In conversation with Painter Emma Stroude

I was raised in the North of England and studied in London at Chelsea School of Art and The Slade. After that I headed to Dublin where I lived for 6 years before falling in love with the North West and moving to Sligo in 2002.  Ireland’s history and Atlantic coastline influence the two diverse themes which run parallel in my practice. One stems from my interest in women’s role in Irish history resulting in an ever evolving series of charcoal portraits of key female figures. The other is born from my fascination with relationships between light, water and the landscape.

Emma Widows Studio Shot

How did you come to being a full time artist?   I reached a time in my life when it was ‘now or never’. My job had become all consuming and I knew that I had given it all that I had to offer. If I didn’t give myself the chance to become a full time artist I would have been left with the ‘what if?’ question for the rest of my life. It has been very difficult from a financial point of view but I have no regrets.

Talk us through a typical working week.   My ideal working week would be studio Monday to Thursday and on Fridays I facilitate Graphite & Easel life drawing sessions at The Model in Sligo. I find that weekly life drawing supports my studio practice immensely. But it’s rare that a week is as straight forward as that depending on upcoming exhibitions, applications, research, meetings etc. One week is rarely the same as the next…..but that makes for an interesting life!

What artists do you admire? 

I could give you a long list here……..

Kathe Kollwitz is a favourite for her sensitivity of line. She gets so much from so little.

Piet Mondrian’s trees are a fascination of mine. They’re so beautiful and you can see the abstraction coming long before it clearly manifests itself in his work.

Dégas, Vermeer and Caravaggio for light.

Paula Rego and Balthus for atmosphere and the suggestion of a story.

Jenny Saville for pushing the out the boundaries of work on the body.

Rothko for sheer emotion.

I think I’d better stop here.

Do you keep notebooks, have you a system when approaching your work and do you prefer solitary practice or group activities?    I do keep notebooks that contain mostly scribblings of words and ideas that I want to hold on to for my work rather than drawings. I find sketchbooks a bit limiting as I enjoy the more physical side of drawing and the pages never seem quite big enough.   I do prefer solitary practice in the studio. I like the quiet and the chance for clear thought. I went to Cill Rialaig on a residency just before Christmas and was completely blown away by the experience of being able to work solidly for a week without interruption. After a few days my mind felt emptied of the clutter and able to think and see clearly for the first time in a long time. I have recently however stepped outside of my comfort zone and worked on a collaborative project between Joe Hunt (projection designer), The Hyde Bridge Gallery in Sligo and myself called Spotlights and Shadows, part of Sligo’s 1916 Commemorations. I have to say this has been a brilliant experience and the results have surpassed my original expectations so I’m definitely open to working in this way again.

Kathleen On the Wall Spotlights & Shadows 2016The Portrait in all of its guises is a signature of your style.  Can you explore this for us, describe what you see.   Whether it be a person or a house or even a landscape, I do tend to draw/paint them as portraits. I guess I’m back to that search for a presence on the canvas. When I’m working on the women I imagine that they are already inside the canvas waiting to be found and it is my work to find them and reveal them rather than to put them on the surface myself. There is a definite moment when a presence emerges and a dialogue between me and the subject begins. Following that the struggle is in finding a state of resolve where both of us can exist independently of the other and I can walk away without feeling compelled to return and work some more.

 Do you have a favourite form of artistic medium? Is there one that you find particularly challenging?   I am addicted to oils when it comes to painting and find now that I cannot step outside of that, nothing else can give me what I am looking for in my work. When drawing, charcoal on a fine grain canvas is definitely my favourite. The canvas is robust enough to take vigorous work where paper cannot. I can use water, brushes, rags, anything that comes to hand for making the right mark and the canvas will stand up to it.

In this centenary year of 2016 you were drawn towards working on images of the ‘Women of the Rising’, tell us a bit about that, how did you approach your subjects? Was it a difficult process?  Making work on the Women of the Rising has been the result of an unusual chain of events and twists of fate. I had just left my full time job and was taking part in drawing sessions lead by Michael Wann at The Model to try and get back to my own practice as an artist. Originally my intention was to challenge myself to develop my skills in working figuratively and in portraiture as up until 2012 my work had been largely abstract. I was looking for an interesting face to draw and trawling the internet came upon a photograph of Maud Gonne. Her strong bone structure and defiant gaze appealed to me. I felt she was telling me to step up to the mark, to be fearless and courageous in my approach and that she would settle for nothing less. I drew her over and over again in an effort to find weight and substance in the drawings, searching for a presence on the page. The more I drew the more interested I became in who she was and I began to research her life, discovering that she was very fitting subject matter for the challenge I had set for myself, fearlessness and determination being values she held dear and ones I felt I needed to possess to carry out the work I had begun.

Sinéad McCoole, author of Easter Widows, saw my drawings on line and asked me to show them at her book launch in Sligo. Already interested now in the era and in Maud Gonne’s work as an activist, when I discovered the subject matter of the book I felt compelled to make portraits of the 7 women whom the book is about, whose husbands were all executed for their part in The Easter Rising of 1916. Maud Gonne was of course among them. Inspired by their stories and the remarkable lives they lead I have continued to research more women. The latest works are portraits of Margaret Skinneder, Elizabeth O’Farrell and Constance Markievicz.

Making portraits of women from the early 1900s is difficult as I am limited to using photography that can sometimes be of poor quality. I try to use the photographs as starting points and develop the drawing beyond the photograph, my ultimate aim is to reignite a presence on the canvas and to somehow do justice to the memory and the legacy of the person I am drawing.

Would you consider politics an important aspect in your work?   I don’t want to make a political statement with the work, rather my intention is to make work about women from a female perspective and present it to the viewer for their own consideration. Hopefully the work arouses curiosity in some of the more hidden personal stories of 1916 rather than the political ones.

How does family life affect your work? Does it inform your practice?   I don’t think it informs my practice but it definitely shapes it. We’re a one car family of five so after dropping the kids to school it’s straight to the studio for 9.30 until 2pm when I have to hit the road again. I like the routine of this though and I find the rhythm of it suits my practice. I try to keep practical work to my studio time and any admin type work at the laptop for the evenings.

The North West is a very fertile area for artists and creative alike. Was this a factor in your deciding to live here?   It wasn’t but I actually felt quite overwhelmed when I immersed myself in the art world of the North West 4 years ago and discovered such a dynamic community of artists willing to share information and eager to push each other forward as well as developing their own careers as artists. I’m hoping that I can pay forward some of the generosity shown to me in these early years of becoming a full time artist.

My studio is actually at the home of another Sligo artist, Lorna Watkins and although we work separately (she has her studio at The Model) we do bounce ideas off each other and use each other as sounding boards, a friendship and working relationship that I am truly grateful for.

