Sunday in Ireland is quiet, reminding me of New York in the 1960’s when blue laws were in effect. I’ve discovered nothing is open until church lets out at noon and no alcohol can be sold until 10:30 on weekday mornings and 12:30 on Sundays. Enjoying the slow pace, I steep a cup of dark English Breakfast and spend the morning reading and writing. Once again, sunny weather is promised on the south coast, so I jump in the car and set a route to Kinsale, a picturesque town about 2 hours away. Almost immediately, I miss a turn and am then routed onto increasingly narrow roads. I have to laugh when I find myself on a single lane with tall grass in the center of the road. I slow down to enjoy the ruined stone cottages, the hillsides dotted with white sheep, and a solitary aspect that transports me to the eighteenth century. Right after I cross the county line into Cork, I am dazzled by an arching golden tunnel of oak trees followed by hedges of fuchsia flecked with carmine flowers.
Many rural roads later, I arrive in Kinsale, a pretty town with a protected harbor. Unfortunately, the sun has vanished, parking is tricky, and the town is full of Americans buying up woolens at the few open shops that line the Main Street. Ducking into the Poet’s Corner coffee shop and book exchange, I order a large latte and slice of lemon cake. In Ireland, a wide selection of salads and vegetables seems to be in short supply but cakes, cookies and cream are abundant, catering to my worst instincts. I luxuriate in a velvet wing chair, surrounded with bookshelves overflowing with poetry collections and novels and am served my coffee and cake by a cheerful staffer who leaves me to read and sip uninterrupted. Unwilling to retrace my rustic route in the darkness, I leave Kinsale without exploring its massive coastal fort or sampling its legendary cuisine. I make it home before nightfall and am happy to heat up leftovers and continue reading “The Last Painting of Sara de Vos”, an engrossing novel about a Dutch 16th century painting and contemporary art forgery, compliments of my good friend Mary.
Via email I contact the Owner of the Dingle Letterpress and she offers to show me the press on Monday at noon. I meet Camilla, the owner of the press and Dingle Bookstore, at her shop and we walk through the back alleys of Dingle to the small, skylit shed that houses this historic press originally owned and operated by Yeats’s sisters. Her press operator shows me the process of assembling type and printing a page. I admire their array of historic typefaces including an Irish alphabet and their impressive inventory of Gaelic poetry chapbooks. I show them photos of my new press and we discuss opportunities for integrating more graphic art with their limited edition poetry. Camilla takes me to Goat Street Social (what a name!) for a delicious lunch and we brainstorm a letterpress workshop and possible poetry/art affiliations. Dingle’s beauty and Irish language attracts poets, musicians, artists and dreamers. We part with hugs and excitement, and I drive home through lifting clouds, the sun lining a bright edge in the sky.
Olive stops in on Wednesday morning and we confirm a Friday opening reception for my residency prints and make plans for dinner. I’m suddenly madly busy juggling three prints towards completion. Additional white ink and translucent base arrive from London and I buy bags of rags and rolls of paper towels on a daily basis. Joni Mitchell and U2 alternate with BBC radio to enliven the studio. Finally, I see final prints emerging that match my original concepts. I vacillate between exhilaration and despair, especially when I commit a rookie error and run a print backwards. Evenings I hole up in the townhouse and fall asleep easily after a short call to Charlie. I’m dreaming landscapes and prints.
Olive’s friend, Ann Harrold, offers to show me her family’s dairy farm and arrives breathless with baby Norah after dropping John-Joe and Margaret off at school in Halloween costumes. Sparkly dresses and fairy wings are time-consuming to arrange and transport. As Ann drives she describes the farm as located near 6 Crosses that are actually only five. We climb above town to the green pastures on single lanes lined with hedgerows and arrive at a large, gated stucco house where we change into rubber boots and set out in sunshine for the cow sheds. Ann’s husband, David, and his brother own and manage the large heard of Frisian dairy cattle lowing in the outside pen. The cows crowd the fence as we approach, mooing and flicking their tagged ears. We visit the calves and are studying the soon to be beef steers when Ann explains she’s a vegetarian, eyeing the cattle and asking “how could you eat them?”
