Of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness

Photography by Mark Furniss

I’ve been away from this blog for a while, caught up in catching up since my exhibition in September. Fortunately I have the Connemara Journal to bring me back to writing and this piece is in the the current November edition. It reflects what we have been seeing here in Connemara for the past few weeks, although we have had some wintry moments since. Today I’m looking out at clear skies and cool sun and I’m glad of it. I will post about my painting soon.  Continue reading

Into June

I drove out towards Moyard with my camera this week in search of some seasonal colour – the luminous green of new growth and some pinks and purples from the bog flowers. I did not find what I expected – yes there is new growth but it does not seem as striking to me as in other years and the bog flowers are certainly not in abundance yet. Perhaps it is still too early and there is no doubt that we have had very little sunshine so far this year. Continue reading

March Steel

It’s the first week of March and temperatures have dipped again with no real sign of spring in Connemara just yet. This week saw our first real snowfall with spectacular drifts on the mountains and a heavy smattering of white along the valleys and roads. We’ve been hearing about the icy weather around the country for a while but our proximity to the coast has kept us just above freezing point.  Continue reading

September’s Bounty

Two weeks after my last post and still I find myself singing September’s praise.  At the same time, I feel guilty because I haven’t yet found the time to paint as I have been trying to corner all of the dull but essential work that has gathered like old dust over the summer. I find it impossible to be creative with the burden of unfinished chores hanging around, but the end is almost in sight. In spite of this, the month of september has been extraordinary in so many ways. It slunk in surreptitiously after August with a wave of unexpected warmth, some truly breathtaking sunsets and an enormous silvery harvest moon that doesn’t seem to want to leave. This and a small boon of growth in my very own back garden.


Hen coop surrounded by Jasmine

Our hen coop festooned with Winter Jasmine




My hen house is looking especially fetching and I fancy that the hens are wondering why so much of nature’s extravagance has been bestowed upon them. One side of the coop is covered in ‘Winter Jasmine’ and the other is laden down with ripening apples. The apple tree came to us in a small pot several years ago from my granny and the jasmine came from Lidl and began it’s life here as a sad little twig. My Dad revealed to me the source of all of this growth when I mentioned it – the hen shit, it’s the hen shit of course!


Hens in September

Our hens enjoying the weather and the jasmine




Here’s a few close ups.


Close up of ripening apples

Apples almost ready to pick




Winter Jasmine against the sky

Jasmine against a blue sky




Let’s hope the good weather and all it’s bounty lasts a little longer, the signs are good so far..

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.


Hidden treasure

I realised just before dusk one night last week that one of my hens was still out, so I went searching for her with a torch. She started to make some noise and I followed the sounds, eventually finding her in a cosy little spot in the back hedge. When I reached in to scoop her out, I discovered there were some eggs tucked in behind the undergrowth.


Eggs in the undergrowth




The next morning I went to take a closer look – my hen had hidden herself in a long tunnel, a natural underground passage between the bank and a web of overhanging ivy. I reached in with the camera to take some pictures and then pried back the leaves to gather the eggs – there were sixteen in total!

All those mornings when I’d found no egg in the nest box, I’d assumed that the old girl was having an off day – not thinking for a moment that she had found a nest box of her own!


eggs 3





I disposed of the eggs sadly as I had no way of knowing how long they’d been there. Happy nonetheless to have found her new spot and I’ll make sure to check it on my rounds in the mornings.

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.

After the Storms – Aillebrack

Today, March 4th was the first day of Spring in Connemara, a month late but let’s not argue now that it’s here ( fingers crossed ).

Homework was abandoned for the afternoon as I took my three daughters to the beach at Aillebrack, near Ballyconneely straight after school. The temperature was a balmy eight degrees but it seemed much warmer – so good to feel some sun after so many months.

I parked the car at Tra Mhor and we walked the full length of the beach which was heavily strewn with seaweed after the storms last month.


Tra Mhor





The defense wall seems to have done its job for the most part although the fence on the top of the dunes was badly damaged.


Fence damage at Tra Mhor





We followed the path beyond Tra Mhor towards the next strand.


The walk between beaches





As we descend onto the beach, there is a lot more visible damage. Large chunks of the coast have fallen in and the area is strewn with rocks.


The descent onto the next strand





Nothing prepares us for the next little cove which has been almost completely covered with rock. A favourite spot, this particular beach was a beautiful white strand before the storms. It is now almost completely covered with large boulders and is almost unrecognisable – where have they all come from?

There is just a small semi circle of rock free sand left.


Rocks at Aillebrack





Looking back from where we have just walked. It is quite a sight as we have spent many afternoons here on what used to be sand. We are thankful nonetheless for the warm, calm weather, a hopeful turning point in the season.


After the storm at Aillebrack


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


I took some photos along the roadside near Killary with a view to using them for some new paintings. I took these because certain elements attracted me – colours, the shape of the mountains in silhouette and the shape of the cut bog. I like this one below because of the warmth of the orange grasses against the blue sky – feels more like Australia than Connemara.


Hill near Killary





The light is still very low and it illuminates each blade of grass much like theatre lights. There is great drama too in the starkness of the mountains – they loom in the distance, great shadowy figures waiting in the wings.

This is a protected area so there are few signs of human interference save the ubiquitous telegraph poles and the road itself. You feel like you are standing in a bowl or an amphitheatre with mountains on almost all sides. I love the blue pool in this one below – it reflects the colour of the sky.






I have started a series of new landscapes based on these images which I will post about soon.