Emma Stroude’s work relating to 1916 can currently be seen in ‘100’ at LUAN Gallery Athlone, ‘NWO’ at Leitrim Sculpture Centre and ‘Spotlights & Shadows’ at The Hyde Bridge Gallery Sligo (After dark). A solo exhibition of new work ‘Glow’ will begin at Hamilton Gallery, Sligo on May 5th. Please visit her website for more details – www.emmastroude.com

Tamara Samson, Intuitive, Holistic Cook

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Tamara lives and works in Ireland’s North West.  Cooking for her is a vocation which has involved many years of investigative travel during which she has discovered the authentic globe on which we precariously perch, through the cultural identity of food.  Her experiences are literally mouth-watering. Here, She talks Goat Stews and Cheeses, Chillies, Cherries, Coriander, Cumin and Crayfish.

South Africa, where I grew up is a very multicultural country. We have the second largest population of Indians outside of India, up on the east coast.  I’m from Cape Town where there is very large Malay population so our traditional food dishes really would be biryanis, boboties, samosas, curries, chutneys, pickles and things like that, then we have huge Italian, Greek, Portuguese communities in the Cape so I was exposed to different cuisines from a young age.  I had a lot of Italian and Greek friends so I was always eating different meals.  My mother would have made boboties and biryanis, it goes without saying it was just a part of the way we lived.  So from a young age I just loved food and the different cultures I was exposed to through it.

I grew up on the beach with the rocks on the coast just littered with mussels, we used to go mussel picking every weekend.  We all had a crayfish licence when I was little, we would go out in the boat at about four or five in the morning dropping the nets and we’d sit out at sea for an hour or so, my father would pull up the nets and he’d measure the tails so we never took anything too small and then we’d come home with fresh crayfish, fresh pearlemoen, (a type of abalone) and fresh mussels.  The Crayfish would be done on the braai, we’d make a salad with the legs and we’d make our own cocktail sauce with brandy, Worcestershire sauce, lemon, tomato sauce, mayonnaise and fresh herbs.  I remember my dad hammering the perlemoen with a mallet to tenderise it and that would be done with garlic on the pan for perlemoen Steaks.  So I’ve always loved food and had a pretty fun life, spent mostly down on the beach.

I left South Africa after school to go travelling for a year and never returned.  But any time I go home now I always mourn leaving, I’m always sad leaving, I love South Africa, it’s an incredible country. People there are very resilient, very passionate and passionate about their country so I do miss it.

I went first to the Canaries because I have an aunt that lives there, I speak Spanish it’s my second language. I spent six months there and then on to Israel for eight months where the food is just… well it blows your mind!  Just the freshness of the food, the Middle East and Asia are probably my favourite cuisines because of the freshness of the ingredients, the vibrancy, the colour, the variety, it’s just incredible I love it, light fresh food. The falafels and the salads are just to die for!

Then it just continued, in Japan I became obsessed with Sushi!, and then South America, wow! Another culinary experience.  Each place was so individual and so unique with what it had to offer. When I flew into Argentina I’d been a vegetarian for seven years and after about a month or so I just couldn’t …. I thought ‘when in Rome’! I thought to hell with it I’m just gonna start, so I had my first steak after seven years in Argentina and then again in Uruguay. Then onto Chile, Peru and Ecuador and the fish! the ceviche, the beautiful fish stews with coconut, so amazing!  In northern Argentina I ate a lot of goats stew, goats cheese and tiraz – these are little corn parcels where the corn is taken off the cob and made into a sort of stew, then wrapped back into the leaves and steamed.  I was in India for a few months and there, I literally abandoned the fork, abandoned the spoon and it was just straight in with my hands eating as they do, eating everything and anything, it was all delicious.

In Asia I lived on a beach – any time I went to Thailand I lived on a beach and again just fresh food, made to order on the streets of Bangkok, all the wonderful street food and you pay something like 20 – 50 baht which is like a dollar for this incredible meal and you’re so satisfied and the smells!

I was eight years in Galway on and off, I did a lot of my travelling from Galway where I’d work for six to eight months, go travelling for another six to eight months and come back.  I’ve been two and half years up in Leitrim. I could do with a bit more sunshine that’s for sure but I love it.  It’s the people, the people are what has kept me here I suppose.  I could live in any of those places that I’ve travelled to for the beauty of the country and the nature, but here it’s a combination of firstly being able to speak the language with the people and it’s important for me to have the same kind of cultural background, so for me the culture of Ireland is extremely important.  Across the world with globalisation they’re trying to homogenise culture, to water it down.  So that’s why I travel, I want to experience other cultures, other ways of life but at the end of the day, for me it’s important to be surrounded by people that are my own culture because that’s where the connections are made and the strongest connections I have ever made in my life are here in Ireland; the strongest!  So I’m staying! Maybe when my son is older and has left school I may seek out the sun again, but I’m here and I love it, I love it!

As I was telling you, when I started travelling I began to develop my palette and there wasn’t anything I wouldn’t try. But then I became very aware of social issues and I became very aware of the planet so it’s been in recent years that my whole awareness has changed with regards food. Where the product comes from has become a burning issue for me, how it is sourced, how the product has been grown, and the conditions of the workers, of the actual product itself.  I’m very passionate about chemical free food.  I have foraged here in Leitrim, for wild garlic, damson, nettles, the edible flowers, berries. I believe in eating off the land, eating what’s available wherever you live. It makes things more interesting, the food is of the mountains, of the shores and oceans and forests.

Something that really stands out for me from foraging now through my memory is…

I was living in Turkey for a while, we popped over to Bulgaria and were walking around Sophia meandering the backstreets when we saw this entrance with stairs going up and a young girl standing outside, she must have been ten or twelve. We asked what the place was and she explained that it was a restaurant, a family place where her parents and grandmother prepared the food.  So she brought us a menu and we didn’t know what to order as it was all in Bulgarian so she said come in come in, all very authentic, very ornate inside; quite dark.  She took us down into almost a cellar like area and just sat down, all this food came out on these beautiful decorated platters. There were salads, meats and soups, oh the soups! Then we got to the equivalent of rakí, a Turkish drink not unlike anise, it was such a wonderful experience, we met the granny, she came out afterwards to say hello. None of them spoke English but it didn’t matter. We spent all afternoon there, it was the real deal, like eating in someone’s house.  It was eating in someone’s house!

I remember another time, I landed up in a place in Fiji, it was like little India, not a palm tree in sight, not a beach in sight and I ended up in the bus drivers home. He said I could stay there for the weekend, so I went there and left after the following weekend! I met the whole family and of course the granny and learnt lots about food from them.  I ate jackfruit and whatever they were offering me. I just love it whenever people invite me into their homes, you get the authentic experience. That’s why I switched from being a vegetarian, I don’t like to refuse food, to refuse someone’s hospitality and warmth especially if I am in someone’s home.

