Brian’s Sketchbook: The Signal Towers

Brow Head Buildings

We have received a unique and treasured gift – a sketchbook from the 1980s of prehistoric and historic sites around West Cork. It’s the work of our good friend, and national treasure, Brian Lalor, artist, writer and printmaker. For an overview of his style, check out the retrospective of his work at Graphic Studio Dublin. Or browse the long list of his books, including the magnificent Encyclopaedia of Ireland, which he edited.

Marconi Station, Brow Head

Brow Head: (above and below) on the right is the Napoleonic-era Signal Tower; the other buildings date mainly from the time of the Marconi Telegraph Station, taken from a different angle than the sketch above

Brian has studied both architecture and archaeology and to that adds the keen observant eye of the artist. As a result these sketches, although, as he explained, often hastily done during a brief visit to a site, are accurate, detailed and charming in equal measure. They were made on field trips with the Mizen Archaeological & Historical Society in the 1980s. This was an active society, publishing a well-regarded journal from 1993 to 2004 and leading regular field trips for members.

Brow Head ruined building

The sketches, just over 50 of them, were made for the most part between 1980 and 1987 so besides their intrinsic artistic value, they also constitute an important record of the state of the site 30 years ago, allowing us a comparison with its current condition. My intention is to visit (or re-visit) a lot of the sites, with his sketches in hand and show our readers both how beautifully Brian captured the structures or artefacts at the time and whether there are any changes visible from then to now. I decided to start with the Signal Towers on Cape Clear and Brow Head, and a third tower on Rock Island that may or may not be contemporaneous.

Wolfe Tone front

Theobald Wolfe Tone – detail of the statue in Bantry town square

In 1796 the French navy, partly at the invitation of Wolfe Tone and the United Irishmen, staged an unsuccessful invasion of Ireland, sailing into Bantry Bay. Several raids followed in 1798. Although all were quickly quashed, a panic about the possibility of a French invasion spread throughout Britain and Ireland. A series of Napoleonic-era fortifications and viewing towers were constructed around the coast in locations with panoramic views, and within sight of each other, to spot foreign shipping activity and raise the alarm. On the east coast, these mainly took the form of Martello Towers and were stocked with heavy armaments, but here in the south west defensible Signal Towers were built not to house artillery but as advanced-warning stations. Here and there they were complemented by batteries and other fortifications – but that’s a story for another day.

Cape Clear Signal Tower

The Cape Clear Signal Tower

Signal towers were built around the coast to the same plan – tall square towers with first-floor entrances and machicolations. From a distance, they look like the medieval tower houses I have posted about on several occasions but up close they are shorter and the windows are bigger. Internal staircases and partitions were made of wood, not stone and have generally not survived, so the signal stations are essentially shells. in both the Cape Clear and Brow Head example, the exterior slate cladding has survived remarkably well.

Brow Head Detail - signal tower

Brow Head Signal Tower – detail from Brian’s sketch

In his excellent article for the Irish Times, Nick Hogan describes the towers, how they were staffed, the accommodation provided and how the signalling was done:

The signalling system, referred to as an optical telegraph, required that each signal station be visible to its counterparts on either side. Sending a message involved raising and lowering a large rectangular flag, a smaller blue pendant and four black balls in various combinations along a system centred on a tall wooden mast. The stations also communicated with ships.

Cape Clear Towers

Signal Tower and Original Fastnet lighthouse, Cape ClearTop: Brian’s sketch of the Signal Tower and Lighthouse on Cape Clear Island, done in 1982; Below: how it looked in June, 2016, 34 years later

While many signal stations are lonely and isolated buildings glimpsed on distant headlands, abandoned since the mid-1800s, both the Brow Head and Cape Clear buildings had further phases of use. In Cape Clear a lighthouse was built in 1818 – a forerunner of the Fastnet Rock Lighthouse. It was so often shrouded in fog that it was abandoned in the 1840s. The buildings attached to the signal tower, built of brick and concrete, probably date to this period of occupation. The signal tower is built of stone, using techniques not far removed from medieval construction methods. The lighthouse provides a wonderful contrast, being built of cut granite blocks expertly measured, shaped and fitted. 

