If you live around here or have visited Ireland you’ve seen them in all the best gift shops: Tiny Ireland – those intriguing paper models of Irish buildings and towns that make the perfect gift.
Top photograph: Bunratty Castle. Above: Skibbereen, the model and the real thing, and Tiny Cobh
They say that a true craftsperson makes it look easy. But this week we visited Tiny Ireland in her studio and found out first hand just how much talent and research and imagination goes into every single detail.
Anke shows us her Tiny Gallarus
And who is Tiny Ireland? Meet Anke Eckardt. She’s lived here in West Cork since she was a little girl, plays a mean tin whistle, is an artist, a master joiner and boat builder and joint owner with Rui of West Cork Boats. The idea for Tiny Ireland came to her when she made some paper models with and for her son Fionn to complement his train set. That was ten years ago. She has been making models ever since, but devoting herself seriously to it for the last five years.
Designer at work – Anke in her studio. Full marks for anyone who can guess the pub she’s working on.
Anke starts with familiarising herself with the town or village. She wanders round with her camera, talks to everyone, gets a feel for the place, and then does extensive research on the history of the area. In the case of West Cork, like any other native she already knows every inch of it – the stories, the atmosphere, the iconic buildings, the colours and contours of the landscape. She tries to capture that same sense of place wherever she goes.
Top: Both Anke and I went to University College Cork and the Quad holds a special place in our hearts. Bottom: Anke’s contribution to the 1916 commemorations – the General Post Office in Dublin
Back in the studio she decides on which buildings to use and starts drawing and painting and figuring out what should go where on the model and what extra details to include. Each building occupies one sheet in the kit. Anke wants each sheet to be a beautiful object in itself, to be poured over before you even start the scoring and cutting process. Can you imagine the cleverness it takes to construct even one building? Add to that all the little details that go into making it unique and contributing to its cultural and geographic character.
Not just traditional buildings! Here is the ultra-modern Glucksman Gallery at UCC
We came home with a Tiny Kenmare kit so that we could experience the assembly process first hand. Not only was this great fun but it gave us additional insights into both the craft of model making and the lovely additional details that Anke has inserted into each piece – details that extend the model into little bits of history.
Robert assembles Packie’s Pub
The second Kenmare building we assembled was O’Donnabháin’s pub and guest house (pronounce it O Dunn-eh-vawn’s). Look around the side – Anke has added the image of a funeral coming over a suspension bridge. Curious, I looked up what this was all about and found that Kenmare did indeed have the first suspension bridge ever built in Ireland – read an amusing account of its history here – and that the funeral was a real one, that of an IRA man murdered by the Black and Tans in 1921.
Kenmare is as scenic and colourful as any town anywhere has a right to be. It’s a great shopping town too, with wonderful cafes and pubs, and right on the justly-famed Ring of Kerry.
Every model Anke makes is unique and delightful. Individual pubs, shops, castles, etc are often made at the request of the owner. Here’s one for Tigh Neachtain in Galway. Anke showed us a draft of the Explanation sheet that goes with it. It’s an object lesson in how one building can encompass the story of a town. Richard Martin, by the way, is better known to history as Humanity Dick.
For tourists, Tiny Ireland models make the perfect gift, light and packable and chock full of the real Ireland. For all of us, making one engages us in a creative act that comes out of the rich imagination and artistic talent of Anke Eckardt.
Tiny Bantry – note Miss Evans traditional shop on the right. Here’s what it’s like inside. For more on this and other traditional Irish shops, see Shopping for Memories
And it’s not just models. Recently Anke has started to produce charming watercolours of the traditional shops and pubs she loves. We in Ballydehob have loved her posts on our wonderful old shopfronts. Here’s an example – Just drive down our main street and you can’t miss The Chestnut Tree.
Happy cutting and glueing!