A Few Trees

Trees are a rarity here in Connemara as there are not many varieties that are able to thrive in the marshy soil or withstand the harshness of the wind and rain. I stopped to take a photo of this small copse at the side of the road near Leenane, about 20 miles northwest of Clifden. It was an unusually calm day and the rich colour of the grass and the calm pastoral nature of the grazing sheep caught my eye. I love the silhouette of the trees against the pale blue and white of the sky, also the low shaft of light at grass level in the photo above.  Here’s another photo below from a slightly different angle.


Trees near Leenane





This next tree was nearby on the other side of the road. I’m not sure if it is a hawthorn or a holly as I didn’t get close enough to inspect the leaves. It’s shape is typical of trees growing in exposed areas such as this, right on the edge of Killary harbour. Its has developed with the prevailing wind and it’s branches have literally swept over, forming a beautiful curve.


Curved tree near Leenane





This next tree was also close by and it is a Hawthorn, one of the hardiest native Irish trees. It has been adorned with pieces of cloth and is known as a rag tree. These have been placed here by people who believe that an illness might be cured by offering a scrap of clothing from the person who is unwell. Others tie the cloths in order to make a wish which they believe might come to pass as the cloth fades away.


Rag tree near Leenane





I’ve developed a love of trees since I’ve lived in Connemara and especially for these weather worn species that have been shaped by the harsh climate. Like the scraggy Connemara sheep that dot the hillsides, they are survivors here.

Clifden Castle

I took a walk around Clifden castle at the week end with my family.

John D’Arcy (1785 -1839 ) founder of Clifden, built the castle for himself and his family while the town was being constructed. It dates from about 1818 and remained in the D’Arcy family until shortly after John died. Due to financial difficulties, it then went up for sale and became the source of a series of disputes that have lasted over a century. Today it is owned by several families which sadly means that it is not likely to be restored any time in the near future.

We walked to the castle via the Beach road, right to the end and then along the cliff until the castle came into view across the fields. An awkward approach on foot, it is nonetheless a dramatic one as you first see the building ( now a ruin ) as a kind of grey specter surrounded by fields and facing out towards the open Atlantic. The area is completely unspoiled and there is a wildness to these fields, a timelessness about them. There are cattle and some beautiful white Connemara ponies on the land so the ground is well trodden and lumpy underfoot. It is easy to imagine the castle in another time as it is such a commanding building on the very edges of this place. I decided to take my photos in black and white which I felt suited the atmosphere.

The colour one below gives a good impression of it’s situation. All the other photos are my own.


Clifden castle in colour

Clifden castle from the Sky Road





Clifden castle - front view

Clifden castle from the front




Here are some more photos, taken from the eastern side. I took these through the gnarled branches of the old trees. Something about these reminds me of Wuthering Heights, the ominous house in the wild moors.


Clifden castle from a different angle




Clifden castle from another angle




More drama on the approaching path where some sheep wool has snagged in the barbed wire.


Sheep wool on barbed wire near Clifden castle




I took several photos of the Connemara ponies but unfortunately most of them blurred. This is the best of the lot – I think the sharp movement of the animal suggests wildness again and drama.


Pony near Clifden castle

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


Charred Ground

I took these photographs recently which show the aftermath of the gorse fires here in Connemara. They show the extent of the damage – massive areas of land have been blackened by the fires right up to the roadside.


The charred roadsides near Moyard





I sometimes wonder about the benefits v disadvantages of my near total ignorance of the technical business of photography. These pictures were taken on my trusted Fugifilm camera which I’ve had for about five years. I realised that it was on a ‘sunset’ setting after I had taken most of my photos. I subsequently changed to the ‘auto’ button which is supposed to find the optimum setting for the prevailing conditions. However, the last pictures I took ( of which this is not the worst example below ) were a horrible blue colour and poorly reflected the actual light conditions at the time. The former photos have a lovely sepia tinge to them which accentuated the actual light, giving them an old, other worldly feel.


Photo of charred landscape with bluish tinge





I suppose that I quite enjoy the accidental nature of these small discoveries while I have to admit that more knowledge on the technical front would not be a bad thing. The prospect of acquiring this information has just never seemed very appealing to me and I am indebted to my camera which (for the most part ) does the job for me..

Here’s some more photos – I like the desert like feel to this one below.


Charred ground after the gorse fires





This last one might just have been good old Kansas before Dorothy was wooshed up into the sky..

It is in fact the last stretch of open bog on the road to Moyard/Letterfrack.


