Third Time’s the Charm

Me, Diane and Olive painting just before dusk in Ballylongford.

I am the proud pig of the Olive Stack Gallery Residency and Listowel.

I’ve happily, piggishly spent more than 4 months in Ireland over 3 years, thanks to Olive who offers month-long artist residencies.  The residency comes complete with views of the  comings and goings of Listowel, Co. Kerry, Ireland.

View from Apartment Window

This year, returning with  a wonderful artist and traveler  Diane Pike!

After 3 visits, it is all the same and all different.  Still the wonder and enchantment of the first few days of discovery with another great friend, Laura McRae Hitchcock.  That was when, fresh off the bus, we met Damian Stack (“no relation to Olive,” he assures).

This third year, it is still Damian who reveals the best secrets of  Kerry in his now infamous wild drives off the beaten path. This week, we wandered Beara Peninsula way for yet more discoveries. The  thing about Damian is that guide-to-all-things-Kerry is his passion.  He also heads Stack Furniture and Carpets, organizes city-wide events and a million other projects and shenanigans. Okay,  shenanigans are his actual passion. This year, I was promoted to “adopted Stack status.”  The bad news is the status entitles me to S.F.A. (Sweet F*** All).

Painting-wise…the brilliantly designed and varied hues of the city’s facades still grab me. It’s always the first painting I do when I get here.This year, I took a walking tour with Vincent Camody who focused on the designs of Patrick McAuliffe.

From my favorite vantage in the square, the city’s charms are laid out. The centerpiece, St John’s Theater , in the Church of Ireland building hosts wonderful plays and currently exhibits the Listowel Visual Arts Week juried show, The Wild Atlantic Way.  I was humbled to have the painting Castletownbere Port accepted into this show.

Castletownbere 8 x 10″ available at DilworthArtisanStation

At St. John’s, I attended a performance of “Big Maggie.”  One of Listowel’s  John B. Keane’s wonderful plays. The role of Maggie,  the powerful and cruel matriarch, was so intense a,  the character physically  combats her own daughter.  The actress was in tears well into the curtain call. Some of this emotion may have had to do with the attendance of Keane’s children in the audience.  The performance fell during the 90th birthday of the playwrite.

I can always catch a glimpse of Mary O’Flaherty’s red and black tiled Chic Boutique in these city scapes. But even better is to be lucky enough to have an encounter with Mary or her mom, Pat.  Mary’s witty observations are the kind you think about later and BURST OUT laughing!


Seanachai Writers Museum

   The Seanachai Writers’ Museum was the site of many of the highly successful Listowel Visual Arts Festival Week events. This included my profanity laced presentation on the topic of the Affects of Travel on Artists’ work. Followed with an interview with Writer’s Week own Elizabeth Dunn.

It’s my own bathroom view that provoked a series of Butler Building paintings under different lights and times of day. Most of these will be on view at my exhibition (with Diane Pike) at Caldwell Arts Council on October 5

Painting available at Olive Stack Gallery

Painting  Listowel puts me in the grand position of being able to meet the “man on the street.”  I’ve given directions (“want to know your Irish heritage? Talk to Tom”,) met future FB friends, had laughs, discussed the weather “Isn’t it glorious?”and solved many world problems.

Party at Carol’s

One of my favorite Irish people is a transplant from Greenville, SC,; Carol,who has let us into her circle for endless hours of mighty craic. (I’m sorry–that word still doesn’t quite flow.  To this American, it still evokes images of plumbers bending over. But I don’t give up ).

Nun’s Beach,Ballybunion

This year, Olive, Diane and I took weekly ‘field trips’ to paint. CahirDaniel, Ballylongford, Ballybunion and of course, Ardfert Friary!

View of Lislaughtin, Ballylongford
Hydrangea and Landscape: Cahirdaniel
Ardfert Friary


What I left out of this glimpse back: gathering with other Listowel Lovers (many

Francis Bacon Drawing (Dublin)

pictured in the party at Carol’s), the wonderful trip to Dublin with Tom, hearing Mickey McConnell’s music, hanging with Maura and Myra, our portrait painting of Mickey at Allo’s , the gin and tonic themes that recurred through the trip, meeting Fintin O’Toole,  evenings at John B’s, hanging with Emily Andress, Terry Shipley and company,  Dinners at Mully’s, River Feale walks, shopping and catching up with Clodagh at Taelane’s, meeting Barry, the Blasket Islands, teaching workshops, figure drawing, painting at the Farm, Book of Kells, Frances Bacon, Bloom Restaurant (Dublin) Paint Outs………


In short. The residency has enriched this little pig beyond measure(thank you Olive!). It has  become a key part of my own personal biography.  I’ve indeed scratched the surface of this wonderful community through a painter’s cloudy lens. But it’s gonna take a lifetime of returns to complete the picture of Ireland’s Listowel.

The Firsts. The Lasts.



