September Beginnings and Endings

Cover image ‘Sheep in Errislannan’ by Marianne Chayet

(This piece was written for the next issue of the Connemara Journal which will be available in early September. My three children have returned to school and I am looking forward to returning to painting and writing with renewed energy. I will post again soon.)


Summer is over – bright pink heathers have dulled and roadside montbretia looks a little battered after recent rain but there is a lushness still to the land and the evenings hold on to the light. It is not uncommon to view September as a time of endings; the end of summer, the end of the holidays, time to weed out plant pots or finish a garden project before the cold weather sets in.

I’ve always thought of September as a time of beginnings – the start of a new school year, time to investigate a new course of study perhaps or take up some exercise. The month of September seems to me to hold a promise of newness and renewal in a more definitive way than the beginning of the calendar year. I loved the smell of new books and pencils as a child and I looked forward to packing my bag for the return to school – I was especially thrilled if I had some new art supplies or if I’d been successful in obtaining a much coveted fluffy pencil case from the local newsagents!



Maam Cross Landscape with sheep by Alan Kenny

‘Maam Cross Landscape with Sheep’ by Alan Kenny




It is the landscape that reminds me that there are no beginnings or endings. I love to watch the land at this time of year in an effort to grasp those imperceptible changes, the quiet movement from heathery sweet colour into the deep golden hues of Autumn. It is almost impossible to capture the transformation as grasses and plants evolve so fluently and so exquisitely, yet we see them once they are changed. As humans we like to compartmentalise our lives into tidy segments and of course we need this in order to manage our activities but I find it oddly comforting to realise that there are no divisions, only the quiet reassuring passage of time. Ideally this can prompt us into action to make the most of each day but it can also allow us to realise the importance and significance of smaller moments as we salute another September and endeavour to make our own imprint on the world.


Kaleidoscope of Autumn by Diana Pivovarova

‘Kaleidoscope of Autumn’ by Diana Pivovarova 


Original paintings available at the Lavelle Art Gallery, Clifden ( ) Our brand new website is under construction but will be going live very soon – stay tuned!

Jon Crocker – Soul Paintings

Cover image ‘Tommy of Connemara’ by Jon Crocker


Just a couple of notes on this piece – I wrote it for the August issue of the Connemara Journal which will be available soon. Also, we are working on a new website for our gallery which will go live in the next week or so – I will signpost this when it happens on this blog.


We are fortunate to meet artists from all around the world who find their way into our gallery (Lavelle Art Gallery) in Clifden for one reason or another. Each year we look at new creations, talk to artists and decide whether or not we can work together and whether the paintings or drawings will compliment the art that we already have. Occasionally the artwork is of such a high caliber that a decision scarcely needs to be made. This happened recently when Jon Crocker brought his water colours into us. Originally from Colorado, Jon relocated to Dublin after losing his wife and daughter to illness. He now divides his time between the United States and Ireland, which has become a second home.

Figurative work of a high standard is notoriously difficult to find and it must have a degree of technical sufficiency in order for it to work on any level. Jon’s portraits in water colour are not only technically brilliant and sensitively handled, they reach towards that intangible quality that makes each human being an individual. The likenesses that Jon creates are more than physical, he captures something else – an insight into identity that might be described as a spark or as Jon himself explains ‘the true essence’ or ‘soul’ of a person.

Jon has two paintings that stand out straight away – the first entitled ‘Tommy of Connemara’ and the second of a well known man from Dublin city called ‘Shamus.’


Shamus by Jon Crocker

Shamus’ by Jon Crocker




These portraits are both of well known characters, people that we have come to associate with a place, perhaps without even knowing that person by name. This led me to think about what it is that makes up the fabric of a town – it’s people yes but who are these people? Are they the leaders, organisers, business people? Are they simply inhabitants? Or is a place also defined by those who are just out of sight – the characters that we might see every day or once a week, perhaps on the same street or outside a certain building. We might have spoken or we might just have shared a nod or a smile. Tommy is one such character and we felt a small measure of how well this man is regarded when we posted an image of this portrait on our gallery facebook page. It was ‘liked’ instantly, warmly commented on multiple times and shared in a manner that we have not witnessed since we set up the page several years ago. This unprecedented reaction is also credit to Jon’s talent and we are more than delighted to be representing his work at the Lavelle Gallery. Jon produces prints of his original water colours at affordable prices as well as his one of a kind paintings, so people may enjoy his work with minimum investment.

It is worth noting that Jon is also a very fine landscape painter as exemplified by his painting of the old curragh at the shore ‘Molly Sea.’


Molly Sea by Jon Crocker

‘Molly Sea’ by Jon Crocker



You can read more about Jon and his work on his website at or at the gallery website or drop into the gallery to see them for yourself.

We join Jon in taking the opportunity to send Tommy Heffernan our good wishes as he is unwell at the moment.

Clare Island

(I wrote this piece for the current issue of the Connemara Journal. I have not had much time to post on this blog since the kids got their summer holidays and I apologise in advance, as I expect this will continue until they return at the end of August.)



