The first walk of the new year through Massey’s Wood, a recreation site, along the Dublin Mountain Trail. The ground was soft and the air was fresh. I photographed this scene with my mobile phone, did some quick sketches, then launched myself into the painting.
On a sunny Sunday morning in May, I embarked on my journey from Dublin to Dingle, Co. Kerry. A week of painting outdoors, or otherwise known as En Plein Air. The car was laden down with field easels, oil paints, turps, linseed oil, stretched canvas of all shapes and sizes, clothes to paint in, clothes for warm weather, clothes for cold weather, raingear and the list goes on…. I arrived in Dingle a couple of hours later and was greeted by a number of other like-minded artists who had also packed the so-called ‘kitchen sink’ in preparation for our week of painting.
Dingle (Irish: An Daingean / Daingean Uí Chúis, meaning “Ó Cúis’ fort”) is the only town on the Dingle Peninsula, and sits on the Atlanticcoast. It is also the place where the Academy Award winning Ryan’s Daughter was filmed back in the ‘70’s. The town was developed as a port following the Norman invasion of Ireland and has a population of just over 1900. The western end of the peninsula is a Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking area). This is the most western part of Ireland, and the village of Dún Chaoin is often jokingly referred to as “the next parish to America”. It has stunning scenery and the Blasket Islands lie off the west coast of the peninsula. It was the perfect place for landscape and seascape painting.
We travelled high and low, through the narrow roads of Conor Pass, on to Inch Strand, Slea Head, Ballyferriter and sometimes we just had to curb our enthusiasm and wait until the traffic cleared:
We set out one day and arrived at a place called Duineen with a magnificent mountain range and a river system sometimes referred to as the Three Sisters. We started the day with the sun shining as the waves danced and glimmered against the rocks. Seconds later, dark skies and hailstones, came from God knows where. The waves kicked up a storm and sprayed us with a cool mist while we tried in vain to protect the paintings and the easels from blowing away….
Another glorious day, the sun beat down on us and I imagined myself in far off sunny climes. All the superfluous layers of clothing were abandoned as we squinted away from the glare of the sun and topped up our delicate features regularly with sun cream.
Next day, we decided to go inland and pulled off to the side of the road. Came upon this amazing place called Kilmalkedar, an early medieval ecclesiastical site with a church dating back to the 12th century. This was a fine example of Irish Romanesque architecture when Ireland was trying to bring itself more into line with the rest of Europe. There was a sundial, a large cross and an ogham stone (Celtic alphabet). Inside the church was a 6th century stone carved with the letters DNI representing Domini. Many tourist buses came and went while we painted, but I found it charming when the school children arrived and all spoke fluent Irish as their Múinteoir (teacher) educated them on the enormous historical value of the site.
The days went by quickly. Dedicated painting throughout the day, then lots of chat and laughter as we exchanged our stories and discussed the day’s events over a nice meal. Friendships blossomed and many beautiful paintings were created in oils, acrylics and watercolours, each and every one unique. I look back now with fond memories of my plein air painting experience in Dingle.
High up in the Dublin mountains, pockets of snow littered the landscape as the Spring sunshine and shrill winds competed with one another. The harsh winter had been left behind and the only evidence remaining was the rush of Spring water beating a track through the moss coated rocks, deep into the forest.