2016 Dermot Healy Poetry Prize Longlist

Congratulations to the 51 poems selected for the Longlist.  The quality this year has been excellent with over 500 entries,  now the hard part selecting a Shortlist of 10.


50 Shades of Biophilia
An American stops for Directions in sligo
An Emigrants Return
Anadromus Vocabulary
Andromeda As A Teacher
Baked Alaska
Children of God
Clipping A Cockatiels Wings
Daedalus Speaks to Icarus his Son
Gingko Rain
Granmas Stories
Great Rivers of Ireland
Hanging the Mirror
Hawk Light
Last Visit
Leannan si
Learning Greek in Knockanes
Mary Anning Fossil Hunter
Material Support
Michaelms Daisies
Missing on Purpose
Moon Jellyfish
Observations by the Virgin
On the Tow Path
Philosophy of the Face
Prarie Mother
Remembering Danny and Joan
Researching Louise O’Flynn nee Stockdale
Salt and Iron
Self Portrait
Selkie Selfie
Skinny Dipping
Taytos v Crisps
The Chase
The Holy Trio
The Last Waltz
The Pacific
The Problem with Good Looking Oncologists
Two Hands
While the Coroner Waits
Woolfe Wrote in Purple Ink

Dermot Healy Poetry Award 2016

Trophy Dermot Healy

The Dermot Healy Award 2016 is now closed for entries.

This year has been an exceptional year with a full mail bag of poetry.  This year we have had a strong local and national presence alongside many entries from The U.K, The Americas, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the European countries.  Some of the poets who have taken part are award winning household names while others are new to the art form and are exploring their own style.

The long list of 50 poems will be announced this weekend.  May we thank all of you who took part this year and we look forward to seeing many of you at the Award Ceremony on 4th August.

Exploring : the manorhamilton print group

Phoebe on Liz

Liz has been involved in facilitating and encouraging art and other activities in the MPG Logo 1community for many years, working with The Leitrim Sculpture Centre, The Womens Group, local schools as well as many other groups. Although she has wide ranging skills which feed her practice as an independent artist her focus is primarily on printmaking, with work often representing her surroundings and rooted in experimentation across forms in the studio. Liz has seemingly boundless energy and enthusiasm and seems capable of enjoying and resolving anything she comes up against. Her experience as a facilitator/workshop leader really allows her bring out the best in people with all levels of ability or skill and puts people at ease. The way in which Liz can make beautiful works with simple techniques and a playful/casual approach is inspiring to watch.

Liz on Phoebe

MPG’s multi talented and inexhaustible Phoebe Dick is a Co-originator of Manorhamilton’s much enjoyed Open Mic sessions and an accomplished musician, singer /songwriter;  Phoebe is also an anti fracking activist, a keen gardener and veg grower; Phoebe is an artist printmaker in both traditional and digital media print, Phoebe makes prints of technical brilliance, beautifully designed with her trademark edgy humour. Always on hand with good advice and sound knowledge of the process, an asset to the print room. She has held residencies and exhibitions in Ireland and internationally; Phoebe is also on the organising committee of the North West’ s newest 5 Glens Arts Festival. Phoebe, Cróna and I manage the MPG, it is a pleasure to work with such talented, friendly and professional women. 🙂

How did The Manorhamilton Print Group come about?

As the Print Studio was developed a group of users who wanted more shared time/collaborative work in the studios started to emerge. Really the Print Group simplyNumber x.JPG comes from this and is still evolving along these lines. Working with the Leitrim Sculpture Centre as “caretakers” of the Print Studio has given us (Liz, Crona and Phoebe) the opportunity to develop a more functional and user friendly studio and to encourage its use by promoting the facility and providing technical support. Within the Print Group we run some “Peer-to-Peer” workshops in various print forms which members can attend or teach and these have helped us expand our membership. In many ways we are still sketching out what the Print Group is and what it’s members would like for it to be.

The first MPG Print Symposium took place at the gallery at LSC recently, how did the idea ‘Evidence of Small Behaviours’ come about?