Fields of ash, near Moyard after the fires

Other Landscapes

I’ve just bought a book by poet Bruce Snider based on a couple of poems by him that I discovered on the Gwarlingo website. The thing that drew me to them straight away were the vivid descriptions of his hometown of Paradise, Indiana. I was struck by the way he uses landscape as a means of expression and also as a powerful kind of grounding force to that expression. The poems are rich with descriptions of the land, it’s trees and highways, ditches and rivers and these are woven with moments from the past so that somehow he makes these intensely personal experiences into something more accessible, something more universal that we can all understand.

The suicide of the writers cousin ‘Nick’ is at the centre of the collection, simply titled ‘Paradise, Indiana’ but the poems are never indulgent or sentimental. He manages to convey the weight of human grief and loss in a few carefully chosen words that create vivid flashes of imagery, his landscape acting as a kind of compass for memory as he seeks to make sense of the inexplicable.

I especially like this one, called ‘Epitaph’. The images are by Connemara based photographer and hill walking guide Inez Streefkerk.





Because I could be written anywhere,

I loved the hard surface of the blade,

my name carved into barn doors, desktops,

the peeled face of a shag-bark hickory.

I pressed my whole weight into it, letters


grooved deep as the empty

field rows along Tri-Lakes* where I’d seen

my cousin Nick buried in ground so hard

they had to heat the dirt with lamps

before they could dig. I gutted squirrels


my grandmother fried, hanging

skins from the window,

and with the same knife gouged a B

at the base of the frozen creek bank,

the season breaking


like the rose our teacher, Miss Jane,

dipped in nitrogen so it would shatter.

There were more atoms, she claimed,

in the letter O, than people in the entire state.

I could feel God inside that letter,


the vast sky configured, buds scrawled

on the black limbs of trees.

Trucks carried spring feed down

Highway 9 as I wove through the headstones,

tracing names in the late frost,


looking for Nick’s plot

with the wax white roses,

his lucky fishing lure. I could sense

him down there, satin-lined,

curled like the six-toed cat


we’d found bloated in the creek, alive

with lice and maggots. Sometimes

I was sure I could hear him, restless,

waiting for me, the Wabash*

pushing its icy waters, my tongue


humming with the fizz. It never ended,

that stretch of road snaking back home

like an artery through my own heart

where an owl gripped a rat in its claw

over I-80*. I’d put my hands in my pockets


and walk, dreaming of the places I’d go,

the things I’d do, the dump rising

to meet me at the edge of town,

chrome bumpers twisted as the owner

himself, withered arm swinging a fist.


I waited for something to escape –

mouse darting from a glove box, oil

from a cracked sump. I could stand

on a crushed Chevy, feeling it all

thaw inside me: asphalt


and barbed wire, cows and steaming

pails of milk, even the graveyard

rising, new stones nursing old griefs,

slow bones and winter’s cherry trees

making their long walk to leaf.


taken from ‘Paradise, Indiana’ by Bruce Snider


Twisted Oak by Inez Streefkerk

 ‘Twisted Oak’ by Inez Streefkerk

Cover image ‘Birch Bark’ by Inez Streefkerk





* I-80

Return to Omey Island

I returned to Omey Island with G last week when the rare opportunity of an afternoon off without the kids presented itself! It was a glorious sunny day and we decided to walk the perimeter of the Island. The tide was well out when we arrived so we walked across the strand and made a right turn along the grassy edges. We met a small beach which we walked along before we had to climb up a bank to continue. This is the view from there across the sound to Claddaghduff (below).


Photograph of Sea and Sound taken from Omey





Once we reached the top of the grassy mound, the view opened up to take in the rolling meadows and the sea as it wanders right out to the line of the horizon. I was immediately struck by the fields of flowers, the vividness of these tiny yellow plants ( Bird’s-foot Trefoil? ) and the sweetness of their scent in the breeze. It was a heady Summery rush and I had to suppress the urge go no further and just lie down and soak it all in! This is one of my favourite photographs (below) because it contains these perfect hues of blue, yellow and green which are my lasting memory of this walk.


Photograph of Omey Island





Here’s the view heading West and looking out towards Cruagh Island and the Atlantic (below).


Photograph of Omey Island looking out towards the Atlantic ocean





As we moved around the Western side of the Island we came across another beautiful beach (below). Looking back at this photo, it seems almost too perfect to have been real and it felt like that, a kind of earthly garden of Eden.


Photograph of beach on Omey Island





I took this last photo on the Southern side of the Island. The grassy slopes fall away to this outcrop of flat rock which sinks downwards towards a wide sandy beach (below).


Photograph of a beach on Omey Island





Photo of beach at Omey Island





We quickened our pace after I took this photo as thoughts of the incoming tide took over! In fact we had plenty of time. We resolved to check the times for the tides the next time and return to explore the centre of the Island.

Beach Flowers


The sun shone late one evening last week when I went for a walk along a beach in Errislannan with my family. This is a beautiful peninsula just south of Clifden. I took some pictures and we collected driftwood and paddled in the water.  Unexpectedly, I found a treasure of flowers growing in the area. This is the view looking back down the beach from the furthermost point.