At the moment it’s definitely more of an ethical journey for me.  I want to try and focus on making food my business – literally.  I’ll be doing a business course over the summer and I’m starting doing a course about the science of food.  I’d love to give cooking demos, I’d love to go into people’s homes and cook them their dinner parties. It all started in Galway, a group of us were getting together in a friend’s house and I said I’ll bring all the food. So I went down with all this wonderful food and they all raved about it, and then they asked if I would be willing to do a cooking demo.  There were 11 people and we had it in a beautiful house out in Barna.  The family organised two girls to come to the house to look after the kids from all five families and I just took over her kitchen and put on this amazing spread.  Claire wrote a fabulous review for me, I was delighted. Check out the review that was written about it here! http://barnaclaire.blogspot.ie/2016/01/book-club-meets-cook-club.html?m=1  I would love to do more pop up supper clubs that type of things.  Spontaneity! Passion! I love how food brings people together, I get so much joy out of that, of sitting with my friends and eating together, there is nothing more I love to do other than eating with my friends and drinking wine.  The flavours! The tasting! The aromas!

I love pasta on a rainy day, as I said, we have a strong Italian community in south Africa and I remember my father saying to me when I was about eight I think ‘One day you will marry an Italian’, so I’m obviously living in the wrong country!

I remember in Spain spending a few days there, and one night just bar hopping, you can go from place to place to place and try the speciality pinchos two or three of them in each place, get a little drop of wine or a little drop of beer along the way and off you go to the next one and I remember we got the mushrooms, it was myself John and Jo, John ordered the mushrooms without checking the price and we got this little plate of mushrooms for 16 euro! They were meant to be so fabulous and they were fabulous but also fabulously expensive!  So when I travel, most of the journey is spent eating, that’s how you tap into the culture right into the essence of a nationality – the core.

In Ireland, I’m getting to know the local small producers that are providing local produce, amazing natural ingredients and I’m delighted to support the likes of Seán McMorrow Butchers. They rear their own beef and lamb and the quality is excellent. There is a new butcher in Boyle that is producing organic meat so I look forward to supporting them too.  I’m beginning to learn more about suppliers now in Ireland and supporting anyone that’s producing quality sustainable and fresh local produce.

Now, I would love to have a little food cart, I really would.  Another thing I would like to do is to cook for health retreats, yoga retreats because I want to provide healthy, wholesome, light, fresh food. I love the idea of preparing fresh, vibrant meals.

My favourite salad recipe is bursting with flavour and goodness. It’s generally got fennel, red cabbage, fresh carrot, asparagus, cucumber and red onion. I always grate in fresh garlic and ginger, chop in fresh chillies, it could have scallions in it, fresh coriander and just fresh lemon juice and olive oil, Himalaya salt crunched in and right at the end avocado; tonnes of avocado, It’s an explosion of flavours. I don’t bother anymore with salad dressings because I find I’ve got all the flavours right in there in the salad itself.  All you need is the lemon and the salt to bring it all out.  That’s generally my salad at home. I’ve become obsessed with fennel, fresh fennel, throw it into anything.  It’s amazing in a risotto, in a curry as well, a Thai curry or even an Indian tomato curry, Oh really nice.

I take my own staples with me wherever I go.  I take my own coffee, my own raw organic sugar, my own salt.  When I go to Galway and I go to Galway a lot, my clothes bag is smaller than my food bag! I want to feed my child too and I want to know he’s getting fed properly. I do all my veg shopping from Tír Na Nóg or from Gareth, an organic veg supplier, he used to be at the Manorhamilton Farmers Market.  On a Wednesday the organic veg order comes in to Tír Na Nóg so I go there then and I get everything. You know sometimes there are some things you have to get from the shop. Aubergine, I can’t always find organic aubergine, I’m obsessed with aubergine, it’s one of my favourite vegetables in the world! Middle Eastern food, Turkish food isn’t complete without aubergine and it’s probably, I would have to say, if I had to, if I was forced to take a particular cuisine with me to the grave, it would have to be Middle Eastern.  Something with aubergine!

I really feel I have had a blessed life, I had paradise on my doorstep. Cape Town’s a very large city but you don’t feel like you are living in a city. You’re surrounded by the mountains and the ocean wherever you are, if you’re a little bit inland you have the forests, and then the vineyards of Stellenbosch and the beautiful rolling hills, the fruit trees of the fruit growers, orange trees, lemon trees, peach trees and cherry trees it’s just all fresh and beautiful.

Food is life and life is fantastic! I love it, love it, love it!!!

Joel Smith, Wordsmith

 

Writer, Poet and Photographer Joel Smith read English at Trinity College Dublin and travelled to Spain before moving to Manorhamilton where he lives with his wife Ruth and their four children, Hannah, Nóra, Eilish and Sáidbh.  Family life and his work with the local community have both deeply influenced his work as has his strong connection with the surrounding countryside of Co. Leitrim.

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Big Dog – Courtesy Joel Smith Photography

I love to get up early in the morning (if no children have come in to visit me in the middle of the night), especially at the weekends and do something before the rest of the world is up. I love going into the forests or down by the lakes but it’s also a good time to write so I just have to accept I can’t be in two places at once. I also do a bit of photography which has led to a series of posters of the rich natural life to be found here in the North West.

I tend to go to my studio each day and put in an hour of writing before or after work.

My work as a journalist for Paddy Power led to a humorous blog and I find that humour is a vital factor in what I do. I’ve also done a bit of stand up. The funniest book I have ever read is Al Franken’s “Why Not Me” about his challenge for the presidency. Growing up I used to love the Lord of the Rings, it’s an epic saga that stands the test of time. I also love Robert Graves and Graham Greene. There is consolation in the fact that Greene got rejected several times. Poetry wise I used to love Browning growing up but at the moment my favourite poet is John Montague.

The best advice I can give to any writer is write and read as much as you can. I think the sooner you get a rejection out of the way the better; it’s largely the story of a writer’s life. The beauty is now you can self-publish your work and therefore have full control over how the book is presented and formatted right down to being in charge of distribution. I have written a lot of stories with my children in mind and if I can captivate them I know I’m going in the right direction.

 

 

A Patron of The Arts

 

I who had nothing now have something,

From the sister of the man who married my sister,

I have bought a drawing and it is framed on my wall.

 

A patron of the arts

One of those men who commisioned Michelangelo´s David,

Like Medici of Florence, I am Smith or Mac Gabhann of Dublin (formerly of Tir Eoghan).

 

You may kiss my ring if you wish.

 

In the picture he is bowing, he is bowing,

To silent applause bursting in my ears.

