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Playing to the gallery in Ballinrobe

South of the border
Playing to the gallery in Ballinrobe

This column went to an art exhibition last week. But it was not your average highbrow pretentious arty ensemble. This one was different. Just as well too. I wouldn’t know an abstract from a subtract, a distract or even a retract. It doesn’t stop me from having a look though. And whilst we went to cast a quizzical eye on the artistic prowess on display we found something totally different.
This latest little haven SOTB stumbled upon is nicely secluded at the back of a shop on Ballinrobe’s Main Street. Tony and Irene Walkin started trading here all of fifty years ago last October. Tony came from Ballina and his sweet palaver and wooing charms captured the heart of Irene Ryder. I’m a sucker for a story with the ‘auld romantic twist.
Walkins’ Shop still trades but like all places it’s finding the going a tad tough. It’s the current climate and all that jargon pedalled nowadays from the purveyors of gloom and the prophets of doom.  It’s all about footfall don’t ya’ see.  
Walkins’ conducted a successful auctioneering business down the lane. Peter Walkin was the last man swinging the gavel there. But property was the first and biggest bubble to implode and Peter‘s hammer rang hollow. He’s relocated to Dunmore where he’d rambled years earlier to win the heart of a north Galway maiden. There’s more of it for ya’. Like father like son I suppose. He’s doing grand for himself, turning a euro and, on last sighting, he was in fine fettle.
Tony and Irene’s daughter Mary presides over happenings on Main Street now. But be warned. You still have to run the gauntlet of Tony at the door but you’ll be the better for it. Tony has a friendly word for all comers. Whether you purchase or just mosey in for a look matters not a jot. Tony will engage you on all levels.
Mary had to readjust her business plan too. A travel agency down at the back of the shop fell victim to the internet, dot com and online booking. Elaine McMonagle kept that iron heated in the fire for Mary. Encountering Elaine on the first step was the perfect start to any holiday.
An illness she fought with courage and fortitude eventually robbed a family of wife, a young mother, daughter and sister. But life unfolds in a way that pays its own homage betimes. There’s a fitting tribute in Walkins’ Shop now to the girl with the endearing personality and the radiant smile that always beamed broader than the Astra Satellite.
Mary Walkin decided something needed doing to occupy a vacant space again. What a lovely idea she happened upon when she conceived the notion of opening an art gallery there. Gallery Beag it’s called and ‘In Our Midst’ was the perfect appendage they added to the venture.
How appropriate because the gallery is festooned with the work of local artists. Eye for detail paintings from the inspired brushes of people like Michelle Conroy, Blanche Cusack, Irene Walkin, Kay Brennan, Angela Emsen-West, Nicola Lewis, Fiachra O’Sullivan and Rick Lewis.  Artistic impressions capturing the beautiful vistas that are pitched right here on our Mayo doorstep. Places like Tourmakeady and the mountains, Loughs Mask and Corrib, Connemara, Roonagh Pier and all the little hamlets we rarely make time to visit.
Then it happens. You browse on a Blanche Cusack acrylic on canvas painting (I siphoned that art jargon off Martin Murphy’s brochure) titled ‘Mid-day on Larenza’ and suddenly the whole picture of what Gallery Beag is all about emerges.
Wasn’t it from this very spot Elaine sent holiday-makers on a lovely trek to far-flung destinations. Mary Walkin might well have taken the easy option and boarded up. Instead she expanded and that’s not always the done thing nowadays.
Drop in for a gander. Mary has other ideas for Gallery Beag. Life breathes in empty spaces again. Now Elaine McMonagle is forever in our midst. And as artistic impressions go, that’s as good as it gets.