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Art cements mother and daughter relationship

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When you’re in business 70 years it’s difficult to keep coming up with ideas that are fresh and will excite people, but you could never accuse the Kenny Art Gallery of shirking in the ideas’ department.

Their theme for the first show of their 70th anniversary is Generations: Ó Ghlúin go Glúin, featuring a series of shows from artists, who have been associated with the gallery through the years, and their children.

This kicks off this Saturday, January 23, and those taking part include mother and and daughter Margaret Irwin and Katharine West, both based in Connemara, Margaret outside Clifden and Katharine in Moycullen.

Margaret is a printmaker, Katharine is a ceramic artist, but, says Margaret, there is a relationship between their art in that there’s a tactile quality to what they produce, and in that they both draw inspiration from the landscape around them.

At 83, Margaret would shame many women half her age. Fit as a fiddle and with a love of life that keeps her young, she works from her studio at her Claddaghduff home, lifting and carrying all the printing plates for her etchings herself. The only concession she has made to old age is that the printing plates aren’t as big as they used to be.

Margaret, who began her artistic career as a painter, ended up as a print maker by accident. But the real wonder is that she became an artist at all, in the depressed social and economic climate of mid 20th century Ireland.

Born in India to a mother from Cork and a father from Roscommon, she returned home to Ireland at the age of nine. She knew from a young age that she wanted to study art, but it wasn’t the done thing in the 1940s when she was at school. Her father didn’t entertain the idea, instead telling her to go to Trinity and study ‘saleable subjects’. She did that, after getting a dispensation from the Catholic Church to attend the ‘Protestant college’, where she studied languages. The dispensation in an era where the Catholic Church dominated people’s lives, did not allow her to study medicine or philosophy.

After graduating from Trinity, she finally got a chance to fulfil her dream of becoming an artist, thanks to the local parish priest in Wickow, Fr Jack Hanlon.

Fr Hanlon, a renowned artist, suggested to Margaret’s parents that she should go to Paris to pursue her passion. They were inclined to accept the suggestion because it came from a priest, she laughs. However, he warned her not to tell them that he was sending her to a Cubist studio, her daughter reminds her with a laugh. Obviously this is a story that’s well known in the family.

Margaret studied with French cubist painter Andre L’Hote before returning to Ireland where she exhibited regularly in the major art shows of the time, such as Living Art and the Oireachtas exhibitions.

“Then I married a Scotsman and moved to England where we lived for about 11 years.”

She kept painting, while rearing her family and moving house – “we did that about five times” – but rarely exhibited her work.

Eventually the family moved back to Dublin, where Margaret began to flourish as an artist. From 1977 to 1991 she taught at the Dún Laoghaire School of Art and at the National College of Art and Design and that that’s when she began printmaking. She needed an extra craft in order to teach at third level, she explains. “ And I got hooked on it.”

She joined the Black Church Print Studio and showed in exhibitions throughout Dublin and further afield.

When she and her husband were due to retire “I ordered a printing press from Peter Knuttel [brother of the artist Graham] and we moved to Connemara. We always wanted to live there”.

Now widowed and living in Claddaghduff, her subjects include archaeological and prehistoric monuments and subjects that have a social and anthropological context.

“One piece I am showing is a huge etching of the chapel on High Island and it’s called Hope, because of the light shining in the window.”

Another is a reflection of light on the mill pond on High Island and again there’s a story to accompany it, about how the monks who lived on the island weren’t supposed to be distracted from their prayers by the beauty around them, but that the light on the lake maybe gave them a glimpse of the wonders of nature.

Another etching of the holy well on Omey Island is intriguing and evocative. In addition to the large etching of the well, Margaret has made separate small pieces representing the different offerings that people leave at the well. These individual images surround the main image to create a work which lets satisfies visually and imaginatively.

 

For more, read page 25 of this week’s Galway City Tribune.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

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A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.

 

For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Archive News

Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr

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Date Published: 23-Jan-2013

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Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup

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Date Published: 29-Jan-2013

Athenry FC 1

Kilbarrack United 2

(After extra time)

For the second year in succession Athenry were done in extra time in the FAI Junior Cup as last season’s beaten finalist’s came from behind to snatch an excellent game in Moanbawn on Sunday afternoon.

On a heavy pitch that was only playable following extensive groundwork by club officials all morning, the home side were by far the better side in the opening half, but failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities that came their way.

An Alan O’Donovan penalty gave them a merited advantage just after the restart, but thereafter were on the back foot as Kilbarrack took over, but for all their pressing, the home rearguard were dealing comfortably with their forays.

However they were struck a body blow just six minutes from time, as big striker Keith Kirwan was left all alone at the far post to head the equaliser and from that point on the Dubliners were the better side.

They started off the extra time in the ascendancy and enjoying all the momentum before striking for a good winning goal on 104 minutes. A strong bench allowed them to make some necessary changes and it was not a facility that was available to Athenry manager Gabriel Glavin.

With Gary Forde and Gary Delaney out through suspension following their sending off against OLBC in the previous round, and Seamie Crowe injured, it left their bench rather threadbare with just a number of young squad players available.

Playing with the aid of the slight incline and any wind advantage going, the home side had a Connor Cannon effort on target in the opening minute, while John Meleady was just over with a flick at the other end.

Meleady then tested Andrew Walsh who saved comfortably, before the goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant double save on 14 minutes.

Firstly he went full length to push away a Meleady shot and was then back on his feet to parry David Jackson’s close-range rebound.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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