 

After the drawing I know he will depart from the stage

And wipe the sweat from his brow,

For in this performance, as in every performance

He has given his everything.

 

I will walk the streets of Terenure and Killyclogher as a man of no small importance.

“There he is again, look at his pompous walk.

Is he a Cardinal?”They will ask, “No, too young,” says the other,

“A Bishop then or else a patron of  the Tyrone & Fermanagh Mental Hospital?”

Ah, if only. Happy days with a London Bobby’s hat on my head ineffectually doing the gardening.

But I cannot just simply and consciously regress, for I am a man of no small importance, a man of property; like the Medicis of Florence or those O’Neills of Tyrone or Maguires of Fermanagh.

 

 

The Retired Detective – Joel Smith

You know, when I was a young man or even a slightly middle aged man working in Scotland Yard I never thought I would end up living in Ireland while my wife, a teacher, learned Irish (eternally – I’m afraid she is destined never to overcome her accent). It’s very different here, smaller, more connected with the past, safer in some ways, more dangerous in others.

 

When I came into the force I was told by an old hand who was shortly to retire, “It doesn’t get any better you know, it just gets worse”. Of course he was right. I passed on the same information to a young constable before I left.

I had no illusions about the Irish when I came here. I’d lived through the various bombings I wasn’t searching for lucky Leprechauns or even happy-go-lucky people. Still and all I like it here, not expecting too much, anything is a plus. As you know we built this house together, my darling and I. They say you need to build two houses before you get it just right. We won’t be building another one.

It is dark tonight, clouded over but dry. As I look out of my window to the other side of the valley I reflect upon the words of Conan Doyle’s creation Sherlock Holmes:

It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.
“You horrify me!”
“But the reason is very obvious. The pressure of public opinion can do in the town what the law cannot accomplish. There is no lane so vile that the scream of a tortured child, or the thud of a drunkard’s blow, does not beget sympathy and indignation among the neighbours, and then the whole machinery of justice is ever so close that a word of complaint can set it going, and there is but a step between the crime and the dock. But look at these lonely houses, each in its own fields, filled for the most part with poor ignorant folk who know little of the law. Think of the deeds of hellish cruelty, the hidden wickedness which may go on, year in, year out, in such places, and none the wiser.”

These last few months have proven these fictional words to be very true. I did not expect to be somehow involved in detecting a murder in the townland where I live. That’s what they call them here, townlands – we have postcodes, they have townlands. These townlands are usually just descriptions of prominent geographical features like big rocks or the mouths of rivers. I live in Gublaun, it means the full mouth of the river or so I am told.

In any case somebody has been poisoning my neighbours for some time. I am lucky enough to have a separate well, which nevertheless I have had sampled and given the all clear. Strangely as an outsider, I have a kind of blessed anonymity – I don’t exist. I never worked the land here, put seaweed or manure on the soil, helped someone else to save the hay, fell out with my brother over land, drank the pub or looked after my parents while my love slipped away from me. Neither am I one of those decent people that are like dolmens of respectability, acknowledged by one and all to be good arbiters of the community.  It helps of course that I am Protestant, although not doctrinaire and since the Reverend Noel has gone you are as likely to find me at mass with Fr Goode for I cannot bear the Rev Clifford, he is much too Dick Emery for me.

It was early spring, I remember because on my way cycling down (yes I even have a bicycle) to my friend Dennis’ house I had enjoyed seeing the bluebells and smelling the fresh garlic. Let me describe Dennis for you. He is, or was rather, a big man, somewhat shrunken now due to sickness but with a full wire brush head of black only slightly grey hair. He had befriended us shortly after we arrived here and I with my usual suspicious nature had taken my time to warm to him, but he worked down at the Organic Centre and had such knowledge about nature, about mammals and fish and all the things that you know I love, that I found myself in admiration of him and we played backgammon and draughts regularly ( he did not know how to play chess unfortunately and professed himself correctly as, too old to learn).  For the past six weeks however he had been sick, losing weight and suffering from chronic diarrhea. Once or twice a week I had continued to call down on him and we played our game often punctuated by visits to the bathroom. I was sad to see his decline.

“Ah Dave, I heard you at the gate. Thanks for coming but I don’t think I’ll be much of a challenge for you today.”

“How are you feeling Dennis?”

“Same old same old, only worse. The doctors keep telling me to drink more water to flush it out of my system – but that only seems to make it worse. Would you mind getting me a drink of water all the same Dave?”

I poured one for him and one for myself.

“It’s a bit cloudy, isn’t it Dennis?”

“That’s always the way with well water Dave. You’re not in the city now.”

That night and forgive me dear if you feel I am being crude, I spent an inordinate time sitting on the toilet. The things that go through your head when you are sitting there for a long time. It’s almost like sitting in church – especially when you feel like you are dying and indeed there are of course the accompanying sensations of panic and relief and then hope and despair. But somehow as I came to the end of the episode – I had shrugged off your stepmother’s attempt to give me Imodium  – I reflected that maybe Dennis’ water was polluted. Perhaps a leveret or something of that nature had strayed into the well and drowned.

That morning I was too unwell to investigate but as the day wore on I gradually got some strength back and that evening – twilight, with bats plentiful and active but the dreaded midges were thankfully scarce – I gingerly made my way into the field with the well that Dennis and his neighbours sourced their water from and using a crook that Eloise had bought to give our new house an olde worlde look, I fished about until I pulled out a lamb whose throat had been slit and put it in a bag that I had in my pocket (always carry a bag here – otherwise the shops will make you pay for them).  It was too late to bother Dennis with the news even though I could see the glow of his lights from where I was so I marched home and threw the dead animal in the garage after wrapping it in a few more bags.

I was a bit disconcerted but neither displeased, or even surprised. I had a hot whisky or two. Somebody was poisoning Dennis, that much was clear but who or why? I had heard whispers in the pub about Dennis’ behaviour as a young man. Suggestions that he had been a wild child in the sixties, the first man to smoke marijuana in Rossinver, perhaps, it was said, he had even got a girl from Ballyshannon pregnant before heading off on the hippy trail. I had taken all these stories with a pinch of salt. After all, to be alternative in Rossinver in the sixties you probably just had to be late for mass a few times. Even so it was clear that Dennis was a bit of a hippy so maybe some of it was true.

Eloise looked at me concernedly, with the implication that I’d had enough. I suggested she go off to bed and I would follow within the half hour. I poured myself a final whiskey, this time cold with a little water, turned on the classical radio station and allowed the music, the spring part of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

I switched off the lights with the cheering thought of radically improving my friend’s health with an early morning call. I took a large glass of water and ate a couple of grapes hoping to deflect an almost certain headache.

The next morning I woke up uncharacteristically late. Eloise had gone to work and I was left to have breakfast on my own.