(written days before I must leave…Lucky Laura is joined by the Intrepid Pam Goode for the month of June!)


It’s a great privilege when you can stay parked in a place long enough to feel it’s rhythms.  And after 30 days in Ireland, I can say,  lovely Listowel has a beat you can dance to.

With time, routines can happen.  Within days of being here, our language shifts from phrases like, “the first time we ever…,” to “we always…”  As in recalling “the first time we met the unofficial ambassador of all things Listowel, Damien Stack…”  To, “I always holler at Damien when I see him outside his shop…I love the joke he tells about the man and the wife….”


From the very first time we saw Olive Stack as we stumbled into town a month ago….to now, fast friends, day tripping around Kerry, joking and planning our next adventure….

From our first distant glimpse of Mary O Flaherty in her bright pink coat to now, smiling at her quick wit as soon as we catch the glint in her eye! Salivating because she “always” has a pastry  for us in tow.


IMG_8373From the immediate care Phil (greatest barmaid in all of Ireland), took of us on our first night in John B’s. To now scheduling our Art Opening (“Capturing Kerry”) around the bar’s Six to Nine Club meeting. (Six to 9 are the hours members meet at John B. Keane’s.  Really, isn’t that everything you need in a club name?)

We started out brushing up on the colorful stories of this town, finding the plaque which honors  Kathy Buckley , cook for THREE  U.S. presidents. We’ve delighted in the work of  artist, Pat McAuliffe designer of the distinctive, colorful plaster storefronts. We discovered the legacy of writer John B. Keane and his wife, Mary.  Within weeks, like travel guides, we are the ones informing newcomers of the time the entire town dressed as nuns (even the babies wore habits) to make an entry in Guinness World Book.original.jpeg

So it is with bitter sweetness, that as my month here concludes, all the firsts and always, soon must become “lasts.”

That’s the Last John R’s sandwich.

The Last hefting on of the Paint Pack in a chilly drizzle. (Is this thing heavier now?)

The Last morning coffee at Lynch’s.

The Last sly joke with Phil

The Last look from the apartment window.

And The Last…Oh jesusmaryandjoseph I don’t know how I’ll cope …. Pint.

But over that last pint, I’ll contemplate that none of this can really  be the Last.  There will be returns, and then, soon after I hear the first few notes, I’ll be sure to find the rhythm of Listowel once again.




For The Artist at The Start of a New Morning

May morning be astir with the harvest of night;

Your mind quickening to the eros of a new question,
Your eyes seduced by some unintended glimpse
That cut right through the surface to a source.

May this be a morning of innocent beginning,
When the gift within you slips clear
Of the sticky web of the personal
With its hurt and its hauntings,
And fixed fortress corners,

A Morning when you become a pure vessel
For what wants to ascend from silence,

May your imagination know
The grace of perfect danger,

To reach beyond imitation,
And the wheel of repetition,

Deep into the call of all
The unfinished and unsolved

Until the veil of the unknown yields
And something original begins
To stir toward your senses
And grow stronger in your heart

In order to come to birth
In a clean line of form,
That claims from time
A rhythm not yet heard,
That calls space to
A different shape.

May it be its own force field
And dwell uniquely
Between the heart and the light

To surprise the hungry eye
By how deftly it fits
About its secret loss.

–John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings

In my time in Ireland, I had a special encounter with a young man who had recently encountered  a great loss.  We have all had this kind of loss, but it can be an even greater trial for a younger person.

Recounting the conversation to a new friend I met here, she told me about the Irish author, John O’Donohue.  He was a poet, philosopher and priest.  An almost mystical experience with his writings led her to seek out his books.  She said within his wide body of work, there seems to always be a particular blessing or prayer that brings comfort or inspiration for almost any plight. She gifts this book to anyone who has experienced the death of a loved one.

In a Listowel bookstore, I found the book to pass on to my young friend in hopes that it may bring some small peace.

But when I opened the book, what I saw was the poem, For the Artist at the Start of a New Morning. Every time I read it, a new passage rings out.  This morning, I was urged “to reach beyond imitation and the wheel of repetition.”

And to you, in whatever your creative endeavor, I wish you a “morning of innocent beginning.”13119980_10153612294837503_2573125145430299149_o


The Grace of Perfect Danger


Note: Things to take from a Small Irish Island


We took a weekend trip to the Aran Islands and here’s the takeaway:

#1.  Live dangerously.

Drive on the left side of the road.  Even if you are screaming for the entire four-hour trip.  Honestly, this is harder on the passenger than the driver. Driving up, Laura kept gently reminding ‘Curb. Curb. Curb.  When you feel the bumps it’s a curb. Curb. Curb.”

We switched over on the way back where Laura  was confident enough in IMG_2042driving to pull over on a side road so we could do a quick painting.

#2.  Eat real butter   Life’s too short to mess around with anything other than the creamy soft brick left out on the counter, leaving it soft and smearable.   If counting calories, cut back on veggies.

