The celebrated painter, Nancy Wynne Jones, who died last week at the age of 84, was Welsh by birth, of Wicklow by residence, but of Mayo in her emotional and artistic instincts.
She had moved to Ireland in the 70s, on the advice of the respected Tony O’Malley, who assured her that the rural landscapes of his country was where any budding artist would find inspiration and challenge. But it was in 1994 that Nancy Wynne Jones and Mayo first met, and the association began which was to decide the course of her artistic future and link her work forever to the western countryside.
She was awarded a Ballinglen fellowship in that year and the wild solitude of her new home in north Mayo gradually became the inspiration of her work just as it was the turning point in her life.
In 2002 came her acclaimed exhibition. “I sing thy praise, Mayo,” an event which won the plaudits equally of critics, fellow artists and the wider public. The bogs and mountains and cliffs of Erris, she said, had opened the door to a world she had never thought existed.
“In Mayo,” she wrote, “it feels like the beginning of the world, before man was thought of, both awe- inspiring and energising. The marks of old turf cuttings articulate the bog, the air is filled with light bouncing back from the mountain, contradicting the big receding distance. The mountains are both near and far, the multi-coloured bog both solid and ephemeral.”
One critic wrote of her exhibition that she discovered in Mayo a country waiting to be imagined in a post-modern world. There was no place she knew, it was said, to equal the vast, silent solitude of Maumkeogh Bog, or the primiliac beauty of Céide sweeping to the cliffs and “blending with the endless ocean”.
Nancy Wynne Jones was a member of the Royal Hibernian Academy and Aosdana. In 1992, University College Cork held a career retrospective of her work, which toured Ireland.
Little did the experts know - nor, it is said, did the artist herself realise - that the best was yet to come. Mayo, Ballinglen and the blanket bogs of Céide would prove to be the ultimate artistic destination of the adopted Irishwoman.
Derrywash shows the way
It’s almost hard to believe that when Tommy Fleming and the children of Derrywash National School went on air on Monday last to sing out the old familiar lines of “The Safe Cross Code”, it had been 30 years since the road safety refrain had last been heard in public.
One of the most effective traffic safety jingles ever to be broadcast, “The Safe Cross Code” has been gathering dust for over three decades.
Or, in the words of Sharon Dunleavy, principal of the school, “Nobody under forty years of age has ever been given the benefit of the road safety steps so catchily captured in the Safe Cross Code”.
The revival of the tune and its introduction into every school was one of six recommendations put forward by the twenty senior pupils of Derrywash at an impressive presentation at the school. The event was the culmination of a major research project into road safety undertaken by the school, with particular emphasis on children’s safety.
“By children, for children” was the central theme of the findings which could well become the blueprint for a new road safety initiative in schools all over Ireland. Other key proposals to emerge included a substantial emphasis on road safety in the civics module of the Junior Cert exam, the compulsory wearing of cycling helmets, and for the extension of the use of reflective material in children’s leisure clothing.
Perhaps the time has come to go back to basics on road safety. Perhaps, as the Derrywash pupils have shown, safety really should begin in the schools. Perhaps we might all be able to learn a little more by listening to the children.
Last train for Tommie
This column would be remiss were it to overlook a couple of recent events of pronounced local interest.
One such concerns the retirement of one of the most courteous officials ever to travel the rail journey from Westport to Athlone and back. Iarnród Éireann’s train staff are, by and large, as pleasant a bunch as one is likely to meet, but Tommie Browne’s courtesy and affability were of a superior order indeed. Always patient, always smiling, always cheerful - and there must have been times when his patience was tested to the limit - his presence on the Dublin train seemed to make the journey a bit shorter.
To the credit of his employers, Iarnród Éireann was conscious that in Tommie Browne they had the ideal man to help portray the company image. He featured prominently in the company’s TV commercials, not to mention its billboard campaigns, making him an even better known face than he was before.
When I heard about his retirement, my first reaction was to ask why he was getting out so young. In any event, he is the best argument I know for scrapping the idea of compulsory retirement, and allowing people to continue in the jobs they like doing for as long as they want to.
I’m sure he’ll miss the early morning call to his point of duty at Westport station. He’ll miss the thousands of friends he has met over the years and over the miles. They will miss him too, and will join me in wishing Tommie many happy years of retirement.
Checking in at the checkout
Why didn’t Ryanair think of it first? The latest in a new business partnership between low cost airlines and supermarket chains kicked off the summer in England, where Air Berlin has started selling cut-price flights at LIDL supermarket checkouts.
You can now buy a cut-price flight voucher for £19 sterling at any of LIDL’s 390 outlets in the UK which could then be exchanged for a one way flight with Air Berlin, serving twenty five European destinations from London, Manchester, Glasgow, Belfast and Bournemouth.
