Ireland in artists’ words

Second Reading

INSPIRATION In the Bell magazine back in the 1940s and 50s, Seán Ó Faoláin encouraged artists to describe the loveliest things they have seen.

Second Reading
Fr Kevin Hegarty

The Irish Times revealed recently that the Burren was the best place to holiday in Ireland. It was the result of a competition launched last May that attracted over 1,200 entries. The Burren emerged victorious for a short list the included Inishbofin, Achill, Carlingford in Co Louth and The Causeway in Co Antrim.
The competition reminded me of an article in the ‘Bell’ Magazine which I discovered recently. Edited by the distinguished short story writer, Seán Ó Faoláin, the ‘Bell’ was a significant literary and cultural journal in the 1940s and 1950s Ireland.
Ó Faoláin asked a number of Irish artists to describe the loveliest things they had seen. Their responses provide an insight into artistic inspiration and are a list of beautiful places in Ireland.
The Derry artist Norah McGuinness wrote that “the loveliest thing in Ireland is the colour of Ireland. No other country has such rich, vibrant tones, from the deep purples of the hills and the green and yellows of the fields, to the silver greys of sea and sky. And it is never monotonous, because of the low, every changing skies.”
For Séan Keating “it was a cattle fair in Aran on a day in June. White and violet shadows, black and red cattle, black and white horses. Men in cream and blue, women in red and black. String art in a long line at the top of the picture. Bottom half clear green water over white  sand about fifteen feet deep. Black shining porpoises playing in it. Deep blue sky.”
Maurice MacGonigal also found inspiration in Galway: “I was painting a scene in Renvyle, a white half hidden by rising earth; cottage and earth rising to the skyline. It was late in the afterglow and everything was a grey blue. I was contemplating leaving when a man suddenly rode in on a horse, driving some cattle home for the night. Some geese came too, and for one moment, man, horse and geese stood silhouetted against the sky. At this moment a flight of wild geese came right over the house and one could hear nothing but the beat of their wings. The tame geese below became very excited and attempted to rise with them, and somehow or other this picture which remained, only for a moment, stays in my mind.”
Harry Kernoff recalled “standing on the top of Tibradden looking away to the Sugar Loaf and Bray Head at shimmering strata of Mavves, petunias, amethyst, maroon. Far below the pine forest and the blue of twilight, the road sank out of view. The shadows became purple and the idyll faded.”
Paul Henry, who spent several years in Achill, described day break on Killary Bay from a height above Salrock: “Everything was still with that hush that comes so often with the dawn, and everything was veiled, and yet revealed and I think intensified by the most delicate of opalescent mists. Far below me a little flotilla of curraghs was pulling out from the white village by the edge of the sea to the herring shoals, which were playing in big rings on the glassy water. The tiny curraghs - they seemed no bigger then water beetles - the only moving things; the only sounds, the minute creek of their paddles coming from far away.”
Evie Hone loved “Lough Na Fooey in County Galway on a winter’s morning after a hard frost, the mountain behind coming out of the mist and the reeds very stiff and dark against the lake.”
Her good friend Mainie Jellett showed exquisite taste in choosing a place in Mayo: “In Co Mayo I was on the sea shore. I crossed a great expense of gold coloured sand. I climbed over rocks to a long promontory with sand banks. On it were a series of rough stones, covering small mounds. The mounds were the graves of unbaptised infants. There was a bigger mound which may have been the grave of a ship wrecked sailor. The scene gave an intense feeling of peace, dignity and the uttermost simplicity. The sun was brilliant and the sea ultramarine blue and white. One felt the everlasting beauty of life and death.”