After eating my porridge and switching off the dirge on the radio I drank juice and tea and cycled down to Dennis’ hoping the air would clear my head. The smells of wildflower were lost on me that morning and I roughly forced open the stiff gate at Dennis’ house. I knocked loudly but there was no answer. I knew something was wrong because it was now 11 0’ Clock and the habits of an old gardener die hard – Dennis was always up by 7.30am at the latest, even when sick – he had told me. I looked in the window and I could see him sprawled on the ground, vomit on the blanket beside him. I had a key so instead of bursting the door open I used the purple headed key (I must admit to colour coding my keys with those little plastic key covers).

I rushed over to him and started talking mindlessly and hopefully reassuringly (old habits die hard – it’s a bit like talking to a baby you know he doesn’t understand but it reassures him.) knowing that he almost certainly couldn’t hear me. He was pale looking, unconscious, and vomit splattered. Dried blood hugged the corners of his mouth, but he was still breathing. I rang the ambulance and the Garda (Irish Police) and though I thought about taking him in myself, I knew he’d get priority in an ambulance. So I waited for the ambulance and left a note on the door for the Gardai with my address.

That evening I had made a nice risotto and drank a few glasses of wine when two Gardai (the plural of Garda – you see the language is rubbing off on me after all) arrived. Even though I’m an ex-cop it’s strange to say, now that I’m no longer one of ‘them’ I found myself drawing back a little. Everybody thinks the cops are after you for something, even me. I noted or thought that they were looking at my car and the UK reg. Strictly speaking I should have changed it to an Irish Reg.

Ushering them in I looked at them in the light and offered them tea or coffee which neither of them accepted. One was young, innocent looking and open countenanced, he was broad but youth kept him from looking fat. That wouldn’t last forever. The other was just a little older in age but seemed a lot older in experience. He had short fair hair almost military-like. The dark haired one was called Liam, the blonde Martin. Liam asked the general questions, Martin followed up with the detail.

“Do you still have the lamb sir?” The black haired one.

“Yes I am afraid I ended up putting it in the freezer. Sorry Darling.”

“Did it have a yellow tag on it sir or a splash of colour?” Said the blonde.

“No nothing that I saw but maybe you would care to have a look at it.”

As we made our way to the freezer in the garage the blonde took the opportunity to casually ask about 20 questions about me, how long I had lived here,  what had I done before I retired, What were the neighbours like?”

“Would you mind if the superintendent called out to you sometime Dave (they are not as quick with sir as we used to be, I always liked it in the lower ranks, impersonal and aggressive). I think he would be very interested to meet you.”

“No not at all.” I wondered what did the superintendent want with a retired old cop from England?

The stink was foul as I opened out the sheep for us to look at and I was surprised that I hadn’t noticed that one of the ears had been cut off. Presumably to dispose of the tag that had been on it.

Shortly afterwards Martin and Liam were called away, taking the sheep with them.

Before they went I managed to ask them had they any suspicions. The black haired one said something on the lines of top secret but the other shook his head, “nothing yet Dave but we’ll ask around.”

I found it a strangely honest way of doing business.

Next morning I resolved to cut down on my drinking and went to Sligo to visit my friend Dennis. I cursed the expense of parking at the hospital but didn’t know the town well enough to find an alternative.

Already Dennis looked a good deal better. I told him what I had found.

“Fuck me,” he said uncharacteristically swearing (but he certainly had the right) “some bastard is trying to poison me. I should have stayed in Australia.”

I asked the obvious questions.

“Does anyone dislike you, have you ever given anyone a reason to do something like this?”

“I’m sure a lot of people hate me and a lot of people like me the same as anybody else but I can’t think of anyone who would have the energy to do this to me.”

“What about your neighbours, did any of them get sick? Who else uses the well?”

“There’s me and Seamie and Mickey. That’s all as far as I know. There used to be another wee man, John James but he died last year.”

“It’s no wonder if the well was poisoned. Will I talk to them?”

“Do, and tell them not to drink the water.”

“Anything I need to know about them?”

“They’re brothers and they don’t talk to each other.”

“Land?”

“Love. A mother’s love.”

“Go on.” He had a great knack of wracking up the tension before telling a story.

“Well, there were two sons and one daughter in the family, the father died when I was young while the mother died just last year. I used to go out with Mary Mac when we were young but she had the sense to leave for America. I still get a postcard from her now and then. Seamie and Mickey were both home birds. Mickey was the go-er. He farmed the land, got up early in the morning, ran it as a business, bought more land, more livestock, better livestock, bought better land. Seamie was a mummy’s boy, gentle and intelligent but at heart he was a little bit lazy. As his mum got older he took care of her. He had a heart of gold, she could barely remember her name in the end. Mrs Mac loved Seamie and when she died she gave him the home house. Fair enough you might say but Mickey didn’t look at it that way, even though he had moved into his own house twenty years earlier. This, he felt was a betrayal of all he had worked for. In her will she said she wanted to be buried in Carlow beside her mother and father but Seamie had ignored her wishes, burying her instead at the graveyard beside the Lough. That was another reason for Mickey to hate Seamie. There were plenty of black looks at the funeral, but I don’t think Seamie even noticed them. He’s been drunk almost from that day to this.”

“Those are some neighbours to have.”

“Well they’re not the best and they’re not the worst. Seamie won’t mind you calling in on him but you better tell Mickey that I’ve asked you to tell him to keep an eye on the place until I come back.”

By the time I left Dennis I was hungry and had something to eat in town, getting out of the hospital with my customary shiver of distaste and relief. Sitting in Lyons’ I treated myself to a civilized fry and the Times. I always found that when I was in Ireland I wanted British news and vice versa.

Just a few hours later I parked outside the house of Seamus McMorrow. It was a respectable little bungalow, painted blue. It was at least eighty years old and a few flower boxes decorated the outside. The garden which had been tended so carefully at one stage now seemed to be tumbling over on itself, not quite gone to seed but heading in that direction. It was a classic sunshine and showers day and I waited for a moment inside the car as rain lashed down with an intensity that I knew couldn’t last this time of year and listened to the sound of yet more dismal economic numbers on the radio. Eventually I flicked it on to radio in the Irish language and felt some relief at not knowing what was being said yet somehow having a bit of company.

When the blue sky re-emerged I pulled my coat tight around me as the cold wind chased the heat out of the valley and hurried along to knock and ring the bell at the same time. Knocking at thousands of doors in your career teaches you to do away with the niceties and this struck me as a house were the doorbell hadn’t worked for years and probably never would again.

I heard a jump and the door was opened wide with a “hullo!” Even from this vantage point I could see that the house wasn’t in all that bad a shape, there was no smell and it wasn’t very messy. “Hello. My name is David Hawthorn. I just live up the road. I live up on the old Manorhamilton road beside Patsy Sweeney and I’m a friend of Dennis Rooney.”

