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Tag Archives | ireland

A Little Cottage on an Emerald Isle

Irish Cottage painting by Jen Norton

When our daughter was about 9 months old, we traveled to Ireland (for the second time) for the wedding of some very special friends. Their family owns a traditional Irish cottage in the Cork countryside where we stayed for a week. It’s been renovated for traveling guests and now boasts a modern European kitchen and electricity. The indoor trench formerly used to wash out animal waste, should you have to bring your cows indoors during inclement weather, has been removed. The thatched roof has been replaced by a newer, less-upkeep version. It did, however, still have the meat hooks hanging from the ceiling (as it turned out, we never needed them). Each morning the proprietor would come down and light our fire for us, warming the 5-foot-thick-walled house up to a nice cozy temperature. We were traveling with other family members…enough that we needed a large van to carry us all from place to place. My husband, being an ambulance driver and the only non-drinker, got the job of primary chaperone. It’s not an easy job in a land with narrow roads and left-side driving. On some country lanes, one must pull in his side mirrors and inch by oncoming farm trucks, narrowly missing collisions on one side and the hedges on the other. It’s safe to say “shoulders” on a road were not an Irish invention. Then of course, there were the times you just have to stop and wait for a heard of sheep as they cross, just like the picture postcards! The real fun happened after our van broke down and the only replacement we could get was a 15-passenger manual transmission van! NO ONE but my husband could maneuver it…and he had to do so with a new mom (me), his own mother and a nun screaming behind him at every bump and tousle. He held his stress in check, but I know if he were a vengeful man he would have unleashed the cry of a Banshee on us during that trip! Oddly, each night he gladly volunteered to walk our colicky time-zone-traveling baby around in the quiet sheep pastures while I slept. I’m sure he was secretly regaining his calm out there in the midnight fog. There is nothing like removing noise and distraction to reconnect with your soulful self. In the end, we all survived, our daughter cut her two top teeth and took her first step, and the trip was remembered as lots of “good craic” had by all.

You can buy my little Irish Cottage painting here, or a print of it with an Irish Blessing here.

Bless This (Colorful) House

Colorful Irish Town Houses

“All is changed, changed utterly;  A terrible beauty is born.”
–WB Yeats in his poem Easter 1916.

The most deeply beautiful things of this world are often formed from a mix of grace and pain. It’s true of art, of people, of family. And it’s certainly true of Ireland. As my Irish grandmother used to say, “Into every life, a little rain must fall.” My ancestors may have emigrated the US over 150 years ago, but there are “bits and bobs” of Irish-ness that flow through my blood, still. I’ve been lucky to spend about six cumulative weeks over the last two decades on the emerald isle where I’ve come full circle to confront the paradox of my own soul: the indivisible combination of beauty and hardship common to us all. More than the green fields, castles and cable-knit sweaters, it’s the incredibly poetic illustration of the human spirit that is Ireland that makes us romanticize it so much. I feel it in the undertones of the bodhrán and bagpipes in Irish music, in the crisp wind and driving rain necessary for unbelievably green fields, and in the skillful craftsmanship of a U2 lyric.

This little painting is of my memory of the rural towns encountered throughout Ireland. In typical Irish style, stone buildings are painted all kinds of fun colors normally reserved for foggy seaside towns. Homes and businesses displaying every color of the rainbow are butted up right against the road in structures clearly built before cars were the norm. The weather may be gray and dreary, but you can’t help but smile at the colorful homes along the way. Terribly beautiful in their own weathered way.

Celebrate a bit o’ the Irish with me for St. Paddy’s Day! I’ve got beautiful prints of my Irish town houses with a special house blessing available here.

A little encouragement goes a long way up the mountain

Our Advent art meditation for today is from Psalm 119: 105-106

Climb to Croagh Patrick © Jen Norton

Climb to Croagh Patrick

A lamp to my feet is your Word, a light to my path.
I resolve and swear to keep your just ordinances.