Many layers of ideas and print related desires came together to form the symposium. Initial dreams of large format and collaborative working led to wide ranging shopping lists and gallery agreements, and the participants actions and intentions ultimately drew the whole thing into focus. Basically we love printing and think more people should do it. We have great facilities here in The Leitrim Sculpture Centre which could be more widely used and we feel the Symposium was a success in bringing the studio out from behind it’s locked gate and there was definitely an element of joy/celebration in that. Being more open to the public forced us to be able to explain/demystify the basics of printmaking to anyone. We hoped that if we provided the materials and equiptment and just enough instruction to start their own investigations that we would be able to infect people with the joy of printmaking virus that we seem to carry!

What aspects of the symposium did you enjoy the most and which activities do you feel the participants enjoyed. 

number 6We loved the buzz! There was a lovely excited and relaxed atmosphere. It was great seeing the gallery busy and bringing people together for learning and discussion. The opportunity to make manageable the challenges of large format and group working. We feel the “Total Immersion” of the symposium helped participants reinforce and build on skills learned during the symposium and that participants who were involved, especially those who attended several days, felt an ownership of the symposium. Although we had a plan of the various techniques we wanted to cover, beyond that we wanted to avoid planning outcomes to allow true collaboration to take place, avoid participants being intimidated by the thought of image generation, and keep everyone singing off the same proverbial hymn sheet, working on the same plate.

Why Print?

Because of the challenges of the process and the affect the various processes have on the visual results. It can be perfectly straightforward or as complicated as you are prepared to tackle and yield beautiful affects across the board. For the potential of multiple reproductions and variations within this repetition. It can be very therapeutic when you’re in a groove and it’s going well, the polishing of a plate, waiting for a line to etch, physically gouging away at a surface. The print itself, once a plate is proofed or printed seems always a surprise (usually pleasant!). Although the techniques/roots are old the results can be arrestingly contemporary and improvements in tools and chemicals used make the processes more user and environmentally friendly without compromising results. Print, as graphic art, means of reproduction, and means of creating art, in todays age can encompass digital photography, online publishing and
3-D printing. The artist-printmaker evolves alongside these developments to continue producing cutting edge limited edition original artworks, and keeps the medium fresh.

What does membership of MPG involve and how would be the easiest way for artists to engage with you?

Print Group members have the opportunity to make prints and connections with other local printmakers or aspiring printmakers. There is the opportunity to teach and learn within our peer-to-peer programme or just spend shared studio time together to get discounted studio hire rates and access to materials and each others expertise. People who would like to get involved should email us atmanorhamiltonprintgroup@outlook.com. and on manorhamiltonprintgroup on Facebook people can see some photos of what’s already happened- you don’t need to be a member of Facebook to see this page.Number 7.jpg

Do you have a favourite printing technique, can you explain why that is?

No there are too many great elements. Fingerprinting-such a great identifier! Intaglio for the gouging, lino for the cutting, screen for the production of a clean stencil, and the satisfaction of editioning across forms.

What next for MPG?

To reproduce the successes to date, more shared studio time and skill sharing. We’re always looking for people that want to be involved, for just coming along and dabbling at their own speed, for one-on-one tuition, for help to turn an idea into an editionable artwork,or to do group workshops in or beyond the print studio. We would like to be able to respond to to what people want from the print group so are in some ways dependent on people letting us know what they want – we have just made a short survey for members/potential members so if people email us at manorhamiltonprintgroup@outlook.com we can send that out to them.


Noah Rose – Sculptor

I’m an artist based in Manchester, but I work all across Britain and Ireland and also in a number of European locations, especially Catalunya.  Noah SketchingIn the last few years I have been working increasingly between Britain and Ireland and I see myself increasingly as an international artist.  I take huge inspiration from travelling, exploring and trying to understand and interpret the invisible aspects of the culture or sense of a place.  The one constant in my life these days seems to be that I’m constantly on the move.

The effects of 1916 and in particular the life of Sean Mc Diarmada has affected and inspired your current work, can you  describe how and what drew you to this subject? 