Photograph of Beach at Erislannan by Deborah Watkins




There is no sand here, just stones all rounded by the tidal movements of the sea.


Photograph of stones by Deborah Watkins





I stopped to photograph this vivid blue plant on a bank along the beach. I am no botanist so I welcome advice on the naming of any of these! Is this one a Scabious?


Photograph of Blue Flower by Deborah Watkins




Here it is again from on top. I love its starlike shape and its jewel blue colours.


Second Photograph of Blue Flower




I almost missed this next one. There were just two little plants on their own right at the edge of the shore. I’m going out on a limb here to suggest that this might be a wild Orchid..


Photograph of Wild Orchid?




The next photo is of some Thrift, my favourite plant of all. I am amazed how it manages to grow so prolifically in the most barren of places, it seems to sustain itself from rock alone.


Photograph of Thrift by Deborah Watkins




I was surprised by how much it had turned, nearly all the clumps of flowers were a dry honey brown colour (below). I like the line of them still, their tall broad stems and their bobbles of crispy petals.


Photograph of Thrift by Deborah Watkins




Here’s one that’s just beginning to fade (below).


Photograph of Thrift by Deborah Watkins




This last picture is of a single Thrift flower still in full bloom. There were only a handful of these.


Photograph of Thrift by Deborah Watkins

Summer Evening at Streamstown Graveyard

I went for a drive yesterday evening towards Claddagduff, north of Clifden and stopped at this graveyard on the way. It is situated on the side of a hill beside the road and looking out to sea at the mouth of Streamstown Bay. You can enter the graveyard through sturdy metal gates or by stepping over a traditional step style in the wall (below) as I chose to do.


Photograph of Graveyard entrance



This is the view on the other side of the wall (below). This graveyard is still in use and is an interesting mixture of ancient, weather beaten stone remnants and modern headstones.


Photograph of Streamstown Graveyard



These next two photos show the view moving West as the bay wanders out to the Atlantic. The smooth edges of this grey headstone (below) stand erect among the scattered stone blocks whose carved linkage with the past ( if there once was any? ) has long since been eroded.


Photograph of Streamstown Bay



Photograph of Streamstown Bay



As the evening drew on, the shadows grew longer (below). I read what I could of the modern stones and found familiar local names – King, Coyne and Casey.


Photograph of shadows in graveyard



Photograph of Graves at Streamstown



I left wondering if the beauty of a place such as this makes any difference. I think that perhaps it does – as a better final prospect for the living, compared with some anonymous square field and for those left behind who might draw some kind of peace from such a setting


Summer’s here!

We have been enjoying some exceptionally fine weather here in Connemara. Temperatures reached the mid 20’s and higher last week which is rare for this (or any?) time of year here.

One sign of Summer’s arrival is the appearance of the Summer wild flowers and they seem (to me) to have sprung over night – clover, buttercups, pink grass heads and marguerites, my favourite of all.
Here’s a photo of a clover head, such a lovely colour – somewhere between crimson, pink and purple.


Photo of a Clover



I love the feathery summer grasses, the smell of them, the rustling sound of them and when you look closely, their delicate colours. Here’s an example and below that a couple of seed heads.


Photo of pink seeding grass



Photo of a seed head



Photo 2 of a seed head



Finally, I’ve included some pictures of the Marguerite, one of my all time favourite wild flowers. Their name makes them human – my daughters affectionately call them ‘Big Daisies’. There is a lovely field of these flowers beside the local National school but unfortunately for me, behind a high fence ( photo below taken through the fence ). I resisted an urge to climb in to the field, deciding not to risk injury to myself or my dignity and the possibility of creating a spectacle in view of my daughter’s teachers!


Photo of a field of flowers



These close ups (below) were taken a few metres away at the roadside which is dotted with these perfect flowers at the moment. Long live Summer!


Photo of Martguerites on the roadside



Photo of a Marguerite

Bog – Oughterard

I took some photographs of this Bog just outside Oughterard on a recent trip to Galway. This section is well managed with tidy stacks of turf drying out on the higher ground above the cut bog.


Photo 1 of bog, Oughterard



I love the colours here – that rich brown against the bright greens and pale blues of the sky.  I especially like the reflections in the water. I will enjoy using these as colour and composition starting points for some new work.



Photo 2 of bog, Oughterard



While I was there, I noticed some bog cotton in the marshy wet ground. This time it is the many headed variety ( I took some pictures of the single headed bog cotton outside Clifden recently ). I couldn’t get very close as I didn’t have my wellies with me (!) but I managed to take this picture below.
Photo of Bog Cotton with Multiple heads