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Solas shines a light in Louisburgh

Living

LIGHT FANTASTIC Dolly Temple and Susan Steward of Solas in Louisburgh. Pic: Jessica Priddy/photographybyjessica.ie

Áine Ryan

AS the winter light fades and the moods of the ocean become unpredictable, there is a little oasis of light along the Wild Atlantic Way in Louisburgh. It is called Solas, and since it is the Irish word for ‘light’, it naturally remains impervious to the impulses of  seasonal changes. Indeed, Solas is much more than a gallery and shop showcasing the rich arts and crafts treasury of Mayo-made products, by all accounts it is ‘a labour of love’ run by retirees, Dolly Temple and Susan Steward – both from the UK originally.  
And, wow, are they enthusiastic about the creativity that abounds in nooks and crannies all over the county, from Ballina’s Noo Chocolates to Frank Bennett’s driftwood art, Clare Island’s Ballytoughy Looms woven rugs and scarves to June Bourke’s Back to Back knitwear, the jewellery of Clew Bay Creations to Isabella and Elizabeth’s luxury aromatics.  
And that’s just a minuscule sample of the treasures in this Aladdin’s Cave, the upstairs gallery of which also shows the depth of artistic inspiration at work throughout the county.  
From Saileen Drumm’s modern interpretation of traditional subjects to potter Roger Harley’s more ornate ceramics.
For Claire Siobhán Walsh, a former London fashion designer – who worked on outfits for Kylie Minogue, among other celebrities –  a journey to Co Mayo has culminated into artistic collages. Her landscapes are often created from historical materials relating to the subject-matter, while her portraits always include personal items relating to her subjects.  
Her materials often include ‘rare stamps, antique maps, vintage newspapers and other historical memorabilia, making each piece unique’.

Love of Louisburgh
SITTING in the upstairs gallery with Susan and Dolly last week, The Mayo News asked about both women’s journey to the wild west. Interestingly, neither of them has a direct connection to Louisburgh or even Co Mayo.
Relative newcomer, Susan Steward moved to an old cottage in Cahir – ‘the McDonnell property’ built in 1820 – some three years ago and started the process of renovating it. She had a career in ‘the medical business’ and had lived in Yorkshire. “I wanted somewhere peaceful to live near the sea and mountains with no concrete and queues of cars. I had renovated houses and enjoy the process. Since Dolly and I are both retirees and have a love of the arts, we knew this would be a viable business, since we didn’t need an income from it!” says Susan.
Interjecting, Dolly says: “This is all about love of Louisburgh and love of art.”
A former businesswoman too, Dolly and her husband, Graham Temple, moved from Buckinghamshire to Louisburgh 20 years ago.
“When I lived in the UK, I worked in photography, fashion and furnishing before running a busy post office and shop prior to moving to Ireland,” explains Dolly.
Coincidentally, her daughter, Jessica Priddy moved to Mayo also and runs a successful photography business and shop, ‘The Photo Hub’, at Westport Quay.  

Warm welcome
Solas features the works of 52 different Mayo-based artists and craftworkers. Of course, this access to a tapestry of artists from all over the county from Achill to Ballina, Foxford to Clare Island, did not just happen overnight. Dolly was a member of Westport’s Country Markets for a time and also met Susan when the Louisburgh HQ initiative was operating.  
They are both very positive about all the ongoing developments in Louisburgh and agree that the branding of the Wild Atlantic Way and the interest in surfing and extreme sports has reinvigorated the town and its environs.
Dolly says: “I’ve seen big and very positive changes here in recent years and am certain that Louisburgh is ‘on the up’. There are new businesses opening all the time. ”
Meanwhile, Susan observes that while 46 percent of the houses in the area are holiday homes, their owners  are ‘very regular visitor-residents’, and there are many returning visitors too.
Both women really appreciate the fact that, along with the visitors, the longtime local population has warmly welcomed Louisburgh as part of this close community. And, unsurprisingly, they are really looking forward now to showing off their ‘treasure trove’ of Christmas presents and handmade decorations in the coming weeks.    

Imaginative arts
This excerpt from the Solas website perfectly encapsulates the vision for this shop and gallery: “Solas means light. It is the light of the rising sun over the hills and Croagh Patrick in the east in the morning, and setting over the waves and Clare Island in the west at night. The quality of the light is the attraction for many artists to this part of Ireland. This is why Mayo has been such an excellent source for the collection of unique and imaginative arts and crafts that you can see for sale.”

For more on the craft shop and upstairs gallery at Solas, visit www.solaslouisburgh.com.