I’ve been aware of the significance of the year for some time – and the whole area of memorialisation is one that fascinates me and is integral to the proposal I made to the Leitrim Sculpture Centre for this residency.  I have been looking at the ways in which an individual’s life and actions can come to be venerated and be seen to represent a wider set of ideals or values, both in terms of recent history (the last hundred years) and more ancient history (the megalithic tombs of five thousand years ago).  Here in North Leitrim, Seán Mac Diarmada has come to be seen as a local hero, and his role in the Easter Rising has been the subject of a lot of research and reappraisal.  The ceremony two weeks ago to rename Lower Main Street here in Manorhamilton as Sraid Sheain Mhic Diarmada is an example of the high regard in which he’s held.   I feel that in 2016, Ireland as a whole is reappraising the legacy of 1916, and that interests me in terms of what it says about the notion of national ideals of society in a 21st century European context.  Ireland held the Marriage Equality referendum last year and this year, (next week in fact as I write this), the UK is holding a referendum on membership of the EU.    The results of the UK referendum will have a big impact on Ireland, North and South of the border, which is a reminder of the War of Independence and the struggle of Mac Diarmada and the other organisers of the Rising.  What is the role of the nation state in people’s imagination these days and what is the legacy of the cause for which Seán Mac Diarmada died?  These are some of the questions I have been asking myself recently.

Since arriving in Leitrim, I have spent a lot of time in Kiltyclogher and Corranmore at the Mac Diarmada house.  I have been doing a series fo drawings and studies of the house and also the memorial to Seán Mac Diarmada by Albert Power.  I have turned these drawings into prints using Copperplate etching with Hard Ground and Aquatint and these techniques and processes of translation really interest me.  My impression of the house – through drawing there in several sittings over a period of several days – is that it has become a kind of shrine or place of pilgrimage, where people come to feel some sort of contact with Seán Mac Diarmada in his family home.  I have tried to capture something of the sense of the place, the stones and timbers from which it is built, the contents of the house, furnishings and religious ornaments, cooking implements and the rifle around the hearth – the centre of the home and the scene of much conversation, discussion of formative ideas, storytelling, singing etc over the years.  I have tried to capture the atmosphere inside the room, with light spilling in from the landscape out of the windows, the view over the Leitrim and Fermanagah hills, in an attempt to record or respond to the hundred-odd years of memories that are contained within the stones of the building.

As a general rule, do you explore the political sphere through your work?

I wouldn’t say that my work is overtly political as a rule, but the political sphere is one of several lenses through which I investigate the world.  As an artist, I always try to understand the sense of a place through exploring its invisible,  intangible attributes, and these are often political, cultural, lingusitic, historical.  I sometimes liken this process to the mushroom hunter uncovering not just mushrooms (the visible, edible fruiting bodies) but the whole mycelium which is the vast network of connecting fibres which is buried below ground and invisible, but which in fact forms the substantial majority of the single organism of a fungus.

Having said that, I think the political and historical often come to the fore in my work, although I usually try to mediate these through sculptural processes of abstraction rather than employ explicit statements, such as with my work “Third Bridge” in Derry.  For my exhibition at the LSC I will be showing some work which is consciously about the political (for example my reworked version of the 1916 proclamation, translated into Catalan) as well as work which is more reflective/ philosophical, and deals with themes of memory and mortality through exploring the materiality of stone, and also its role in memorialisation – such as my sculptural poem, ‘What Matter/ Cén t-Udar”.

Describe your route to becoming a full time artist?

I studied at Middlesex Polytechnic (Foundation) and Manchester Polytechnic (BA Hons
Three-Dimensional design) in the 80s and then worked as an assistant to various artists in London, New York and Manchester (Michael Gitlin, Patrick Dougherty, André Dubreuil and David Mach)  I also worked for a while in animation before deciding that I wanted to make sculptural work that had some degree of direct social engagement.  I made what I thought at the time was a considered decision to work mainly outside the gallery (although I’ve come to reassess that decision lately!) and so specialised in public art.  I’ve worked on over 50 projects for public spaces across Britain and Ireland and some in mainland Europe.  I have made work for group exhibitions and commissions but never had a solo show until now.  I spent some time in the nineties trying to develop studio spaces with specialist sculpture facilities in Manchester as there weren’t any (which seems surprising for such a large city).  In the end, I set up my own small sculpture studio which is where I am based today, alongside several other artists working in sculpture/ 3D design.  I’ve done a lot of work supporting early-career artists, working as a co-ordinator and manager of placement and professional development support programmes for emerging artists and designer-makers.  I’ve also worked as a curator and lead artist on temporary programmes of art in the public realm.  Alongside this I’ve done a lot of Creative Education work in schools and colleges, worked as an Associate and Visiting Lecturer in universites and art schools across England and Catalunya, and also as a public art consultant in England and the Isle of Man.  I work in collaboration with other artists in different projects, including as part of cross-disciplinary art/ theatre/ outdoor installation projects with companies like Macnas in Galway, Handmade in Hebden Bridge or the Lantern Company in Liverpool.  I also do architectural metalwork for private clients.  I’ve come to see all these things as being different facets of my work and have given them equal importance, as they have all been part of the mix needed to sustain myself as a full time artist  Now, however, I’m trying to return to exploring and developing the core of my practice as an individual artist, and so this is why I applied for the residency at the Leitrim Sculpture Centre.  It’s been fantastically enjoyable and reinvigorating to spend time developing my work here.

