surroundings but she often allows her materials to direct the work – objects and textiles that she has collected become starting points or are incorporated into a painting. Keelin works from a studio in her own home but says that she often ends up working on the kitchen table when her desk becomes too cluttered.

 

'Untitled' by Keelin Kennedy

 

Keelin enjoys reading fairytales and watching films with an element of fantasy and magic, she mentions Wes Anderson’s ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ and Matthew Vaughan’s ‘Stardust’. The beguiling and sometimes hynotic nature of  fairytale is a quality that is very present in her work in my view.

When I ask Keelin what advice she would give to an aspiring artist, she tells me that art is something that she has always wanted to do, in spite of what others have advised her in the past. ‘Never stop playing and experimenting’ she says – it is this kind of openness to learning and creativity that inspires great work.

You can read more about Keelin and view her work at www.connemaraartlink.com

 

Keelin Kennedy

 

Summer Break

Cover image taken from ShopHomeGrown at www.etsy.com

 

Two weeks ago, I got a temporary job offer that could not be refused and now the position has been extended over the Summer months. I’m working in the Elm Tree Centre here in Clifden which is a mental health clinic that serves the greater Connemara region. I absolutely love this job which is a mixture of teaching and cooking ( lots of cooking! ) as well as handcrafts and art. It’s a real privilege to work in such a vital part of our community and I am very grateful for the opportunity to be there for a while.

However, as there are only so many hours in the day, I will be taking a break from painting and blogging until the end of the Summer. If you are interested in my work, you can view it here on this site or in our gallery – the Lavelle Art Gallery where there are a large number of pieces available. You can follow all our latest news on our Facebook page.

You’ll know when I’m back if you’ve subscribed, as you’ll get an email as soon as I publish a post. I might even get the chance to write a bit before then but until that happens, I want to thank you for following and wish you all the best for the Summer ahead.

 

Deborah

Puffins

Cover photo by Aoife Herriott

 

 

We saw a large flock of Puffins while on Inishturk last week. They were congregating around one of the cliff faces where we stopped to admire them. We lay down on the grass at the top edge of the cliff to watch them swoop below us which was more than a little hair raising! My camera didn’t pick up the images very well but fortunately there were a couple of professional photographers in the group, among them Aoife Herriot who was kind enough to share her pictures with me.

 

Puffins by Aoife Herriott

 Puffins on Inishturk by Aoife Herriott

 

 

 

The cliff face was lush with growth,  grasses and a beautiful plant called Samphire which is very clear in this photo above. It was prolific in this particular spot and the leaves and delicate flower are edible.

These next photo also taken by Aoife, is of a Fulmer which is a seabird that looks rather like a gull but is in fact related to the Albatross. They breed on the cliffs here – we were mesmerised watching them swoop in and out of the rock face alongside the puffins.

 

Fulmers on Inishturk by Aoife Herriott

 Fulmer at Inishturk by Aoife Herriott

 

 

 

You can see more of Aoifes work on her website at www.aoifeherriott.com and at www.connemaraartlink.com