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My Cill Rialaig Diary.

Day 15, Monday 16th March 2009

Painting below Hogshead.

After a few goodbyes I am on the road to home. I am looking forward to returning to the bosom of my family. I have really missed them all and managed to write a postcard for each day I was away. It takes nearly seven hours to cross the county from the Kingdom to the Garden of Ireland. I stop once for juice.

Finally at home I give my girls a big squeeze. Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day and we are all going to the local parade.

I want to say a special and sincere thank you to Judi Coyne who edited my Cill Rialaig Diary – thanks Jude.

My Cill Rialaig Diary.

Day 14, Sunday 15th March 2009

The Skelligs, next stop America.

Today is my final day at Cill Rialaig. There will be no painting done today; I will need all my time to pack my wet canvases for transportation. The idea of my stint being over is making me a bit sad, but that’s compensated when I see how much I have achieved in two short weeks. I have definitely completed enough work to create the backbone of my upcoming solo show in Dublin. In my mind I am already moving ahead, thinking about a catalogue and a title for the show, maybe “Decade” to mark the ten years since my return to Ireland to paint her landscapes.

I stack the piles of canvases at the door, ready to load the van. Half of the canvases remain unpainted as I brought much more with me than I ever could have managed, but at least I always had the option of reaching for any format at any time. I find myself lingering to take in the view each time I am outside. It’s a beautiful day and I can see for miles.

When all the art stuff is in the van then I can start on my domestic gear and tidying up. It’s amazing how lived-in the place looks after such a short stay. When all the clearing and tidying is done the vacant studio/living area echoes.

The light is fading and I step outside again to see the sea. I’ll be back.

My Cill Rialaig Diary.

Day 13, Saturday 14th March 2009

"Hogshead" oil on canvas, 50x40cm.

After breakfast I load up a selection of paintings from the past two years and head for the Siopa Cill Rialaig at the village of Dun Gagen. This is the gallery and visitors centre for the Cill Rialaig Project. Profits from the work sold there go towards the renovation and maintenance of the project. I collect the pieces I’ve had there during the past twelve months. It takes a while to complete the receipts and paperwork.

Weather wise its warm and quite clear, and now I can finally see the panorama of mountains and headlands. The irony is that today is my last painting day and I’ve got only the afternoon to get something done. The feeling of spring is too uplifting for me to be frustrated.

Now I finally get a chance to paint Hog’s Head across Ballinskellings Bay. At first it goes very wonky, and the image looks stiff and awkward. I take a big brush and blend all the colours into one, leaving just a shadow of the image. Next I use the palette knife to carve a skyline around the head. I trawl raw sienna and ochre onto the highlights of the peninsula and finally scrape white wave crests across the green, blue sea. That’s better.

I am running late as I search for some clothes without paint stains. I head for the pub arriving two minutes after kick-off. The fixture is Ireland versus Scotland in the Rugby Six Nations Championship. The game is played at a ferociously high tempo, but Ireland get ahead in the last quarter and clinch it. This result makes it four out of four for Ireland; now only Wales stand between us and the Triple Crown, the Six Nations and the first Grand Slam in fifty years. There is time for a few pints before dinner with Becky and John and I am in bed by midnight.

My Cill Rialaig Diary.

Day 12, Friday 13th March 2009

Happiness is a studio with stove.

I am out of bed and straight down the stairs for a weather report – it’s a whiteout, with mist and rain beyond the front door. They said it would start bright this morning but springtime is obviously just something that happens to other people.

I need a few supplies so I head to Cahirsiveen hoping it might clear by the time I return. No joy. I stop to sketch the abbey at Ballinskellings from the drivers seat because there’s no way that I am getting out to face the South by South West sideways rain.

Later, back at the ranch I use the sketch to make a mini triptych canvas of same abbey.

Becky arrives for beer and a chat, and I light the stove. The rain stops and I am thinking of going out to paint but within twenty minuets a new weather front replaces the last.

After dinner I get stuck into some small canvases based on more historical seascapes. I am very happy with the results but more over it helps me understand the past masters. It’s late when I go to bed.

My Cill Rialaig Diary.

Day 11, Thursday 12th March 2009

Vanishing headlands.

I am up early, and looking outside see every peninsula wearing cloud on its head.  The sea is flat, clear and blue. I get ready and head out, not really knowing where I am going or what I want to paint. I stop at the pier but the tide is out and the landscape is colourless. I decide to head for Valentia Island but when I reach the pass between Ballinskellings and the Glen I see it’s all cloudy and fogged up here too. If I am going to paint the fog I can do it just as well from the comfort of Cill Rialaig and don’t need to drive for hours. I am happy with my small epiphany and set up to paint outside the studio.

I work on a picture of the rocks and sea at the foot of the cliff below my feet while waiting for the cloud to lift off Hog’s Head.

Across the bay three quarters of the Hog’s Head becomes visible briefly before it disappears completely for the rest of the day. I paint the immediate headlands as they too melt into the mist. Eventually it’s just my easel and me left standing alone in the fog. I move back inside as the fog turns into rain. During the evening I finish the mountain sunrise.

My Cill Rialaig Diary.

Day 10, Wednesday 11th March 2009

Painting the Skelligs from Glen Pier.

Now I remember why you shouldn’t mix your drinks. I am very slow to get my stuff together. The climate is warm, windy and dry outside but visibility remains poor yet clearer out to sea. It’s after midday before I get on the road.

