Stunning garden at root of new exhibition

A five-acre garden at Oranswell deveoped over the years by Lorna McMahon became hugely popular with the public, thanks to annual Open Days hosted by the renowned plantswoman for the Galway Mental Health Association. These no longer take place but a new show from artist Jay Murphy will give people a fresh perspective on this special place. Jay tells BERNIE Ní FHLATHARTA how it evolved.

One of the country’s best loved gardens is the subject of a brand-new one-woman art exhibition that opens in Galway City this Halloween.

Moycullen based Jay Murphy, like many others, has been visiting Lorna McMahon’s well-tended garden in Oranswell in Bushypark for many years.

The five-acre garden was opened to the public for three Sundays every May for over 25 years and all monies raised went to the Galway Mental Health Association. This charity was close to Lorna’s heart, as she founded it and later chaired its board. On several occasions, Lorna announced her intention to end the Open Days but something always led to her retracting the decision.

Eventually, though, she did stop, to the regret of many.

However, Lorna still tended the garden and it was still visited by friends, gardening clubs and artists –  among them Jay, who also has a passion for plants.

“Lorna very kindly allowed me to visit the garden and sit in various spots with my pastels,” she says. “There are so many different parts to her garden and I always feel content and inspired during those visits.

“I had quite a few pastel images done just before Covid hit and obviously I didn’t visit during lockdown,” she adds.

However, it was during that time that Jay worked in her studio and started making large oil paintings, working from some of the pastels.

Initially this was purely something to do during the long months when she was confined to her home like everyone else. But as time went by, Jay came to realise that the oils and the pastels inspired by Lorna’s garden could be the makings of an exhibition.

Lorna was very open to the idea and Jay was thrilled that the place she had visited so often would now be framed in works of art.  She also felt that an exhibition celebrating the garden was appropriate given that the Open Days had ended.

So, not only did working on the paintings help Jay cope with living through the pandemic, this exhibition will bring parts of Lorna’s garden back to life when it runs at the Kenny Art Gallery in Liosbán.

“Though I hadn’t set out to create a collection for an exhibition, the lockdown was the perfect time to concentrate on finishing the work I had started. Some of the pastels were done ‘en plein air’ during my garden visits before lockdown,” Jay explains.

“I’ve loved painting in the open air since I was a schoolgirl when an art teacher brought the class outdoors to draw and paint what we saw around us.

“As Lorna was very amenable to the idea of me exhibiting the paintings, it made it even better. . . and I’m very happy with the work,” says Jay who has been an artist all her life.

A native of Dublin and a graduate of the Dún Laoghaire College of Art and Design, she and her then partner, Brian Bourke – whom she later married –  and their young son, Malachy, moved to Galway over 40 years ago.

She remembers living in a cottage outside Moycullen on the Spiddal road which had no running water and no electricity. But the wide open spaces and the West’s budding arts environment made up for the lack of those amenities, she says.

Pictured: Artist Jay Murphy, holding one of her paintings, with Lorna McMahon in her garden. Photo: Joe O’Shaughnessy


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