Cape Clear Deatil - Lighthouse

Cape Clear Lighthouse, detail from sketch

In June of 2016, when we visited, it looked exactly as it had to Brian and the Mizen field group – an indication, perhaps that somebody is looking after the site and that the few visitors who come (it’s quite a hike to get there) respect the heritage. [Edit: Since I wrote this, Brian has pointed out that in the Cape Clear Signal Tower there is a porch under the machicolation in his drawing that has since disappeared. The outlines of the porch can be clearly seen in the photographs of the signal tower.]

Cape Clear Lighthouse

Brow Head is easier to access, and as a result there is more graffiti in evidence, but the changes to the site since Brian’s sketch are more the result of time and climate than any damage by humans. This is a complex site with multiple periods of occupation. The signal tower is there, of course, looking exactly as it did in the 1980s. Beside it is a network of buildings dating from the the early years of the 20th century: this is what remains of the Marconi Telegraph Station. Read all about this in Robert’s piece on Marconi, In Search of Ghosts. Besides the Marconi Station a Second World War Look Out Post was occupied here in the 1940s – little remains of this small concrete building except the characteristic half-round shape and a section of wall.

Brow Head octagonal?

Finally, on Brow Head there is a mysterious building that Brian labels ’14 – ’18 Gun Emplacement. This building no longer exists, and the ruinous remains that litter the ground seem robust enough to fit this inscription. Or do they? So – a mystery, and obviously  more research needed on our part. If any of our readers can help – let us hear from you!

Brow Head Detail - gun emplacement

The last tower is on Rock Island. It is clearly visible from the Brow Head Signal Tower ( a requirement for the placement of signal towers) but, strangely, it is one of two very similar towers on Rock Island, and while they are similar to each other, they are quite different from the classic signal tower design. However, both the National Monuments site  and the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage listings name them as Napoleonic-era Signal Towers, and perhaps that is indeed what they are.

Rock Island Tower

Brian’s sketch of the Rock Island Signal Tower

However, in discussion with Brian, he pointed out that most of the buildings on Rock Island were developed as part of a major Coast Guard installation around the same time as the Marconi Station, and we wonder if there might be a connection – that is, that these are Coast Guard-related Watch Towers, rather than Napoleonic-era Signal Towers. Once again – more research needed! [Edit: See comment from Navtell in comment section, below.]

Rock Island Signal Station

Rock Island Second TowerThe two towers on Rock Island: similar to each other but quite different from the classic Signal Tower on nearby Brow Head

This is only my first foray into Brian’s Sketchbook. Look out for more posts in the future and in the meantime, join with me in being grateful that a precious resource like this survived numerous moves and that we have the opportunity to learn from it.

Cape Clear Detail - Signal Tower

The Cape Clear Signal Tower

Presenting Rock Art

A joint post by Finola and Robert

keith's dnc

On  Friday, the Blue House Gallery in Schull launched The Rock Art Show. It included everything that was in the exhibition at the Cork Public Museum, but with more of Ken William’s extraordinary photographs, and with the addition of some exquisite drypoint engravings from Brian Lalor.

The opening night was lovely. It was great to celebrate with friends and the community and to see their reactions to the show.*

Once the show was completely installed we were struck immediately by the way art and archaeology intersected on the walls. It’s designed partly as a museum exhibit, in which you walk around the panels, reading the information and digesting the accompanying illustrations. However, in this iteration, it is much more than that, and has truly turned into a show not just about the rock art per se, but about the power of these ancient and mysterious carvings to inspire an artistic response in others.