The trick I find with these situations is to get as many name checks in as quickly as you can. I try to be as clear as I can to allay any suspicion. I told him I was originally from England but I was retired here and my wife was working as a teacher in Kiltyclogher. It usually works but in this case I could see he was a sociable enough chap and he let me in, offering me a cup of tea which I accepted.

I was surprised to find that everything was in a general kind of order and Seamie was drinking tea and reading the Irish Times at the table with the radio on in the background. The smell of turf in the house and on him was exactly what I had expected. His poor mother was probably in great shape in the graveyard, nicely cured from the bog smoke.

Seamie had his trousers tucked into his boots and a beanie hat on top of grey hair that had once been fair. He looked as if he might be about to do some farm work but I could tell he was simply reading the paper.  We sat down and I noted that there was quite a few empty bottles of beer in his recycling box and in the kitchen there were four or five 5 litre bottles of water.

“I heard Dennis was in hospital? Do they know what’s wrong with him?”

“Yes. It’s the water. Someone has been poisoning it. But,” and I motioned over to the water bottles “it looks like you already knew that.”

“Well I didn’t know that.” He wasn’t defensive in the least. “But I did know that the water tasted funny and I did know that my brother hates me enough to poison the well.”

“And you didn’t think to tell Dennis? Or the Gardai?”

“Well I thought Dennis would taste bad water and not drink it. Any animal would.”

“He’s not an animal.”

“Yes I know. I’m sorry. How is he now?”

“Better.”

“Are you going to tell the Gardai?”

“I already have.”

“Well.” He considered his tea and then drank from it. “Could you give me a lift into town?”

“What for?”

“Well, the Central will be open now.”

“So you’re just going to drink yourself stupid?”

“No, but I am going to have a drink.”

A few minutes later I found myself driving him into town. My wipers were working only on the intermittent. I really would have to find a better garage man.

We were listening to the death notices on the local radio station so I took that as a weak cue to broach the subject again.

“How would you have felt if we’d heard Dennis’ name called out on those notices?”

“Bad. Dennis is a friend. I’m not poisoning him.”

“But your brother is!”

“He might be, but I’m too cute for him.” He said it mischievously, unaware of the gravity of what had happened, this casual poisoning.

I parked outside the pub. I had been told as part of my orientation that the litter/dog/traffic warden had taken redundancy and they had no money to replace her, so parking was free in Manorhamilton.

I went in with him and I have to tell you that it had been twenty or more years since I had seen a pub as dirty as this. It was the kind of place where licensing, hygiene and smoking laws were routinely ignored. There was a dog sleeping under one of the bar stools. Groups of punters looked at us and gave a friendly wave to Seamie and a wary glance to me.

At first I had a seven up while he drank beer but when he moved on to whisky I joined him. He was likeable, friendly and smart, in another environment he might have done well but then so could we all. I asked him, apologizing before hand for my knowledge and my curiosity, why he hadn’t buried his mother according to her wishes.

“She wrote that damn will twenty years ago and I’ve been caring for her ever since.” I noted he still talked about her in the present tense. “But I’ll be damned if I’d see her body go all the way to Carlow where I’d never be able to talk to her again.” His eyes went watery. Well, you’re allowed to be emotional when you’re drunk and a man, especially if you’re talking about your mother. “I love my mum and I go down to the grave to talk to her most days, that’s all there is to it. She’s been my work for the past two decades.”

I drank with him for a long time. Pausing only to eat a delicious roast dinner and texting Elouise that I would be late home.

Eventually when I left the pub, I walked up and down the main street. Entering a more civilized pub where I normally drank, I realised just how drunk I was. I left quickly and cast away all ideas of drink driving home and reached for a taxi card I had picked up in the aforementioned dirtiest pub in Ireland.

I was still on the street fumbling with my mobile phone when a car flashed me and I recognised one of the gardai from the other day, the smarter one. Someone else was in the back, the car was unmarked. “Martin.” I said “Hello there, I’m just waiting for a lift home.”

“Hello David. The superintendent is in the back – he’d like to talk to you.”

“Do I have a choice?”

“Of course you do,” said the voice in the back “but it’s just a friendly chat – and we’ll bring you home.”

So I got in. I was in my amiable and curious rather than aggressive drunken phase.

He turned on the light in the back seat so I could see him properly and shook my hand.

What a friendly looking fellow I thought – always bad news.

“Hello Mr Hawthorne, do you mind if I call you David?”

“No, not at all. And what will I call you? Superintendent? ”

“No need for formalities between two colleagues. Call me Robert.”

“Bobby?” He bristled

“No, Robert.”

I was pleased to find a way of annoying him so soon.

He switched the light off.

“We thought you were going to do a little drink driving.”

“And that would have been that. I would have co-operated then for sure because you would have had something on me”. It was a dirty old trick that cops throughout the world used but it was something I didn’t relish being tried on me.

“By the way what do you want me to co-operate on?”

He paused clearly annoyed.

“You’re a trained cop, living on this side of the border. Look, let’s cut the shite. We need eyes and ears there for everything from vehicle registration to dissident activity.”

I was taken aback by his straight talking.

“I’m a retired English cop.” I paused for a moment, thinking out loud . “Are you planning to pay me?”

“Possibly,” he said unsure of his ground.

“Thank you very much but I’m a little too old to be a community informer. Maybe you could drop me here.”

I was still about three miles from home.

“Do as he says Martin.”

I slammed the door and the car did a hasty three point turn and sped off.

There was a lot to consider but it was a beautiful summer’s night and I was glad of the walk. The lambs and their mothers were talking to each other in the fields, startled now and again by my presence. I was a little shocked myself when a wood pigeon shot out of some trees beside an old school house. There was an outdoor tap at its gate and I let it run for a while and then wet my whistle. It was late, Elouise wouldn’t be pleased with me. The stars did look beautiful. There was a good moon so I felt relatively safe walking and when my journey had come to an end I was almost disappointed. Noisily I made my way to the kitchen. Elouise had left a cooked ham salad sandwich on the table for me and a glass of water. I ate it and went to bed hangdogedly.

I groaned awake about 11am determined to change my new found drinking habits. I drank water for breakfast and read Elouise’s note.

Remember we have guests for dinner. Don’t be drunk before, during or after please!

This was pure outrage on her part, in general we got on so well because she was willing to tolerate so much. I really would have to pull myself together. By 2pm I was well enough to cook myself scrambled egg and drink a little orange juice. At 4pm I was feeling angry enough to visit Mickey. I cycled down this time and brought my bike inside the cattle grided entry of an imposing house. I had heard that his wife ran a computer school in Sligo so she would probably be away while he, reputedly a workaholic, farmed and built houses. Sure enough he was outside, painting his own two storey house when he could surely have got a few of his men to do it.