What artists do you admire and why? How do you see their influence in your own work if at all?

I guess I like lots of diffent artists from different disciplines.  It’s always hard to name a select few but here are some that spring to mind, perhaps because I’ve seen their work recently:   Nikolai Astrup for his incredible otherworldly paintings of Norwegian landscapes in vivid colours and dreamlike compositions, Pauline Baynes and Edward Ardizzone for their beautifully evocative children’s book illustrations, Pipilotti Rist for her sensual immersive video work which seems to evoke pure emotion and feeling,Noah Etching Richard Serra and Eduardo Chillida for their incredible explorations of the materiality of metal and startling sense of form and place in the landscape, Alexander Calder for his wonderful kinetic sculptures, especially the Almadén Mercury Fountain at the Fundació Joan Miró in Barcelona, which combines the political and historical in a captivating sculpture which is mesmerising, thought-provoking and not at all literal , Olafur Eliasson for his hybrid architectural/ sculptural interventions, Ernesto Neto for his incredible organic Installations which feel almost like walkign through the innards of a giant creature in the Brazilian rainforest.  I’ve recently fallen for Rembrandt’s etchings, which I’ve been massively inspired by during my  own etching experiments, and Gertrude Hermes for her fantastic body of work spanning sculpture and print.

In terms of contemporary artists, I really like what Michael Fortune and Aileen Lambert are doing with socially engaged work around 1916 Song project, the Backroads to the Rising and also the social record of the Dresser project.  I love Selma Makela’s paintings that suggest a sense of vast universal forces and explore perceptions of deep time contrasted with the lives of peripheral creatures in marginal earthly/ unearthly landscapes, and I think Guyan Porter’s recent sculptural and installation work exploring notions of immortality and systems of belief is really moving and thought-provoking.

Do you keep notebooks, photo diaries or ideas jotters to inform later projects have you a system when approaching your work?

Yes, I have a number of different systems!  I take photos all the time, as I’m working, as I’m travelling around, as a record of what I’m doing, of anything I see on my travels that interests me, and as a record of things I wnat to look into further when I get the time.  I keep a number of notebooks, one in which I write down everything that I need to keep in mind on an everyday basis – this could be work related or the minutae of my life, shopping lists, reminders to call people, that sort of thing.  I also keep a couple of ‘fragment books’ – small notebooks that I carry everywhere and make sketches in or record thoughts specifically related to my art practice.  I then have larger sketchbooks in which I make studies, drawings, paintuings, collages etc to return to in other work.  For instance the book in which I made the ‘Mac Diarmada Hearth’ drawing.  I always end up carrying a large bag around, laden with books, camera etc.

Can you tell us about your residential experience at LSC.

Well as I already mentioned, it’s been a fantastcially reinvigorating time for me, and hugely enjoyable.  I’ve found the LSC to be a very welcoming  place, with great facilities and a very supportive environment in which to make new work.  I’ve been really enjoying learning new skills and techniques here and have benefitted from really enjoyable, creative discussions and interchanges with other artists in different diciplines.  I’ve especially enjoyed learning stone carving with Jackie McKenna, stone letter-cutting with Seamus Dunbar and etching with Cróna Gallagher.  The residency has been critically supportive and I have had huge support from Seán O’Reilly as curator and Director of the LSC, as well as lots of informal critical discussion with artists such as Christine Mackey, Fiona Mulholland, Di Henshaw and in fact all the LSC artists.

The residency has given me the time to really explore in depth some ideas I have had bubbling under for a long time.   I’ve also really enjoyed investigating the landscapes and historical sites of North Leitrim and have had some great advice from David Spence and also Paul Gibson at the Kiltyclogher Heritage Centre on this.  I feel connected to several new networks of artists and arts organisations in Leitrim, Sligo and the wider North west region and this is opening up all sort of interesting ideas for the future.