Some examples of what we mean…

dnc kp

derreennaclogh rhKeith Payne’s wildly colourful painting contrasts with Robert’s sober CAD drawing

gort

gortnagulla-lalorThe first drawing of the Gortnagulla stone was done 40 years ago by Finola, using a tracing technique no longer approved. Brian Lalor’s engraving is of the same piece
ballynahowbeg kw
ballynahowbeg ff
Can you recognise the same stone in Ken William’s photograph and Finola’s drawing?

But in the end, images on a wall will only go so far in helping us to appreciate rock art. Ultimately, you have to get out into the countryside and see the rocks in their landscape.

magheranaul kw

One of Ken’s superb photographs showing how this particular stone sits in its landscape  

Only then will you realise how hard they can be to see if the lighting is not good, to how difficult it can be to distinguish between natural and human markings on a rock surface, or how they all seem to be located in beautiful places with panoramic views. Or – to have an experience like this one, in which we made a breathtaking and unexpected discovery about one of our favourite rock art panels, and quite by accident recorded it all on video.

Derreennaclogh equinox circles

So  if you’re in West Cork before the end of September, drop by the gallery. We’d love to see you.

*With grateful acknowledgement of additional photographs of the opening night by Peter Clarke, Amanda Clarke and Miranda Payne.

The Fertile Crescent – A Review

Just about a year ago I reviewed a most stimulating exhibition which was running in Skibbereen: West Cork Creates. It featured collaborations between local craftspeople, visual artists, photographers and designers – combining their skills and expertise to produce exciting, original work. In my review I asked if there was a difference between an artist and a craftsperson, and this sparked off a lengthy online debate. My favourite sentence from this exchange was penned by Colin Murray, an artist printmaker who had taken part in the Skibbereen exhibition:

…I think all creative workers share the essence of making a lingering dream and the effort of sharing one’s dreams with others is an urgent business of us humans…

All the work in the Skibbereen exhibition was outstanding, but I was drawn more than anything else to the collaboration of artist and writer Brian Lalor and ceramicist Jim Turner. They have continued to collaborate, and the current exhibition at the Blue House Gallery, Schull is an extraordinary display of their combined talents.

One of Brian and Jim’s larger works currently showing in the Blue House Gallery in Schull – a gold capped obelisk

The exhibition has the title The Fertile Crescent, a phrase that might seem strange, at first, encountered on the small main street of a village in the far west of rural Ireland. It conjures up, of course, the images we had in our school text books of the beginnings of human society, including the development of writing, the invention of the wheel, the use of glass – and irrigation which enabled settled agriculture to develop. This led gradually to the exploration of metalworking – some of the earliest figurative bronze work is from the area:

fertile crescent bronze

Not in the Schull exhibition – but original bronze figurines from Tell Judaidah, Turkey. These are the oldest examples of true bronze (combination of copper and tin) known. They are dated to around 3000 BC (photo – University of Chicago)

At school we learnt about this land and its features and I remember the romance of the names that were conjured up: Mesopotamia, Assyria, Egypt, Tigris, Euphrates… geographically far away but important enough to be titled The Cradle of Civilisation. That’s where our ancestors came from, we were told: that’s where our religions began.

great mosque

Minaret of the Great Mosque of Samarra, an etching by Brian Lalor

That geography today is at the forefront of our news. We now think of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Palestine as well as the older names. We now think of idealogical war zones, we think of suffering, of displaced people; we think of bombs, human carnage, ruined ancient sites – and refugees. The mission statement for the exhibition begins:

…In this exhibition Jim Turner and Brian Lalor have devoted their attention to the current tragedy unfolding in the Middle East where the ruins of the civilisations of the past are being destroyed, and the present-day populations forced to flee their homes in fear of their lives, to become refugees in adjoining countries and in Europe. Our world heritage is under threat of total destruction as the cycles of violence recorded by history continue to occur…

It’s this modern view of what is going on in The Fertile Crescent that occupies this exhibition, and for that alone this work is as important on the main street of Schull as it would be in any major world capital.