“Hello there!” The sun was shining making my dehydration even worse.

“Hello. You’re Dennis’ friend. David, is that your name? How is Dennis anyway, the old bastard?”

“Better now you’re not poisoning him.”

“That’s a pretty serious allegation. Any animal could have wandered into that well.”

“And had his ear cut off?”

“Just be careful mister with that allegation that you’re spreading. That’s libel or defamation or some fucking thing.”

“So you did do it?”

He climbed down the ladder. Went right up to my face and spat on the ground. “What do you think?” His wiry curly hair seemed to stand on end, chin and teeth jutted out at me. I thought he was going to try and kill me there and then.

I just blinked at him. Looked at his wall and said “I think you missed a bit.”

I stood my ground and let the silence envelope us until he moved away and started painting again. Teeth still gritted. “By the way” he shouted. “Be careful on that bicycle. Anyone could kill you on these country roads and if you come onto my lands again I’ll shoot you as a trespasser.”

“You know,” I said “I carry a small fire arm myself for personal protection. I hope we don’t get into some sort of scuffle.” I let it be at that not waiting for the comeback which would probably involve him taking his double barrelled shot gun out.

Back home, I checked my revolver, loaded it and put in a kitchen cabinet. Then started to prepare dinner. Elouise was back early and prepared a starter of melon and Parma ham. She always did that, I don’t know why. I made onion soup and a main course of home made chips with peas and gravy and home made steak ready to go on the pan. Finally, I had a good kitchen with a good gas hob and oven. I did love this house.

The couple arrived at 6 and we had drinks although I stuck to coke for the time being while Elouise looked approvingly on. The woman, young girl really was quite pregnant (about 6 months she told us) in her later twenties and called Isabella. Her mother was Italian and had worked in the embassy when he fell in love with her Leitrim mother. She had moved to leitrim two years ago with her husband Caoimhin (pronounced quee-veen) who worked as a teacher with Elouise. He was from Fermanagh but his Irish was flawless (or so I was given to understand). Self taught, he also sang in the language. He was earnest, amiable and curious about my time in Scotland Yard.

Eventually Elouise could see I was drying out of conversation and with some relief on my part she said “Darling why don’t you have a drink, the red is really very nice”.

“Ah well,” I said trying to mask my eagerness “I’ll give it a try.”

Dinner was going well, Caoimhin was asking my opinion on the hunger strikes. It turned out his uncle from Monaghan had been on the first hunger strike and his health, mental and physical had never been the same again since. Forty two days he had lasted before it was called off.

“Better than bombings.” I said.

I was just about to put out dessert when I heard a shot. Everyone looked up for a second then continued talking. “Caoimhin, I’m a bit worried about one of our neighbours. I wonder would you mind coming down with me to take a look and see that he’s okay?” I asked Elouise to phone the Gardai.

A very ready fellow, Caoimhin jumped in the car with me. It always helps to have a witness in case things go pear shaped. I slowed down in front of Mickey’s house. Sprawled higgledy piggeldy on the cattle grid, blood seeping through the bars and into the earth, was poor old Seamie.

We got out of the car. I warned Caoimhin to hang back.

“What the fuck do you want? Look what you’ve done!” The shout was from an upstairs window. Mickey held a shotgun loosely in his hands.

“Can I check to see whether he’s alive or dead?”

“You can check all you like, but he’s dead.”

I stepped cautiously over to him and felt for his pulse but I could tell by his colour and the amount of blood around his shoulder that he was gone.

“You’re right. I shouted up to him. He’s dead.”

His face crumpled.

“What happened?”

“He was drunk, he’d been on the phone. He said he wanted to see me one last time before the Gardai took me away. I told him not to come, that if he came I’d shoot him.”

“What are you going to do now”.

“I don’t know.”

“You may as well just throw the gun down and I’ll bring you in.”

I could hear a fast car in the background and cursed myself for getting Elouise to call the Gardai.

The Gardai had the sense to park a little way back and out of the corner of my eye I could see the two of them Martin and Liam coming over the side wall of the house. This was turning into a bit of a disaster, why could they not have radioed for a specialist unit?

“Do you want me to come inside Mickey?”

“No, I don’t want you to come inside.  A lot of this is your fault.” And he put the shotgun back to his shoulder and pointed it at me.

“Do you want me to go away Mickey?”

“No, I want you to stay right there you little English bastard and sweat for a while.”

He was sweating too.

I was torn between wanting to keep the conversation going and keeping my mouth shut for fear of further provocation.

One of the Gardai tripped on a can of paint and made a noise.

“What the fuck was that?”

I winced.

“Eh, Eh, it’s only me Mickey.” Liam the Garda, stepped gingerly into sight with his hands up in the air.

“Get the fuck over there!” He motioned Liam to go beside me with his gun.

Meanwhile I could see that Martin had gotten in the back door and at this stage was probably crawling up the stairs.

“Well that was very clever. Now he has two hostages”. I said, Caoimhin meanwhile with excellent instincts of self preservation had managed to get himself on the far side of the pillar and out of danger for the time being.

“Who said anything about hostages?”

“What else do you call it when you’re pointing a gun at people and won’t let them go anywhere? Remember what happened at Abbeylara (this was an infamous siege incident which had been badly mishandled by the Gardai). Take some advice from an ex-cop, put the gun down and go in here with Martin to the barracks and believe me, it will be simple from then on, it will be all process.”

He pondered that for a moment then raised the gun as if to fire but I could make out movement in the background, we heard a commotion, a bang and Mickey was being tossed out of the window onto the ground. Falling hard onto his head, his shotgun falling and shooting off harmlessly. I walked over the unconscious body of Mickey on the ground and kicked him gently with my foot. Did something monstrous happen to this man when he was a boy to put such rage in him or was it just the lack of a mother’s love.

Martin was at the window and Liam gave a ‘kehoe’. When Martin came out I shook his hand.

“I can’t say it was textbook, but you did it anyway.”

Martin just nodded. Caomhin popped his head back up in disbelief and we waited around for an ambulance and statements. Caomhin was allowed to go back up to the house for a bottle of whiskey. Sitting there on a garden bench sipping my whiskey as the sun started to set over Lough Melvin I wondered at how I had nearly been killed and resolved to be both less friendly with people and less curious. From now on, I would be an island.

Meet Róisín Loughrey

Filmmaker Róisín Loughrey moved to Manorhamilton from Dublin 10 years ago with her husband Rossa and baby Tarach. The family is now complete with another son Rudi. She is a studio-holder in the Leitrim Sculpture Centre where she fine-tunes her important work. Read on, this Mother’s Day weekend and learn about her passions and her loves, her abundant knowledge of the film industry and how she manages to masterfully juggle both her home and working life.