An unexpected painting commission provided my family and I with a very good reason to visit Clare Island this month. I am ashamed to say that I had never been to the island in the twenty odd years I have lived in this area although I have been told about it’s charms on many occasions. Suffice to say that we were not disappointed.

A little research told us to get to Roonagh pier just outside Louisburgh, where we had a choice of times and ferry operators to make the short crossing. This was the first surprise as the crossing is indeed short – just fiveteen minutes – a bonus for a feeble land lubber such as myself. The second delight was the harbour which is quite idyllic in it’s picturesque sweep of sand and pier. The water was a clear turquoise blue, right up to the pier wall and we were able to admire some large fish and jellyfish over the side of the boat before we disembarked. I don’t think I have ever seen such clean waters in a harbour.


Clare Island harbour

The approach to Clare island harbour



I had made enquires about accommodation and there are several places to choose from. We chose O’Grady’s Guesthouse over looking the beach. We soon discovered that this was the old family homestead of the well known O’Grady family in Clifden, although the current building is completely new. A three minute walk brought us to the front door of Helen and Alan O’Grady’s beautiful stone clad home which conceals bright, spacious rooms worthy of any four star hotel. Helen greeted us warmly and told us about some of the ‘must see’ spots on the island. Our first port of call was the Sailors bar, not for refreshments ( we had those later ) but where we met with our very own Michael Gibbons who was conducting a archaeological tour of the island. This brought us along the coast, where we were entertained with stories of a lost Spanish ship that found itself on a stony shore and the slaughter and tyranny of a different time – quite difficult to imagine in such a tranquil setting. Michael then led us through an ancient wood, buried for thousands of years beneath the bog and now revealed as the knarled and blackened stumps of trees as old as time itself. We left the group about half way along to make a detour to ‘Anna’s Coffee shop’ in anticipation of her ‘famous chocolate cake’ which had been heartily recommended to us. We enjoyed a feast of home made salads and breads in Anna’s garden before retiring inside to enjoy a coffee and a generous slice of her truly delicious cake.

We continued the afternoon in holiday style with a swim at the harbour beach followed by fresh fish and chips at the Sailors bar.

The next day we made time to visit the Abbey, which is about a twenty minute walk from the harbour. This small rectangular building dates from the 12th century and has been beautifully restored and maintained.  Inside, it boasts the best example of rare medieval roof paintings in Ireland. The delicate array of small paintings cover the alter ceiling and depict a variety of mythical, human and animal figures including dragons, stags, birds and trees. There was a professional restorer working on them when we went inside and she pointed out a large relief carving of the O’Malley family crest and the final resting place of the infamous Grace O’Malley which is set into the wall.



12th century Abbey at Clare Island



We left the island feeling revived and also very impressed with this small community of people who have so carefully and successfully managed their heritage, creating an oasis of tranquillity and hospitality that is hard to match.

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 and


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






looks down

on that snowy


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 –



of an earth bound





Deborah Watkins



If you would like to see some more of Karinna’s work, you can visit her shop at  – 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.


Autumn Fire

Cover image ‘Oughterard  Bog’ by Deobrah Watkins


I’ve just written this piece for the next issue of the Connemara Journal. I took the photo above on Tuesday – the colour of the landscape here in Autumn is breathtaking and this year is no exception. Never mind New England in the Fall, what about Connemara in the Fall?


October stepped in quietly this year and gave us days of unexpected sunshine and warmth beyond anything we might normally expect.  The long hot Summer has already ensured that 2013 will be remembered far into the future. I’ve always loved the colours of the landscape in late Autumn – an in between time of growth and rest. Since the bog fires in April, the grasses have changed from their luminous green shoots into fields of warm brown and again over the last few weeks into a lustrous fiery orange. When the wind is up, the now tall grasses appear to move like flames and give off an imagined heat through their colour. There’s a very particular kind of light at this time because the sun is at it’s lowest. When there’s moisture in the air, there’s a flatness to the sky that reaches around everything and blurs the horizon. It always makes me think of a theatre stage where the light is low and objects appear edgy and sharpened. Keat’s describes this aspect of the season in his poem ‘To Autumn’;


‘barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day, and touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue’


(from ‘To Autumn’ by John Keats 1795-1821). 


Bog painting as I left it

‘Land Interrupted’ by Deborah Watkins



The American poet Emily Dickinson speaks about Autumn light in her poem ‘There’s a certain Slant of light’ written in 1861;


‘when it comes, the Landscape listens –

Shadows – hold their breath –


(from There’s a certain Slant of light’ by Emily Dickinson 1830 – 1886)


Enigmatic lines appropriate for a season where colour and light are heightened briefly before they are dulled again. Keat’s poem ‘To Autumn’ is first and foremost an ode of praise while Dickinson uses the season as a metaphor for change and the difficult acceptance of ageing. I think that both poets and many like them recognise the beauty of the season as it exists poignantly on the edge of Winter but perfectly and eternally not yet Winter.


Winter's end landscape almost finished

Landscape by Deborah Watkins

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