Children pot

The ceramics – pots and bowls: the decorations on these utilitarian objects portray urgent messages for our society today. Jim Turner is the potter and Brian Lalor provides the illustrations

In the exhibition there are references everywhere to the cultural history of the Fertile Crescent. Jim Turner has made a series of cylinder seals, which involve inscribing a clay roller which is used to impress calligraphy on to a clay tablet; the same techniques have been used to decorate ceramic plaques.

cylinder seal

(Top) one of many ‘cylinder seals’ by Jim Turner on display in the gallery; (above) two of the ceramic plaques with impressed patterns

Obelisks and ziggurats are architectural features which we associate with the history of the Middle East. The two artists have produced a huge array of artefacts using these distinctive forms. Some stand in serried rows like an army (top picture), while other are decorated by Brian with motifs ancient and contemporary. The juxtaposition perhaps sometimes perplexes the viewer but the overall effect within the galleries is arresting and we are left in no doubt that these artists are giving us – Europeans – clear and deep messages, not only about our endangered world heritage, but our own responsibilities towards the chaos that is engulfing The Fertile Crescent in our own time.

Try to catch this exhibition: it deserves a wide audience. Perhaps West Cork is a long way for some of you to come? I hope there will be chances for this work to be seen elsewhere. I know the artists are collaborating on a further venture later on this summer: doubtless that may well reach the pages of this Journal. Congratulations to The Blue House Gallery for providing us with this most thought-provoking and dynamic work.

panorama

poster

Words on Roaring Water

from Brow Head

…Anyone who has glanced even cursorily at the map of Ireland, will have noticed how the south-west corner of it has suffered from being the furthest outpost of European resistance to the Atlantic. Winter after winter the fight between sea and rock has raged on, and now, after all these centuries of warfare, the ragged fringe of points and headlands, with long, winding inlets between them, look as though some hungry monster’s sharp teeth had torn the soft, green land away, gnawing it out from between the uncompromising lines of rock that stand firm, indigestible and undefeated…

Naboth’s Vineyard, Somerville and Ross, Spencer Blackett, 1891

hedge and wall

So constantly entranced am I by the character of this remote corner in which we have chosen to settle (in my own experience – admittedly somewhat geographically limited – it is the most beautiful landscape in the world) that I am always excited when I discover that others have shared the same feelings. Consequently I am forever looking out for references to the coastline and country around Roaringwater Bay – particularly descriptive writing – in the wealth of books on West Cork that are harboured by local bookshops, libraries, and our own shelves here at Nead an Iolair: we are most fortunate that some of these books, especially the now out-of-print ones, came with the house! I have sifted through a few of the words: essays, extracts from novels, historical treatise and guidebooks that support my own feelings about the place. All are taken from writers I admire and thoroughly recommend. I present them here for you to take in, together with some hopefully seductive illustrations from the locality, in support of my thesis that there is no better place to be alive.

rosbrin cove days

…I believe that in West Cork water runs uphill. There is a small lake on the very summit of Mount Gabriel, nearly fourteen hundred steep feet above the Atlantic level. Small it is, but so deep that when, once upon a time, a heifer was lost in it, she came out in Schull harbour, on her way to America! (Or that is what the people tell you.)…

 ‘Happy Days!’ – Essays of Sorts, Somerville and Ross, Longmans, green and Co, 1946

stone beach

…There was a line of tables up the middle of the pier, each with its paraffin lamp smoking and flaring in the partial shelter of a fish-box, and each with its wild, Rembrandtish group of women splitting the innumerable mackerel, and rubbing lavish fistfuls of coarse gray salt into each, before it was flung to the men to be packed into barrels. The lamps shone fantastically on the double row of intent faces, on the quickly moving arms of the women, crimsoned to the elbows, on the tables, varnished with the same colour, and on the cold silvery heaps of fish…