Sculpture is your practice of choice, which mediums do your prefer working in and scale wise what is your preference?

Noah SculptureDuring the early part of my career I chose to specialise in working in metal, especially Steel, and this is something I became known for and actively chose to pursue.  I like metal for its versatility and malleability and and different metal processes can be suitability for working at different scales and in different forms – from structural steel work to fluid forms in cast Iron or Bronze.  However, recently I’ve  been branching out, choosing not to be restricted to one material or group of materials anad associated processes.  Instead, I’ve been exploring many different materials both for their material qualities, their sense of materiality, but also for their cultural resonance, their historic significance within the place they come from and their deeper meaning to the people who work with them in the many different traditions, not necessarily artistic, with which they are associated.  An example of this approach would be in my 2014 commission for ‘Changing Tracks’ a pan-European public project which I took part in in County Mayo, Girona (Catalunya) and Northamptonshire (England).  For this project, I made an installation,  ‘the Museum of Interconnected Events’ which was sited along former railway lines in all three countries, and which comprised a series of sculptural cabinets, containing artifacts, photographs, archival documents, poems and songs which related to micro-histories exploring similar themes to explore a common European cultural heritgage.  I researched both the contents and also the different materials which comprised the outer ’shell’ of each cabinet,.  These included: natural cork and ceramic fruits from Catalunya, turf, seaweed and Su Gán rope from Mayo and shoe leather and aluminium raliway components from Northamptonshire.  Each of these materials was chosen for their aesthetic and material qualities and also for some aspect of historical significance relating to their production or the industries which gave rise to them and which intertwined with the communities of people that made their livings from working with them.

So increasingly I find that I have no preference for a single material but am exploring as many new ones as I can, in response to the specifics of the project or situation.  For this work at LSC I am predominantly working in, with and about stone.  I am interested in the materiality of stone and also in its use as a material associated with memory and memorialisation.  The local limestone is very dominant in the landscape and I have discovered that the name ‘Leitrim’ derives from the Irish for ‘Limestone Ridge’ which is very descriptive of the landscape in these parts.  The stone represents the very ground from which the land springs – it is, in fact, the land itself.  It is also raw, elemental and takes many forms in its natural state.  I am working with found field stone, limestone mainly but with seams of Chert – a hard, flinty material, that makes it difficult to cut.  For the installation “What Matter/ Cén t’Udar” I am taking these lumps of field stone and carving into them the letters of a poem I have written (and had translated into Irish by Caoimhín O’Súilleabháin).  The letter-cutting has been hard-going, with the stone itself being inconsistent in quality – sometimes hard, sometimes crumbly , sometimes actually splitting in two just as I am completeing carving it.  I like this unpredictable quality and the dialogue with the material, the effort required to co-ordinate hand and eye and brain, and the visualistaion of the Cló Gaelach letterforms and then the realisation of cutting them into this hard material, that has been used for centuries, millennia in fact, for the purposes of recording and marking the passing of time and lives.

How important is engaging with the artistic community to you as a creative?

It is very important indeed.  I find that the process of discussing ideas and sharing knowledge and skills is not only fascinating but really useful in getting under the skin of a place.  I’ve already mentioned some of the artists I have met and worked alongside or shared ideas with at the LSC but I would add to that list the wider groups of artists that I have met, through for example the Manorhamilton Print Group, other resident LSC artists such as Peter Fulop or artists who have contributed to the Mac Diarmada exhibition.  Also  others who I have worked with directly, such as Scott Coombs with the letterpress work for ‘La Proclamació de 1916’, or alongside during the various workshops at LSC.  I have been to a couple of exhibitions at the Model in Sligo and am planing more visits to the Yeats and Hamilton Galleries and the Dock in Carrick-on-Shannon – I would like to have been to more but just haven’t had the time!  Still, I have made a good start with connections with the artistic community in Leitrim/ Sligo and the wider North West as I have done in Mayo/ Galway and Derry when I have worked in those places – I’m gradually working my way around the whole of Ireland…

Spending time in different places and taking in the culture is important to you and your work, can you explain why?

