Saturday was Charlie and Sharon’s last day in Ireland and the start of my three-day break from manning Olive’s gallery in Listowel. Reading weather summaries, it appeared to be raining to the north but sun was promised in the south. Added inducement was my need for additional printmaking paper, available only in Cork, about ninety minutes to the southeast.
We drive through Tralee, past the Blennerville Windmill, a promising future stop, and on to Killarney, one of the most charming and touristed towns in Ireland. We admire the lush window boxes and linger in several Irish craft boutiques, ultimately buying Charlie a belated birthday gift of an Aran Island knit vest. We luck into a small local cafe on a back alley and have a delicious and well-priced lunch. My big score is a dash mounted cell phone holder. On my last day with a driver, I’ve finally acknowledged the depth of my driving anxiety and hope this device will help me navigate strange terrain without accident.
Driving challenges multiply while on our way to Killarney National Park when we’re suddenly surrounded by a bicycle race. We manage not to hit any cyclists or oncoming cars and gratefully pull into parking for Muckross House, a grand 19th century mansion surrounded by acres of arboreal gardens that roll down to a wilderness lake. A singularly spectacular yew tree graces the walkway to the lake and stands as sentinel to the forest beyond. It’s ancient, magical and rare in a country where most of the trees are deciduous, small and windblown.
We could spend days hiking around the lake and national park wilderness, but must be content with a short trek to the stone boathouse and a walk through a walled garden before continuing eastward to Cork. Passing through scenic Macroom, we arrive in Cork with less than an hour till the art supply store closes. Cork Art Supply is located on an island created by the River Lee running through the center of the city. Between the bridges and one way streets, we circle uselessly until I jump out of the car and walk 10 blocks to the small storefront packed with essentials including a good selection of printmaking paper. Charlie and Sharon catch up but are parked illegally, so we forgo a thorough exploration of this vital, sunny city. Google takes us home over the hills on increasingly small roads and we joke nervously when we turn onto Quarry Road. We’ve discovered road designations: M (highway), N (regional roadway, 2 lanes), R (rural road, think hedgerows and stone walls), and L (local, one lane in spots). Quarry road does turn into a one lane hill climb past sheep and Holstein cows but opens onto stone lined green meadows and mountain vistas with stone bridges and ruins lyrical in the late afternoon light. We make it back to Listowel at sunset and spend the evening packing and sharing a homemade meal featuring local sausage purchased at the Farmers Market on the square.
Once again we set our alarms for 4am and are off to Shannon airport along the misty river road in deep darkness. I part ways with Sharon and Charlie at the rental car return and wrestle with my worries as I wait in line for my new, smaller car. It takes me a few minutes to remember the mechanics of a stick shift and a left-sided one at that, but shortly, I’m off through a series of roundabouts in my miniscule Hyundai heading towards Limerick. Boldly, I follow my google instructions and skip the foggy river road on the return. At first, all is well and I’m on a nice sized “N” road, but then am routed onto a rural lane. Fortunately, the smell of manure alerts me to cows in the vicinity and I slow just in time to miss a cow, head halfway into the curving turn. Then, I see a farmer putting out cones and signs in the road and see his herd ready to cross the road. Not an “R” route but a cowpath this morning. Exhausted, I gratefully park the car in the public lot near the river and crawl back to the townhouse for a nap.
Waking late morning, I feel compelled to use my free time and available car to explore. Every kilometer I drive towards Dingle, my confidence navigating these plush green landscapes increases. Stopping atop the hills, I see ocean breaking through the clouds, colors and geometries stirring my soul and inspiring a print series. Dropping down through the hills to the protected bay that fronts Dingle, I make my way along narrow streets to a coffee-house. My sangfroid is shattered when parking I clip a car’s side view mirror. Fortuitously, the mirror cover clips back on and the Owner is kind. The Wren’s Nest coffee shop has a new age feel, the Owner soon to close up shop for the season and head to India for spiritual inspiration. He serves me an excellent latte and oatmeal cookie and we discuss Dingle. Dingle’s beauty make it a seaside tourist town and an artists haven. I finish up and wander from bookstore to handicraft store, purchasing green olives, and hearing rifts of Irish music drifting from pubs and music shops. I learn of a local letterpress business vow to return with more energy to investigate.
Making my way home, I find more streams and bridges, more misty hillsides and sheep pastures, and always the stacked gray stone forming walls and ruins, creating edges and boundaries with austere simplicity. I am relieved to make it back to the car park without incident and am happy to walk to the local grocery and then back to Olive’s refuge.