Naboth’s Vineyard, Somerville and Ross, Spencer Blackett, 1891

cappacolour

…Think of a wandering road in – let me say West Cork… The way is rough and stony, and (most probably) muddy, but it can claim compensating charms, even though it can hardly fulfil any of the functions proper to respectable roads. And in its favour I would claim the broken varying lines of the hills against the sky. The untidy fences, with their flaming furze bushes, or crimson fuchsia hedges; their throngs of vagabond wild flowers, that can challenge the smug respectability of a well-kept garden. And the inevitable creatures, the donkeys, the pigs, the coupled goats, the geese, that regard the highroad as their lounge and playground. No doubt they exasperate the motorist in a hurry (as are all motorists) but for more tranquil wayfarers they can offer entertainment, almost charm…

‘Happy Days!’ – Essays of Sorts, Somerville and Ross, Longmans, green and Co, 1946

fuschia colour 2(Ireland) …is a land of surprises. She has the gift of unexpectedness, of uncertainty: her people, like her looks, and her weather, can be sometimes charming, often exasperating, but seldom commonplace. Is there another country, reasonably civilised, in which, in the course of a casual idle stroll, records of pre-history can be met with in any field, unconsidered, or found (as I have known) an immense cup-marked stone, built into the wall of a cow-house, ignored by the descendants of those who were once its worshippers? And yet, in characteristic contrariety – as is our way in Eire – in the field next to that cow-house, you can see that the plough has turned aside from its rightful course in respect for a little old deformity of a thorn-tree, which has asserted, for possibly a thousand years, its right to be reverenced and feared…

‘Happy Days!’ – Essays of Sorts, Somerville and Ross, Longmans, green and Co, 1946

sun rays

…In the mirror that memory will sometimes hold for us, I can see Rahyne Glen at four o’clock on a silver autumn morning before the sun has reached it. Opposite, just below the rim of the steep western side of the glen, there is one of the memorials of an older race and its religion. This is a broad slab of pale stone, leaning sideways against the hill, having, somehow slipped off the stones on which it had been supported. The sunlight falls full on it; it catches the eye and holds it. It is a dolmen, and the pale slab was its cap-stone. It marks the grave of a chief. He might have been content with his resting-place, had beauty of scene appealed to him (which seems improbable). Whether contented or no, he has lain there (if the archaeologists may be believed) undisturbed, through all the long centuries. If he were to look out now on those familiar hills he would see no change. His hills have defied civilization. All would look as it might have looked on any fair September morning during past thousands of years. And, I suppose, the pink ling, and the purple heather and the gold of the low-growing autumn furze, would then have spread the same carpet of colour over the hills… The wild stream comes storming through the thorn-bushes of the glen as fiercely as ever it did when the Chieftain and his warriors washed their spears in it… Beyond the glen the country rises, in long swathes of dim green, and purple, and misty blue, to a curving line of hills, and farther and higher still – for the viewpoint is a high one – a narrow flashing line tells of the silver plain below, which is the Western Ocean…

‘Happy Days!’ – Essays of Sorts, Somerville and Ross, Longmans, green and Co, 1946

roaring water

…The indented contours of Raring Water Bay enclose a maze of minute inlets and islands. The name derives from a stream which flows down the side of Mount Kidd amidst a landscape of bracken and boulders. The torrent roars in the narrow gaps and gullies as it rushes towards the sea. The little inlets penetrate the land like miniature fjords and create a sense of safe haven from dangerous seas. Their piers, long abandoned except for the occasional fisherman’s or tourist’s boat, are overgrown and tumbled-down romantic ruins, quiet spots for sighting a lone heron at low tide, grey against grey water. In the narrow defile where the roaring water debouches into the bay nature has done much to reclaim the territory usurped by human purpose. Perhaps, like the closing of a wound, this former embarcation point, which saw many thousands flee a country unable to support them, is being bound in ivy and decorated with wild fuchsia to heal the scar…