I hope again to paint the large triptych of the Skelligs from Glen pier at St. Finans Bay. It’s a big task so I get out my extra large palette knife. My energy levels are low but the fresh air clears my head. I paint relentlessly knowing that if I take a break or sit down I won’t be able to get started again. I am still feeling very shaky, trawling streaks of Prussian blue into the sea.  I am very satisfied with my work, especially the fact that I actually managed to finish.

Back at base I reward myself with pizza, a glass of wine and early bed.

My Cill Rialaig Diary.

Day 9, Tuesday 10th March 2009

Road to the edge of the world.

Plan A is to paint a big triptych of the Skelligs from Glen Pier. Sea fog nearly completely obscures the islands and plan A is not to be. Plan B is to travel further to Valentia Island and paint looking back towards Puffin Island. But the sun, above the sea fog, is directly in my eyes, putting an end to plan B.

I push onwards towards the Atlantic side of the island, driving down a rocky track. I walk the last 20 minutes of the track to be sure I won’t get stuck and will be able to turn the van at the end. Walking through the windswept bog I can smell the sea salt and hear the distant roar of massive waves on rocks, but there is nothing to be seen. Suddenly I am standing on the edge of Europe and realise, “oh-my-god, this must be the place Noelle was telling me about”.

A flat plane of bog simply drops away in to the ocean, where massive waves swell up and crash into cliffs. I am very excited as I walk back to collect the van and my painting gear. I park head to wind and set up my easel in the slipstream. The energy of the place is relentless and the painting is good. Giant rock formations look like over dimensional chocolate cake tumbling into the sea and the waves are the frothy cream. There is no horizon between the water and sky with the sea mist so close.

Bray Head, Valentia Island.

A little red van comes bumping down the track, past my position and across the bog at the cliff’s edge on a trail invisible to me. He knows his way around and is probably here to cut turf a few hundred yards away. I observe the ‘turf-cutter’ take out his tools and place something small on the ground in front of him. He then whacks the something across the plane towards the cliffs edge. Was that a golf ball? It slowly dawns on me that this place is the Kerryman’s private Atlantic driving range, and no turf will be cut today.

I finish the painting as the mist moves in and the rain starts. Grinning I bounce back along the pot-holed track towards my Kerry home. John from Glasgow invites me for a bevvie at his place later, to see off Stefan who is returning to Austria the next day. I am on a high after my day’s work and drop my idea of a night shift in favour of joining them mixing beer, wine and whiskey. They say  not to mix your drink – but it can be so much fun.

My Cill Rialaig Diary.

Day 8, Monday 9th March 2009

Painting in the weather window.

The weather forecast was right when they said there would be a gap between fronts during Monday morning. So I am up early to avail of the weather window. I position myself on Ballinskellings pier, again, to paint the single cottage on Horse Island. It’s only accessible by boat and it looks like a very lonely place.

A man walks to the end of the pier to take in my subject matter. There’s something about his body language that says he has been here before. We chat when he comes back and the stranger tells me was born in the cottage and lived there for 14 years, and I am not surprised. In an amiable way he tells me to “paint the feckin’ house straight” before he continues to walk the headland. I am sure every step holds a memory, so I feel obliged to try.

Back at the studio I hang up the picture just as the promised rain sets in. I light the stove and attack the gannets. Later in the evening I start on a painting of the sun rising behind the inland mountains. It’s not bad so far but I am just too weary to continue. Tomorrow is another day, supposedly of sunny spells; I could use some of those all right.

My Cill Rialaig Diary.

Day 7, Sunday 8th March 2009

I wake with a very fuzzy head on me today.  Rising at 10 it’s all I can do to make coffee.

The northwest wind has turned to a westerly and gales have turned to storm force mixed with hail and snow.

It suits me well that its a studio day and not to have any choice in the matter. I have breakfast then try to read my book, but this makes me dizzy. I go outside for air, but the hailstones rattle on my head and the wind wants to carry me away. I come back in and lie down – that’s better.

An hour later I feel much better and start on the book again promising myself I will get stuck into the gannet painting soon. But sooner rather than later I am on a fantastic journey; it’s “The Tennis Stars Balls” by Stephen Fry, “a gruesome romp through the canon of human wickedness” according to the Times.

Either way the gannets will have to wait. I remind myself that it is Sunday and I am on retreat and I let myself fall deeper and deeper into the Cill Rialaig pace of life.

I decide on early bed with the tennis stars balls and promise myself to make an early start tomorrow. The forecast is better for the morning with rain for the afternoon. The tempest outside only adds to my inner peace as I drift off.

My Cill Rialaig Diary.

Day 6, Saturday 7th March 2009

View out the backdoor, Cill Rialaig.

Bolus Head is swathed in low cloud this morning. I can’t see further than a few yards beyond the cottage door. Every time the rain seems like it is going to stop it gets even heavier. I concede that I will be working indoors today.

I want to paint some of the gannets I photographed from the boat to the Skelligs a couple of years back. We could see the birds flying above our heads, beaks laden with nesting material destined for the massive colony on Skellig Beag some 13 km out to sea. On clearer days I’ve watched the gannets below the village diving from a height on unsuspecting fish. Splash!

All the artists, including new arrivals Pierre et Estelle from France, and Ethina (London-Irish) are invited for drinks to Noelle’s house near the village. Noelle is the matriarch of the project. She is good at holding court with stories of celebrities, VIPs and love in an artist’s retreat.

Later it’s John and Becky’s for dinner. And later still the pub for last orders, which is even a chance to see some of the day’s rugby highlights.