 

Roisin

I come alive on a sunny day. Like most people grey skies bring me down so I struggle with the weather in North Leitrim. But a bright blue sky will have me leap out of the bed in the morning.

I’m a bit of a dreamer to be honest so I feel like my dreams can float higher and expand wider on a sunny day. As Emily Dickenson’s poem suggests “The Brain is Wider than the Sky.”

My mother gave me a collection of Emily Dickenson’s poems as a girl and poetry, literature and films have had a strong influence in my life ever since.

The poetic and the visual is what drives and inspires me. As I said, I’m a dreamer and ever since I was a school child I’ve lived for the most part in my imagination. Thank god for my two boys who do a great job of grounding me in the here and now. Them and the hoovering…

I have always loved films but it was a fairly crooked road I took to filmmaking myself. Growing up my Dad had a super 8 film camera he took with him everywhere and a few times a year he’d set up the projector in the sitting room and we’d watch those three minute films spin and shine through the beam of light, magically transforming into silent, dancing images on the bumpy sitting room wall. I was always mesmerized by them. I still have that projector in my studio and all those three minute film reels which I’ve used in some of my work.

Looking back that was the beginning of the journey. When I was sixteen he gave me his old Canon SLR camera and I played around with black & white ilford film, not really sure what I was doing.

I didn’t study film when I left school, I ended up in Galway studying my first love, literature. That took me into theatre and I spent some time in Dublin as an actress. After years of auditions and working as a waitress I decided I wanted more creative control in my life and set about preparing a portfolio to get into the film course in Dun Laoghaire art college, now the National Film School.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy as I was in those three years at film school. I fell completely head over heels with the process of filmmaking. It was like all my loves, poetry, literature, theatre mixed into one glorious art form. It was there that I started concentrating on documentary. We had one week of seminars in documentary making in second year and I was seriously inspired by that. One particular filmmaker who made a deep impression on me was John T. Davis, a fairly maverick documentary maker from the North who told us to look in our back yards for inspiration and ideas. His films like Shell Shock Rock about the punk scene in Belfast and Hobo, about train jumpers in America were to me both artistically and emotionally profound.

There have been so many films and filmmakers that have inspired and moved me over the years, too many to name. One thing I can describe is the feeling I get when something moves me. Its like my brain widens a little bit and my heart sort of swells. This can happen while watching a film, reading a novel, looking at a painting or a photograph. It’s the moment when a piece of art connects with your mind and your heart and your soul all in the same instant. The world shifts a tiny bit.

The training I got in film school also gave me a huge respect and understanding of the art of good film, be it in the editing or cinematography or script. The last film I went to see in the cinema was the Oscar nominated Room, which I thought was excellent. The director Lenny Abrahamson is, I think, Ireland’s finest and most skillful filmmaker today. He directs actors with extraordinary sensitivity and intelligence, which results in subtle yet powerful performances. He also has quite a unique poetic style that I love. For example the last scene in his film Garage where the white horse just walks towards the camera and we know that the main character Josie is gone.

I was also hugely inspired and influenced by the ground-breaking Danish film collective Dogme 95 who made films such as Festen and The Idiots. They established their collective with a filmmaking manifesto that created certain restrictive rules about their process; for example using only natural light sources and shooting only on location with no props. Along with a ban on tripods, this gave the films produced a documentary feel but the scripts and acting delivered extraordinary dramatic punch. Lars Von Triers, one of Dogme’s most famous directors is absolutely groundbreaking in his approach to cinema.

One of the most unusual films I ever saw was a documentary about Hitler’s secretary called Blind Spot. The film is an interview with Traudl Junge about her years working as Hitler’s personal secretary and what is unusual about it is that for the whole of its ninety minutes all we see is this interview. There is no archive footage, cutaways or anything else other than this woman talking The result is utterly captivating. I remember watching it learning two things, one is that a good story overrides everything. You can have all the fancy visuals in the world but it is the story that draws us in. Also I realized that so much plays out in our imagination already. It’s why people in the past sat captivated around a radio. Our brains fill in the blanks. We didn’t need to see endless archive footage of Hitler or Nazi Germany, we have it in our heads already. It was an interesting film.

My own films usually start with some kind of visual seed. I could be drawn to an image or something I’ve seen in life and an idea could come from that. Like any seeds, some grow and some don’t. I am aware that making a film is a lengthy, drawn out and expensive process so it is more akin to growing a precious orchid than a field of wild flowers. I also collaborate with other people. Recently I worked with Enniskillen based choreographer Dylan Quinn on a short dance film called Etched featuring elderly, untrained dancers. One of the dancers, Doreen was 86 when we shot the film. It was extraordinary to witness that kind of vivacity and sparkle from someone so old.

Filmmaking is a collective experience and always works better this way. Although I do on occasion work on my own I get tremendous amount of joy working with one other person or a group of inspired and talented people. There are so many interesting, creative people here in the North West that there is no shortage of opportunities to collaborate.

In a funny way motherhood or family life is the utmost in collaboration. I got pregnant with my first child just after leaving film school. Luckily my graduate film Fall Into Half-Angel was fairly successful and got accepted into a lot of film festivals around the world so I managed to keep a connection to the film world while I had my baby. I remember bringing him to my screening in Galway Film Fleadh when he was just three weeks old!

I decided early on to keep working as a mother, though at times it can be really tough. There’s no doubt that I had to give up working on any kind of large film shoot where the hours are long and involve being away from home. I miss that and hope to get back to that side of filmmaking when the kids are  older.

Instead I have tailored my film career and have been making smaller films, which I usually shoot and edit myself. Sometimes I even work with my kids. A recent film I made called Kingdoms starred my son Tarach exploring his ‘kingdom’ which was in fact an abandoned building site near our house. It was an expression of how one person’s destruction is another’s creation. The film was another way of looking at the apparent mess of the boom years. Through a child’s eyes, that which is apparently discarded and useless becomes precious.

A number of years ago I travelled to Japan to research and shoot a film I was making there. Some of my research brought me right into the deepest back roads and hills of Japan. It was the most amazing experience not to have a word of Japanese and to have to try and interpret the characters to navigate my way round.

I love to travel. I moved country three times before I was five years old so I guess the travel bug is in my genes. I particularly love to travel on my own. It’s like the ultimate in adventure to me. I love to figure out where I’m going. I love to be lost. As much in my work, as in my travels. It gives me a kind of thrill because you don’t know where you’ll end up. One of my favourite pieces of writing recently is Rebecca Solnit’s ‘A Field Guide to Getting Lost.’

Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark. That’s where the most important things come from, where you yourself came from, and where you will go.

Rebecca Solnit