West of West – An Artist’s Encounter with West Cork – Brian Lalor, Brandon Book Publishers, 1990

gabriel side

…The islands of the West Cork coast are rather grandly referred to as Carbery’s Hundred Islands, but only Clear Island and Sherkin now sustain a viable population – though, like the other islands off the west coast, there is a steady draining of young people to the cities on the mainland for education and employment. Horse Island off Schull is evocative of the vanished communities of these islands. Silhouetted against the skyline, this piece of low-lying land appears like an old-fashioned, gap-toothed saw; a dark bulk of rock with triangular projections – the gable ends of a row of roofless cottages – biting into the clouds…

West of West – An Artist’s Encounter with West Cork – Brian Lalor, Brandon Book Publishers, 1990

kilcoe days

…Three or more centuries ago, before the landscape of West Cork became bound by a web of roads and fences, its contours would have been best understood when seen from above, from the heights of Mount Kidd or Mount Gabriel. Parallel ribs of rocks and hills, dividing up the pasture land, extended from the base of the mountains to the coast, where long fingers of rocky promontories projected out into the sea. There was a natural order to everything…

West of West – An Artist’s Encounter with West Cork – Brian Lalor, Brandon Book Publishers, 1990

rosbrin shadows

… Beyond Whitehall I rode out to the point at Cunamore where the road ended at a small pier which was the nearest point to Hare Island, also known as Inishdricoll. There was no regular ferry across, but the post boat went over several days a week, and the schoolmistress crossed daily to teach the dozen remaining children. It is a much less dramatic island than Cape or Sherkin, a low-lying slab of land with golden beaches. One road leads to a little village nicknamed Paris – probably a derivation of ‘pallace’ – once the centre of a fleet of lobster boats. Now I listened to an old man lamenting the terrible decline.

   “John has gone and Dennis has died, and we’ll die too, and then the foreigners can have it all.” Already half a dozen of the houses had been bought up by strangers.

   One by one the smaller islands became deserted. It is a long time since they were densely populated, but until quite recently they supported a certain number of families. Only a few years ago I visited Horse Island, just opposite Ballydehob. The last people there, an elderly couple, were living all alone. It was summer, and the old man was sitting in a chair outside his house, his feet in a basin of water. His wife, behind him, fed hens. Next year they were gone. The house, still intact and comfortable, stood empty, the linoleum in place, last year’s calendar on the wall. Down by the pier a plough had been thrown into the water where it looked like a gesture of despair…

The Coast of West Cork – Peter Somerville-Large, Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1974

rosbrin cool

…West of Ballydehob the laneways ran into each other like the veins of a leaf. Many of them were untapped; they seemed empty, with little life except for cattle or a white horse browsing in watery fields beside them. Most seemed to end up at the sea, and each little turn had its own alignment to the bay. One looked across the islands with Kilcoe standing squat and menacing on its headland; the next inlet had a view across to Horse Island; another lane climbed to a hill to where one could see the sweep from Baltimore Beacon and the Gascanane to the shattered tower of Rosbrin castle…

The Coast of West Cork – Peter Somerville-Large, Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1974

Afternoon in Ballydehob 04.2014

…May Day in Schull was the day for ‘bringing in the green’. But the ancient custom is dying out. Only a few branches of green leaves were tied on doors, and a twig of fuchsia dangled from the handle of a bike. “Old pishoges,” an old man muttered as he carefully arranged sycamore round a drainpipe…

The Coast of West Cork – Peter Somerville-Large, Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1974

altar

…Colla harbour and pier is the nearest point to embark for Long Island. Horse Island, Castle Island and Long Island lie in a line just outside Schull harbour. A tradition, quoted by Smith, claims that they were once all one island. “In the latter end of March, AD 830, Hugh Domdighe being monarch of Ireland, there happened . . . terrible shocks of thunder and lightning . . . at the same time the sea broke through the banks in a most violent manner. The island, then called Innisfadda, on the west coast of this country was forced asunder and divided into three parts”…