Despite the time, Ann and I stroll out along the farm lane for vistas of fields in breaking sunshine. We share stories of our lives before our children, Ann describing herself as a Dublin accountant in sharp suits and pointy heels with nary a flat shoe in her wardrobe while wryly showcasing her Wellies and jeans. Time is the precious commodity we concur as we stop and share the morning light, slight breeze, and birdsong. Ann breaks into rhyme, quoting WH Davies with “what is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare”, the perfect benediction on our time together. I’m a few minutes late to open the shop but happily trade punctuality for this memorable morning
Gloved and wrapped in a smudged apron, I’m pulling a bottle green ink layer across my Cloghane print when the shop bell rings and Maureen arrives. She’s visiting Listowel from Toronto, tracing her Stacks lineage and contemplating buying artwork made by a distant relative for her new condo. Friendly and effortlessly elegant, Maureen easily falls into wide-ranging conversation. I discover she’s originally from Montreal, a McGill graduate, is currently researching her mother’s Irish family and writing a book. Invited to see my press, she climbs up to the studio, admires my prints and asks if I’m free for dinner. Cheered by her company and encouraged by her affirmation we make plans for a late dinner.
Her SUV filled with children and “bribes”, Ann picks me up at shop closing and we race the setting sun to Cnoc an Oir, the highest hill in county Kerry. I jump out of the car, phone in hand, running to capture the sunset over the Cashen river pouring into the Atlantic. I’m amazed at the breadth of the rural landscape, spotting only occasional lights in the landscape. Fog obscures the Shannon River aspect of this overlook and Ann tells me I must return for the 360 degree vista. She drops me at the Gallery and I text my new friend Maureen. We meet at Allos and share a splendid Italian meal and no end of stories and ideas. Maureen promises to come to my opening and I end the day radiant with new friendships and experiences.
Friday morning is a blur as I run around Listowel picking up flowers, hors d’oeuvres, string, tacks and wine before the gallery opens. I discover Ireland’s time restrictions on alcohol sales when the grocery store refuses my purchase of wine at 10am. I head to John R’s for olives and dip and am lucky they’re willing to sell me two bottles of wine a few minutes early, though I have to promise not to pop the cork and swill it outside their door. At the florist, Liz quickly assembles a fall colored bouquet of chrysanthemums and lilies accented with a quirky orange butterfly. I invite everyone along the way to the show and feel like the entire town has my back. I spend the rest of the morning numbering and signing my prints and formatting a price list. I’ve managed to string a line of prints in the storefront window and am fussing with interior wall string lines when Maureen shows up and offers assistance. Maureen, like my sister-in-law Sharon, is a brilliant manager. She helps set string lines, straightens prints, minds the store while I run to the printer, shops for napkins and pop, helps arrange flowers and food and uncorks the wine, pours two glasses and toasts me as the opening hour arrives. Olive arrives and approves, people show up, prints sell and I’m so proud, relieved, and grateful. Maureen and I close down the gallery after a few hours, clean up wine glasses and food and then head over to John B. Keanes pub. I introduce Maureen to the 6-9 club of locals and expats and we celebrate a grand month in Listowel. I’ve definitely got angels on my side and have debuted my prints in a warm-hearted and generous town.
I’ve planned to track down Niall the Dingle printmaker on my last Saturday in Listowel. Moving slowly after all the excitement, I’m still at the townhouse when Olive arrives to run the gallery. We compare notes and plan on a final dinner before I leave on Monday and then I’m off to the peninsula. I stop in Tralee to drop off recycling and finally discover the back route to the Blennerville windmill, I park and wander the harborside trails admiring the clouds mirrored in the bay and finding more material for my Round Kerry print series.
Niall is not to be found in Cloghane so I push on for a last visit to Dingle. The views are shrouded by mist and rain and I’m glad for my previous trips in sunshine. I return to The Pantry for another excellent meal and then do some final Christmas shopping, feeling flush with my art sales. Returning, I discover I’ve missed Maureen, Carol and Jean who have all stopped by the gallery for farewells. Starting this residency in solitude was a challenge, leaving having made such dear connections is a sweet sorrow.
Sunday the clock falls back and I appreciate the added hour as I strip the studio, disassemble the press, vacuum, scrub bathrooms, and pack prints. The sun illuminates the hillsides and wet slate roof tiles as I’m finishing so I call Olive and tell her I’m ready to play. We drop two large trash bags in the bin on our way to a late lunch in Ballybunion. The beach is full of families and a lone hardy surfer. We have a bird’s-eye view from our second floor table at Daroka, a newer farm to table restaurant above the beach. Olive and I relax over excellent risotto and goat cheese salad and salute each other with French wine. We talk about her coloring book project, the Christmas Express production, the residency, Paris, painting, and the superiority of Irish dairy products. Ah, that Kerry butter is like pure cream only richer.
We finish with a drive up to Cnoc an Oir where I at last see county Kerry in the full 360. The River Shannon glows in the twilight as tankers make their way along its broad channel to port. A fitting farewell to this achingly beautiful place.