I mentioned at the start that I travel a lot and find huge inspiration in vsiiting new places and exploring the intangible qualities of a particluar place.   The many qualities that make
up what we think of as culture can take in some varied and unexpected explorations.  I gave the example of the Mycelium earlier and this is because I find the process of uncovering the hidden connections and invisible attributes are what inform my visual arts practice.  I am interested in many areas that are not necessarily visual and might include historical, political and religious aspects of the culture.  They might also include geographical, geological or other physical aspects of a location.  One thing that always fascinates me is language and when I travel I always try to learn something of the language of the place I am visiting.  Over the thirty years I have been visiting Ireland, I have been fascinated by the Irish language, which I find beautiful. poetic and expressive in its written, spoken and sung forms.  However, I’ve always felt a  bit daunted by Irish and found it much harder to consider learning than say Catalan or French.  During my stay in Manorhamilton, I’m happy to report that I’ve finally started learning Irish, although I’m still only at the very beginning.  I have been going to Ruth Smith’s Irish conversation class and also have been having a fascinating correspondence with Caomhín O’Súilleabháin who has been translating my poem and other texts for me.  I’m finding that understanding the Irish language is enriching my understanding of Irish culture and hope to continue learning the language.  Literature, music, poetry – what we might think of as high culture are important ways of approaching the culture of a place, but so are things like food, language, folklore, archaeology and interaction with landscape and just chatting to people – and I enjoy immersing myself in all of these when I go somewhere new.

Talk us through a typical working week/day for artist Noah Rose

I have been trying to set my alarm early recently as I have so much to do and I’m not a natural early riser.  I find that I get more stuff done early in the morning or in the evening.  While I’ve been here at the LSC i’ve developed a bit of a routine – I’ll read the news online while having breakfast, catch up with some emails/ Facebook etc and then try to do any essential tasks in the morning such as ordering materials or speaking to people about essential processes.  This morning for instance I ordered the letterpress plate for my letterpress work ‘La Proclamació de 1916’ and have then been looking at paper suppliers for the printing process.  I would then go to either the stone workshop, metal workshop or print workshop depending on which process I’m involved in.  Today it’ll be print.  I’ll work on after lunch and into the evening depending on how much I have to do.  Last night I was working until 10.00 in the stone workshop in order to finish carving my poem.  The rest of the evening might be spent doing some research, writing or drawing and/or catching up with or friends and family on the phone.  Occasionally I might have the odd pint at Heraghty’s, especially on a Friday evening which seems to be the night everyone’s out.  Manorhamilton is a very sociable place, I have found!




Dermot Healy International Poetry Competition

We are delighted to announce that ‘The Dermot Healy International Poetry Competition 2016’ is now open for entries with a closing date set for 3rd August. We are delighted to announce that the judge for this year will be Kevin Barry.

The date of the prize giving ceremony which will take place at the Glens Centre, Manorhamilton on St 27th August 2016

Details of entry can be found at


Visual Artist Gavin Porter


Gavin Porter-Blank Frank-pencil on paper, 33cmx42cm-2015 (2)The processes of etching and drawing are your chief practices, can you tell us why?

I’ve always loved the immediacy of drawing, and the mediums ability to get to the heart of the matter. Whilst etching is a much more elaborate process, it takes drawing to another level.  Both processes could be considered quite limiting, but I like the challenge of working within those limitations and attempting to push the boundaries of what’s possible. The hope is that this forces something unique from the work.

Are there particular materials you prefer working with and for what reason?

I prefer a hard ground etching with a needle for the finest line, much of my work is developed using accumulative drawing techniques, so the finer the line, the better the effect. When I’m making drawings I use the simplest of tools, graphite pencils and good quality paper.Gavin Porter-Vacare, etching, 2015

You are a member of ‘The Hermit Collective’ How has that aided your development and promotion as an artist?

The Hermit Collective was started by a friend, the poet Jessamine  O’Connor, as a platform for writers, musicians and artists to show and perform their work within the community. It began with a few small events and has grown from strength to strength.  I think it’s important for creative people from all disciplines to adopt a DIY approach to getting their work out there, and forming groups and collectives makes it easier.

Your style is very recognisable. The inspiration seems to be the study of organic matter in such minutiae that it becomes abstract and something altogether new. Can you take us through your process?

It’s true that I do refer to natural forms a lot in my work, but what really interests me are the processes and forces behind the ‘making’ and indeed the ‘unmaking’ of those forms. I attempt to visualise these ideas by applying local rules (repetition, accumulation) over a large area in an organic or indeterminate way. This kind of work is tied into my tenuous understanding of Darwinism and quantum physics, evolution and entropy

Which artists or schools of art have inspired your work, and what about them makes you refer back again and again?