Monday is a rainy morning and I change sheets and run laundry before setting to work on one of my architecture projects that demands immediate, long distance attention. I do break to walk up the street to John R’s for a well made sandwich and to visit the local cabinetmaker to discuss packaging for my press. Irish weather is nothing but changeable, and the sun breaks through in the late afternoon and rousts me out for a river walk. I catch peaks of the famed race courses across the river as well as the Kerry agricultural processing plant before arriving at an arching stone bridge traversing the rapids, golden in the afternoon light. I walk onwards through the woods and to
the European gardens, appreciating the newly dedicated trees and the last of the hydrangeas. Then it’s home to sketch out a few print ideas and lose myself in Netflix’s rich library of English period films.
It’s a busy week as I try to finish a fall floral print and start a Kerry landscape linocut. I’m new to retail and struggle to encourage visitors to the gallery without hovering. The bell in the studio rings occasionally with a potential customer or a friendly local welcoming me to their town. I’m thrilled to sell a framed print and am touched when Olive’s Mom brings me sausage rolls and shares stories of the house and her family. My oil based ink dries very slowly, demanding patience. I end the week with one print from my Seattle “Watercourse” project completed, incomplete drying prints filling the lines, and a new linocut of the bridge underway.
All week I’ve called freight and packaging companies, seeking the best solution for shipping my press frame. Near the end of the week I find the answer and an interesting new destination. An Irish company in Galway is experienced in packing and shipping art and delicate equipment and will guarantee the transport, all for a reasonable price. The catch is I have to bring the press to them in beautiful Galway. With a quote firmly in hand, I agree to the terms and promise to notify them a few days before my arrival.
Thursday afternoon, a trio of fashionable women show up in the gallery clamoring to meet the new American artist. I’m immediately drawn to Carol, the charismatic and charming leader of the pack, and she invites me to join their Friday evening session at John B. Keene – Listowel’s most famous pub. End of day Friday, I brush my hair, put on some lipstick and talk myself into walking down the street for a pint and some company. Carol is there with Tom, a retired English engineer, Jeanie, part of the original trio, Martina, retired and returned home from nursing in South Africa, and Damian, tour guide par excellence. Carol is drinking Hendricks gin (my favorite) and tells me the bar stocks it at her request. I go easy with a pint of red ale, and we dive into a 3 hour conversation covering English royal succession, art, good second marriages, medical care in Ireland and South Africa, previous resident artists, and what to see in Ireland. They’re all warm, welcoming, opinionated, and quick. I’m astonished to discover Carol is about to celebrate her 80th birthday in Manhattan with her kids and grandchildren. She’s my new role model. I’m thrilled to be encouraged to come back next week and weave my way home, happy to have experienced the warmth and friendship of this town.
The weather has turned unseasonably warm and humid with air from the Azores pushed northwards by hurricane Ophelia. Never thinking to pack t-shirts, I’m sweaty as I start up the car on Saturday morning, determined to survey more of my surroundings before stormy weather arrives. I decide to head for breakfast at the Blennerville windmill but can’t seem to pick up a map route on the phone. I get on the road and follow signs to Tralee thinking I’ll find youthful phone assistance at the cafe. Only the cafe is closed for the season and I’m desperate for a cup of coffee. Suddenly aware of my lack of maps and huge dependence on my phone, I find my way to the center of town and spot a cafe I’ve read has good breakfasts. After coffee and a berry muffin, my head clears and I stop at a mobile store and am aided by two kindly young men who can’t find the problem but suggest I call my provider. Almost an hour later, a T-Mobile technician in Texas flips a switch and I’m back in service.
I head up over the hills for Dingle, thinking it’ll be interesting even if the promised rain arrives, leaving sunny Tralee and the north coast for mountains in the clouds. This time, I park along the broader main street without incident. A visit to the bookshop yields a local author’s account of renovating a stone house on the Dingle coast, contact information for the letterpress owner, and the name and directions to the best Dingle printmaker. Also a baker, he’s supposed to be down the street hosting an end of season sale at his store. He’s not in the shop but I meet his teenage daughters who give me his number and urge me to connect. I pause and watch a traditional wedding unfold at the church, admiring the ladies wildly inventive hats and study the gorgeous yellow door in a Georgian entryway. Further along, I return to the artisan weaver’s store for Christmas gifts and then back to the upscale food emporium for more olives. Finishing up the sale, I ask the young clerk for a lunch recommendation and she brightens as she sings the praises of The Pantry, a friend’s new endeavor. From the street it’s just a sign and a doorway, but I push in and discover inventive, well spiced food featuring lots of vegetables. Everyone is friendly from the neighboring Mom with two toddlers to the visiting Italian tourists. I ask the waitress for advice on how to prepare the blood pudding I’ve picked up at the Farmers Market and she introduces me to the chef who advises frying it with lots of butter. Sipping an excellent chai amidst an international crowd, momentarily I am at the center of a perfect universe.