Looking Again at Simon Coleman

Back in May I put up a post celebrating our discovery of documentary artist Simon Coleman. There is plenty of material from Coleman that I didn’t use. Today, I’m showcasing more of his work: it’s invaluable to Irish folklore and folklife researchers. We have to be forever grateful to The Dúchas Collections, and their field-workers who spent so much time scouring the rural landscapes of Ireland and its inhabitants, and recording their findings in detail, preserving the rich memories of those times for our benefit.

The header shows one of Coleman’s attractive watercolours which record the landscapes he traversed during his folklife researches. His sketch-pads, however, are filled with drawn details showing the basics of rural life, such as this one (above) recording baskets which were carried on the back or which were made as panniers for donkeys, mules and horses. Such methodical records are invaluable to our understanding of the paraphernalia of ordinary life, now virtually vanished. More technology for lifting and carrying loads is shown below.

The drawing above shows in typically fine detail the process of ‘turfing’ a roof using clods of earth with grass attached. the grass is on the outer surface. Also shown is the use of ‘ling’ – or heather – as a roof covering.

Straightforward hand implements used on farms (upper) are complemented by very fine watercolour sketches, such as the one above, recording the wagon – an essential element of life in the country.

Coleman was also an accomplished painter, as is evidenced by this portrait in oils of Anna Nic A’Luain, one of the most gifted storytellers encountered by the renowned Donegal folklore collector, Seán Ó Heochaidh. Anna was from Croaghubbrid, in the Blue Stack Mountains, Co Donegal, and lived from 1884 to 1953. The painting dates to 1949.

Cois Fharraige, above, another work in oils by Coleman.

Doolin, Co Clare – Old stone bridge, Lough Agraffard, 1959 – Doughty Ford: all from Coleman’s sketch books. A valuable record stored in the Folklore Commission Archives. Slightly unusual, perhaps, is this house (below) which Coleman sketched in Galway city.

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