The Coast of West Cork – Peter Somerville-Large, Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1974

december sun over rossbrin

…From the vicinity off Dunanore, we obtain a view of the coast and the surrounding open, which is one of surpassing beauty, when the summer sun is setting in the far west. Towards the south, as far as the eye can reach, the broad expanse of the Atlantic is stretched before our gaze, the distant horizon dotted here and there by some white sail, or the dark hull of one of those leviathan steamers which ply their busy trades between the Old World and the New. Cape Clear is the first land which greets the American tourist or the returning emigrant on his approach to the old country, and the last cherished spot of his ‘own dear isle’ which bids adieu to the Irish peasant, when he parts, perhaps for ever, from his native country…

Sketches in Carbery, County Cork: its antiquities, history, legends, and topography – Daniel Donovan, McGlashan & Gill, 1876

down below

Celebrating Irish Design in West Cork

7 Hands crafts

2015 was the Year of Irish Design. In celebration there were exhibitions, events, talks and programmes all across the country. RTE aired a four part documentary, Designing Ireland, introducing us to the history of design in this country. Hosted by Angela Brady and Sandra O’Connell this fascinating series took us from our roots in vernacular design and use of materials, through the dawn of modern design in Ireland via innovative architecture and fashion designers, to the heady days of the Kilkenny Design Centre and into the digital era where computer-based planning is married to mastery of materials by engineers, architects, fine crafters and designer-makers to produce products that can stand with any in the world.

IMG_9758

Alison, Angela and Sandra at the 7 HANDS Exhibition in London, with Alison’s greenwood chairs*

Artists and craft people gravitated towards West Cork throughout the second half of the 20th century for the light, the distance from civilization, the beauty of the countryside, the affordability of land for studios and housing and for the support of a community of like-minded individuals. Alison Ospina, in her book West Cork Inspires, describes this period  and profiles many of the practitioners who discovered this unique area, drew inspiration from it and made their home here.

West-Cork-Inspires_JACKET-FRONT-high-res

Last  summer in Ballydehob the 7 HANDS Group harkened back to this golden era of West Cork Design with a stunning exhibition of contemporary fine craftwork by seven local artists. The exhibition moved on to Dublin and London where it was well received, although I cannot imagine the settings there could rival that of our tiny pristine Haugaard Gallery on the Pier in Ballydehob.

Kieran Higgins is a master woodworker *

The exhibition was supported by a series of artists’ talks and it was quite magical to listen to Brian Lalor talk about the detail and precision of his etching process, compared to Alison Ospina’s approach to her greenwood chair building in which the material reveals the ultimate design to her.

Angela Brady walked us through the making one of her luminous glass creations (those gorgeous beetles!) and Paddy McCormack spoke about the fiery furnace in which his wonderful chess set was forged.

We came away with our own little souvenir – yet more hares for Robert, this time by Etain Hickey.

Etain Hares

The 7 HANDS group has larger ambitions. They want to re-establish West Cork’s place in the Irish design and craft pantheon. With this, their first exhibition, they have made an excellent start.

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Patrick Connor’s quirky portraits *

6_liffey with cranes

The extraordinary intricacy of Brian Lalor’s ‘Liffey with Cranes’*

*A special thank you to Angela Brady for some of the photographs in this post.

West Cork Creates

We were bowled over by the latest exhibition to open in Skibbereen on Saturday: West Cork Creates. It shows collaborations between local craftspeople, visual artists, photographers and designers – combining their skills and expertise to produce exciting, original work.

test pieces

Top picture – The Great West Cork Obelisk (see below) is featured by the entrance to the gallery; above – fired test pieces from the obelisk project

Here’s a riddle: what’s the difference between an artist and a craftsperson? If you have a definitive answer please tell me, because this is a debate that will last forever… Grayson Perry contributes to the discussion in this Guardian piece, starting provocatively with:

…I see the craft world as a kind of lagoon and the art world in general as the ocean. Some artists shelter in this lagoon, because their imagination isn’t robust enough to go out into the wider sea…

Grayson Perry makes pots, so is he an artist? Well, presumably the British art establishment thought so as they gave him the Turner Prize in 2003, the first time it had gone to a ‘ceramic artist’.