The same applies to the real beer like the ones we drank at Ti Jo  Waddy’s…the hole in the wall where the musicians sit on benches at a corner table like any other customer, just less rowdy.   This one alternated traditional Irish tunes with James Taylor and IMG_1966Carol King.  The crowd sang along, the old guy at the bar danced.  Sipping real smooth Guiness makes you want to be part of the stories happening around you.  Like our new Irish lassie friends, Michelle and Mary, on holiday, who easily downed a dozen pints between them.  When we told them we were painting in this chilly spot, Michelle asked, “Are you bullocks?”

#3. Layer

If the anticipated “heat wave” predicted becomes bone-chilling rain and you don’t have sufficient layers to add and/or shed; get some. Swing by the Aran Islands sweater store and model hats and scarves with other customers like Ted.  If you don’t know what looks good, just ask anyone.

When Laura bragged about how cute Ted looked in his tam, his son said, “oh no!  he’ll  buy up that hat just because you said he looked cute!”


Packing is easy when you layer your entire wardrobe.


# 3.  Look backward

Grab a nearby mini-van and driver (we gathered more customers to get a cheaper rate) and travel through landscapes divided by a spider’s web of rock walls.  Finally  reach the prehistoric Dun Aengus Fort; some of the oldest in Ireland.  Wild, rocky, windswept and over 100 meters over the water!  It’s a majestic soulful place to be.  DSC_0252Have a cup of tea after the climb down.

This was the reason we made this journey and we are so happy we did!

On the way back down, we contrasted the vistas with the intimacy of a monastery cemetery.  Still in use today, we found stories in the items left at the gravesite.

#4.  Meet folk

Like our chatty B n B hostess, Catherine of Ti Catherine (Ti means “house”).  We added extra time to our morning schedule to allow for her updates (“my sister had to go to the hospital where everyone there had the vomits.  The vomits are going around.  JesusMaryAndJoseph they sent cathetered one man and sent him home with a bag! ”)


We loved her full breakfast, served on an oilcloth world map.

#5 .  Don’t Worry About Your Hair.

That’s all.  Just don’t worry about it.

We Made It! Day One.


Jean caught up with me in Newark and we headed off into the wild blue yonder, or as Pam likes to say, we were hurtling through space and time. We arrived in Shannon an hour earlier than scheduled and caught the bus to Listowel. Two and half hours later we arrived at the bus stop right in the heart of town. There were people everywhere dressed up in all eras of military uniform. We soon discovered Listowel was celebrating their annual  military festival. We asked the first person we saw how to get to Olive’s gallery. He turned out to be Damien Stack, tour guide extraordinaire! We’d been told of his wonderful expertise in giving tours by Heather, the artist who was at the gallery before us. He’s incredibly funny and we are looking forward to booking a tour with him. He pointed us in the right direction and we found the gallery easily.

IMG_1568Olive was waiting for us there, and honestly, as soon as we saw her we felt like we were seeing an old friend! Hugs all around and a long chat with her were all we needed to feel perfectly at home. The whole set up is incredibly wonderful! The studio has gorgeous light, even on a cloudy, rainy day. Jean and I agree, it’s just like we’ve stepped into a movie! IMG_7791

After Olive left, we decided to check out the town. The military festival was in full gear reenacting a battle from WWII.  Shots fired over and over, men scurried and tanks rolled as we watched along with hundreds of others. A very nice man gave us some earplugs, thank goodness! As we crossed the street, we ran into a lovely young lad named Evan, age 11. He was dressed up in fabulous WWII gear, complete with an authentic helmet and bayonet/knife. He said he loves history and he’s looking forward to participating in the reenactments when he turns 16.


It was raining much of the day and quite cold, but we didn’t let that stop us. We scouted out places we can paint in the rain…alleyway and awnings and of course, we can always paint from our window!

We had soup at Maid of Erin and then headed off again, exploring. We ended the night at John B Keane’s Pub for our first pint of Guiness. It is delicious! We enjoyed chatting with Tom O’Brian (from Dublin) and his daughter, Marie (from Limerick) and their lovely family. they were n town to visit his old war buddy. We talked of politics and history, and their visit to the US. Tom loves America, and it was so much fun listening to him talk about our country with such enthusiasm! And I’ll be honest, it was a blast just to talk to them all. Jean and I finished our first pint and since it was SO good, we decided to have another! Needless to say, we were feeling mighty good when we headed home…but not so good awhile later. Hahaha! We found out from Olive that ladies usually have a GLASS of Guiness, which is HALF of a pint…um, no WONDER we were feeling so good…and then bad! IMG_1599

Today was our first day ‘minding the shop’ and the duties are pretty straight forward.  Later, Olive is taking us on a driving tour of nearby sites for future painting possibilites.  As the busy street noises rise up to our sitting room window,  we both agree that it is almost uncanny how we feel right at home and part of this small town life!