Arts in Ireland: One week in
Friday, June 15th, 2018
We Are Here
Time passes differently here. It’s a mashup of deep time (like the 400-million-year-old rock that surrounds us) and the quick time, like the pace of a three-week creative residency. The students say that so much has happened already. So much happens every day but it feels like we’ve just gotten here. Indeed, we’ve covered a lot of ground. At first by air and then by coach, car, and foot. We’ve also covered ground in terms of strategies for inspiration like the careful observation of the visual and musical landscape and the group is already in the swing of things. The visual artists’ studios are filled with literal flotsam and jetsam, printing plates being carved, photos being edited and printed, things being built, etc. The 16th-century castle is emanating the sounds of penny whistles in unison and other intriguing noises. Some noises are found and recorded, like the hollow tap of a walking stick on limestone and some produced electronically, etc.
We live in County Clare in the village of Ballyvaughan. Bally means “town” and we’ve heard the population reported as 150, 250, and 421. Our apartments are a two-minute walk to the sea and a five-minute walk into the village center. The town and surroundings are absolutely charming. We frequent a small market in town. We’ll do weekly grocery shopping trips to a larger town, Kinvarra, about fifteen minutes away, and students are cooking their meals in small groups and packing lunches, which they bring to the college each day.
The Burren area is an approximately 100 square mile limestone plateau, therefore, rock is everywhere. Most buildings are stone. Walls are stone. The ground underfoot is either directly limestone or a relatively thin layer of soil with limestone below it. Within the limestone, tunnels and caves live and so the largely-invisible subterranean world is in the back of our minds.
We passed most of our second day in country on a sightseeing tour of the area that was brought to life richly by our incredible guide Brian. We visited Poulnabrone dolmen, a five-thousand-year-old megalithic tomb (older than the pyramids) and learned about the Irish landscape in a broad sense. We had a pub lunch in a surf town called Lahinche and later explored the epic Cliffs of Moher (700 feet high) as well as some “mini-cliffs” (a mere 150 feet high). Brian stopped frequently to elaborate upon roadside landmarks like castles, ancient ring forts, and a famine memorial.
Yesterday we took a four-hour, afternoon “hill” walk guided by a farmer named Shane. Shane is an expert on local flora and fauna and distinguished for us the myriad species of shrubs and flowers while pointing out their medicinal and folkloric traditions. These include orchids that pose as bees and colorless varieties that are pollinated by ants! Our weather was uncharacteristically clear, with sweeping views of Galway Bay and the Aran Islands. We had a blast upon the descent when the wind must have reached a sustained 50 mph. Nearly everyone was giddy with arms outstretched as we leaned into the wind.
The Burren College of Art
The college is located a mile and a half from our apartments and a shuttle bus carries the students there in the morning and back before dinner. We also have two rental cars, which we use to transport students in small groups to nearby locations for inspiration and work in situ. We found, for example, a spot where cows graze along a beach, and art students have been collecting and processing natural materials.
The campus is adorable. The visual artists have semi-private studios with skylights and they often do not use artificial lights. The musicians have been working, as we’ve mentioned, in the castle tower. The top floor has a huge fireplace, where we have burned natural turf. Acoustically, the tower space is spectacular.
Weather matters. Since we arrived in Ballyvaughan this past Sunday, the conversations we’ve had and have overheard others having, the reports we see on the national TV networks, and the feeling we get when we poke our noses out of our apartments just before our 7:30am wake up walk – the signals coming at us from every direction, basically – are that the weather plays a huge role in life here.
The local narrative at the beginning of this week was one of combined bliss and ecstasy tinged with a bit of shock, of being dumbfounded. Why? Because in the three weeks previous to our arrival, Ireland enjoyed Mediterranean temperatures, an unprecedented run of heat and sun that had people practically gasping for fog or at least mist. Of course from our American point of view, having emerged from a harsh winter, it would be ideal if the local heat wave simply continued for another three weeks, that it would thoughtfully accommodate our desire for summer sun. However, things were not so simple. On our first two days here, Sunday and Monday, the sky was bright, and the cloud cover was high, which permitted enough sun to shine through and give us incredible colors and a level of temperature that demanded only a light sweater, not every layer we had. But hold on.
The forecast beginning Monday night or Tuesday was that there was a change of weather coming. The TV networks forecast some kind of gale force episode. The ferries from Doolin to the Aran Islands (which we are scheduled to be on on the 24th of June) were canceled until further notice due to expected wind and rain. One student group from the Burren College which was out on the Aran Islands was told by people there to immediately catch the next available ferry back to Doolin because it might be the last one available for a while.
So we awoke on Tuesday to premonitions of a lot of wet and wind. But, the story has a few more twists. As Wednesday dawned, there was definitely some weather turbulence happening, but the day still managed to shoehorn in a couple of hours of sunshine, and around here, a couple of hours of good sunshine in a day certainly goes a long way to keep spirits up. Then came Wednesday night. The wind howled and the rain spat as we went to bed. We were scheduled to take a walk up the side of Black Head, a large limestone promontory on the edge of the sea (with Shane, a local farmer who is quite an authority on botany, geology and much else). We went to bed wondering if there was any way that would be going to happen. Yesterday (Thursday) morning it was still super windy around 8am, but the deluge of pelting rain which had been forecast didn’t seem to be happening. So we talked to the Burren College administration and agreed that we would go on the hill walk but would maybe truncate the length of the walk, and avoid the summit of the hill where the wind was bound to be strongest.
Once we were halfway up the mountain, we could see that we were going to be able to make it all the way to the summit without being blown off the heights in a gust or driven into a puddle by pelting rain. The sun was absolutely brilliant as we crested the hill, had a ceremonial shot (small, legal) of whiskey to commemorate the climb, and started down the hill, back to the Burren College bus waiting to take us back to Ballyvaughan.
We’ve selected some of our favorite pictures to share with you. We have a small drone with us and have been attempting to capture some aerial footage for you. We hope you enjoy the visual media.