More from the obelisk project and – right – Brian Lalor, one of its creators

Where does that leave us? Is someone who makes flowerpots an artist, because a flowerpot might be an attractive object? Where do you place something like the Book of Kells? It’s a functional object – the four Gospels lavishly illuminated – created in medieval times by many different hands. Yet it’s unique, overflowing with stunning visual images, beautiful and priceless. It’s a wonderful example of collaboration between the functional craft of the scribes who penned the texts and the minds of the (undoubted) artists who produced the decorations around those texts: perhaps they were the same hands.

Left – metamorphosis of two of Alison Ospina’s Greenwood chairs and – right – Dee Forbes, President and Managing Director of Discovery International, formally opening the exhibition

What about Finola’s subject for today, Harry Clarke – artist or craftsman? Stained glass is not ostensibly functional (except, perhaps to change the quality of the light coming through a window) yet the making of it is a craft requiring a lengthy apprenticeship and a garnered knowledge of specific materials and their use. I have no doubts: walk into St Barrahane’s Church, Castletownshend, and be dazzled by the Clarke windows there. They are inspired: true art. Harry Clarke designed and made these windows, so he was artist and craftsman rolled into one.

book of printsArtist and printmaker Coilin Murray with The Big Book

For me West Cork Creates (part of the Taste of West Cork Food Festival) demonstrates conclusively that you can’t differentiate between art and crafts. As you enter the gallery you are immediately presented with an iconic piece – The Great West Cork  Obelisk – which stands almost three metres high. It is a collaboration between two minds and two sets of hands: Brian Lalor and Jim Turner. Brian we have met before in the pages of our blog: he is a true polymath. He writes (prolifically), he produces art (prolifically), he has been an architect and an archaeologist. Jim is a ceramic sculptor of renown. Egyptian ‘obelisks’ are commemorative monuments of the Pharaohs and they usually carry a lengthy inscription praising the deeds of some significant individual.

obelisk in context

The Great West Cork Obelisk

This one is constructed from four terracotta sections made by Jim in his Clonakilty studio and fired in a specially constructed kiln. The base inscriptions are all quotations, two from social philosophers and two from writers, all concerned with the state of society. Brian’s images derive from these, from the contemporary world and from the local environment. The artists’ statement says: Obelisks may be the new round towers of the landscape… (remember that Brian has written the standard work on Ireland’s medieval round towers). I agree: I’d love to see this work prominently displayed in a public place locally – and many more like it. The obelisk absorbed our attention for a good half an hour, delaying us from moving on to the rest of the exhibition: it’s a show stopper!

Alison Ospina and – right – one of her Greenwood stools painted by Etain Hickey 

There are chairs and stools: functional objects to be sat upon. But you’d think twice about sitting on these. They are initially examples of the work of Alison Ospina who uses coppiced hazel to make distinctive seating, but they have been transformed by others (painter, sculptor and felt maker) into works of art which will primarily be looked at and appreciated.

for sale

The gallery space includes a sales area where you can buy the work of the participating exhibitors

There are thirteen collaborations in the exhibition including stone sculptor and furniture maker; metal sculpture and photography; basketmaker and visual artist; painter and felt maker; painter and boatbuilder; cutler and jeweller, all based or working within West Cork… This is just a taster – we have to go back and catch up on the other genres and artists and perhaps write a further blog post. The exhibition runs for five weeks from 8 August to 10 September at Levis’s Quay in the centre of Skibbereen, and is open from Mondays to Saturdays between 11am and 6pm. Be sure to get there – you won’t be disappointed: watch out for the gallery talks, too.

Sculptor Helen Walsh collaborates with photographer Rohan Reilly

Once you have seen the exhibition, you might like to comment and add your contribution to the artist / craftsperson debate.

wooden sun