A few years ago we spent part of our summer in Ireland with some good friends. For one of our adventures, we climbed Croagh Patrick (aka “The Reek” to locals. Reek is Irish for “stack”). Croagh Patrick is a 2500 foot tall (764 metres) mountain jutting up from Clew Bay in County Mayo. Thanks to hours on the elliptical at the gym I did pretty well, but not being an avid mountain climber I got my workout! I was grateful to borrow some great hiking boots and a walking stick. I was amazed to find out that little old nuns and priests often climb The Reek barefoot as a spiritual pilgrimage.

The first two-thirds of the hike up is part pathway, part hopping up rocks, all surrounded by lush green hills, sheep and babbling brooks. There’s a nice little resting spot at a level place after that section where you can look back and see your progress and some of the most beautiful scenery in all of Ireland. Then there’s the last third of the climb…

The last section of the ascent is about a 40˚ scramble up loose, slippery chunks of shale. It makes a few turns, so the first time you climb up, you have no idea how far to the finish. Fortunately, you are not alone. Hundreds climb the mountain every day, no matter the weather, and as they descend they encourage you as they pass. In true Irish hospitality, they cheerfully declare, “You’re almost there lads!” or “Only about 10 more minutes to the top!” Sweet mother of God…how many times did I hear that in the last hour of the climb? But what did I know? They’d been there; I hadn’t. Their words were a lamp to my feet. I resolved, I swore, I kept climbing. And step by step, we made it to the top.

At the top is the legendary “Bed of St. Patrick” (complete with donation box), a little chapel and (surprise!) a bathroom with running water. I can’t even imagine being the guys who had to carry all that up! If it’s a clear day, you also get a stunning 360˚ view of County Mayo and Clew Bay.

Or so I hear. On the day we went, the top of the mountain was in fog. Guess I’ll have to make a second pilgrimage. Fortunately, like “a light to my path,” I also know there will be another Pint waiting for me back in a Westport pub when I finish!

This little 10 x 10 painting is designed from my memory of the scenery and is available here.

You may also be interested in this Facebook site by Irishman Matt Loughrey called Croagh Patrick 365. The site is now transitioning to other charitable ventures, but Matt climbed the mountain every day for 365 days as a fundraiser for St. Vincent de Paul Society. Now there’s someone who’s resolved to keep Just Ordinances!

Pig Racing in Ireland

Pig Racing in Belturbet (Co.Cavan) Ireland

Pig Racing in Belturbet by Jen Norton

 

On a recent trip to Ireland our adventures took us to Belturbet to watch Pig Racing. Not even all the locals know about this high point of culture. In fact, we arrived early unable to find where the races were to be held. At 3:30pm, there was not a sign, crowd, or hint of the impending excitement. But at 4pm, the atmosphere changed. Two trucks pulled up…one filled with pigs, which proceeded to unfold, revealing the starting line; the other transformed into the finish line. Barriers were put up, a green Astroturf® carpet was rolled out, short little pig hurdles were spaced along the route, and the bets were taken. By 4:45pm, the races began, with six contending pigs racing down the line with stuffed “jockeys” strapped to their backs.! “Watch out for #6…She’s a real flyer!!” yelled the announcer. Sure enough, five seconds later, #6 was declared winner, the pigs were rewarded with a snack and herded back to the starting truck for the second round. Six rounds of betting, six races…I lost them all, but ended up with an inspirational subject for new paintings!

This piece won the 2009 First Place Award at the SCVWS Annual Exhibition. Judge Christopher Schink commented, “It’s hard to do a good painting that amuses you. This painting is fun without being corny. With its broken-up design, this piece conveys the feeling of the subjects without seeing them. It delighted me! Not just an illustration, it is full of fun and whimsy and has an imaginative concept of design.”

If you’d like to see a short clip of the race that inspired this painting, I’ve posted it on YouTube. Click here.

You can purchase prints of this painting here.