However, there are a few extras to lift the offer out of the totally-no-frills, pack-them-on category.
The flight voucher provides for pre allocated seating, a complimentary snack, and a soft drink, which kind of moves the offer out of the Ryanair frame.
Air Berlin says that it is all part of the plan to bring quality products and services as close to the customer as possible; LIDL reckons that selling flight vouchers at the counter gives it an edge over its supermarket rivals; as far as the customer is concerned, it’s all a lot simpler than booking your flight on line.
Experts in the retail trade say that direct selling such as that developed by the airline and LIDL is the next step from collecting redeemable vouchers with your supermarket purchases. So will it now be a case of a Ryanair ticket with your petrol purchase, or an Aer Lingus flight at the local restaurant?
Bertie and Bev - talking again?
It was classic Bertie speak when the Taoiseach came west and again faced the question of what Fianna Fáil might or might not do with its most high profile estranged disciple.
Beverley Flynn may have been banished to the outer darkness, but Mr Ahern seemed strangely ambiguous about clearly stating that fairly obvious fact.
Asked by Teresa O’Malley of MWR - a lady who pulls no punches when it comes to asking the awkward one - what was Beverley’s position with regard to her old party, Bertie fudged. Instead of declaring that the now-independent Beverley was on her own, that there was no way back, Bertie went for the safe option.
And, with all the grasp of political reality for which he is famous, he threw out the strongest signal yet that, in a tight situation and with every single vote making a difference, Beverley Flynn wouldn’t have to push too hard for the door to open.
The issue of Beverley’s return would not be considered before the general election, “but it may be some time in the future”, he explained.
On such constructive obfuscation does the art of politics thrive.
The Island student’s story
RTÉ’s continued fascination with West Mayo - a plethora of documentaries over the summer, an enviable concentration on Clew Bay - got yet another run with RTÉ. “This is Me”, a new series where transition year students get to make programmes for 2FM.
The opening programme featured the life and times of fifteen year old Matthew Moran from Clare Island, whose school going routine must have opened the eyes of fellow students across the country. Moving to secondary school might have meant a lifestyle which has become routine for Clare Island youngsters, but for a wider audience it must have come as a jolt to realise that schooling was not quite as simple as hopping on a bus or strolling down the road.
Since the age of twelve, Matthew has gone to school in Louisburgh, lodging with seven other islanders in a house near to the school. It means leaving the island on Monday morning and coming home on Friday night, weather permitting, in a ritual which has become second nature to island people, and which young Moran articulated with all the normality and lack of wonder shared by teenagers everywhere.
The purpose of the programme is to get young people talking about their lives, an aim which could easily become unstuck, depending on either the circumstances or the individual involved. Matthew Moran turned out to be an excellent first choice, objective enough to be able to comment on why his life-style is necessarily so different, yet normal enough to confirm again that a teenager is a teenager, whether he happens to come from Clare Island or Coleraine.
Yes or no to CCTV?
“Big Brother”, or the perfect answer to crime, public order offences and the need for street surveillance? The idea of CCTV surveillance on a blanket scale has been meeting with mixed enough reviews. Contributors to the Castlebar community website - in which town CCTV was installed at substantial cost a few years ago - are sceptical enough about the benefits. But others are not quite so hesitant about using any available technology to reduce hooliganism in the town.
It started with an observation cum enquiry from a local citizen. He - or she - reported that the expensive, extensive CCTV system is no longer operational in Castlebar and enquired as to what had become of the local organising committee which had put the scheme in place.
Westport councillor, Keith Martin, was among the first to respond. Although not wanting to sing the tune of “I told you so”, Councillor Martin said that he had been against CCTV in Castlebar from the very outset for two reasons. The first was because CCTV surveillance is a breach of civil liberties. It had been argued that the tapes would only be viewed if there was a serious incident. Mr Martin says this is no longer the case, and that the town is now monitored by the Gardaí 24/7.
The second was because CCTV does not deter crime and the images are so grainy that they cannot be used in court. There has not been one conviction in Castlebar on foot of CCTV evidence, he says.
The councillor’s objections to CCTV came at an interesting time for Westport, where Garda Supt Pat Doyle only last week floated the idea as a means of decreasing criminal activity in the general Westport area. That is for a later day, but some members of the long-suffering Castlebar citizenry do not share the councillor’s concerns over civil rights.
“Civil Rights, me armpit” wrote one, “where is the civil rights for the victims of crime?” “Spoken like someone who doesn’t live in the town centre,” he goes on, “Come back to me when your car, gutters, windows, doors, wall and even roof have been damaged by the thugs who grace our streets at night”.
Councillor Martin may be fighting a rearguard action if he wants to keep CCTV out of Westport.