At a young age I discovered the work of Hieronymus Bosch in a book of my Dads and it scared the life out of me and fascinated me at once. Soon after that it was the engravings of Albrecht Drurer, and  then Rembrandt. These artists have stayed with me over the years and I still look at them. They represent a certain sensibility or approach to art making that may still be found in the art world today, but it gets harder to pinpoint amongst the noise.. So I’ve found myself returning to the source.

You studied at Sligo IT. What was the experience like and did you forge any strong links with fellow
Relic, graphite on paper, 2013 1artists there?

I would recommend the college experience to anyone who is serious about making art on a full time or regular basis. With the right approach it can help you form good working habits. I was lucky in that I was among a group of diverse artists who formed a supportive bond. Afterwards I joined with fellow graduates Matthew Tucker, Paul Cabena and Marta Slawinska, to organize our own show, In Isolation at Broadstone Studios Dublin, and that got the ball rolling. I’m currently working with Paul on a project photographing the night sky.

What are your feelings on the promotion of the artist and how this has changed in modern times.

There is no doubt that the onus is on the emerging artist  to promote their own work and find ways to show it, The Galleries can only do so much and they are inundated with submissions. With so many artists out there, the challenge, more than ever is to make work which stands out.

Are there other activities you employ which feed your discipline?

I live in a remote rural setting so I like to be outside in the elements a lot, walking, cycling and canoeing.  I’m a keen gardener, a stone mason and an amateur astronomer. All these things feed themselves into my artwork in one way or another.

Talk us through a typical day in the studio.Gavin Porter-Forever Returns-ink on paper, 75cmx55cm-2014

I like to have a few different things on the go at the same time to avoid getting stuck at any point. Usually I will spend some time adding to a large scale ‘long term’ drawing as a way of getting into the studio environment. I will also work on plates which will be taken elsewhere to be etched and printed later. A lot of time can be spent on documenting and photographing work and on working on submissions for galleries etc. but I try to stay focused when I am in a studio or workshop, as access to these environments can be limited .

Gavin Porter is a Belfast born Artist living in County Roscommon.  His artistic output consists of drawing, etching, sound installation and assemblage, with etching being his main medium of choice. He has shown work across Ireland and in the UK.

His new exhibition, praesens Recent Graphite Work, opens at Custom House Gallery, Westport on 28th of July.


‘’ Forms depicted by Gavin Porter have a clear recurrent structure, but they seem to have no start and no end. They are in a continuous but unpredictable process of development, as if they were never to complete their forming. We can observe the same process in our everyday lives, filled with repetitive tasks performed as part of our daily routines and with efforts of which results can rarely be clearly predicted, our existence is built of patterns but is still full of uncertainty.”

Marta Slawinska, Curator In Isolation 3 emerging Artists at Broadstone Studios, Dublin










Chef Aisling Stone

Chef Aisling Stone imparts her considerable knowledge of cooking and presentation this week.

I’m originally from Arigna but my parents moved to London when I was four years old. We moved back wheDSC_0621n I was twelve and when I was twenty I moved to Spain where I lived for seven years and met my husband, Peter. In 2008 we decided to move back to Galway so that I could study to be a professional chef at GMIT. Peter and I moved to Leitrim in 2012 and have found the warmth of the people to override the rain. After working in Lisloughrey Lodge, Kilronan Castle, the Coach House and the Oarsman I decided it was time to strike out on my own. I now run a food trailer at the farmer’s market at the Bee Park in Manorhamilton and the Grass Roof cafe at the Organic Centre.

What gets you out of bed in the morning, what inspires you? 

I have ADHD and chefing has turned that around for me; I put all my thoughts and energy into what I’m going to cook this week, and the next week, and the next… my last head chef, Seamus Thompson, said that being a chef is not a choice, it is a calling and I can’t describe that any better. I get an idea in my head and I can’t WAIT to get up and put it to work. Sometimes, like this week when I have put sweetbreads on the menu, I know there might only be one or two people who will appreciate my idea but that one or two will make my day.

What was the first thing you cooked and what age were you?

From the age of four when my parents moved I spent most of the day being minded by “Cookie”, an old London lady with many stories of the war who could make a feast out of anything. I remember watching a children’s programme about pints of cockles at the beach and Cookie sent me down Streatham high street to the deli to get some and we cooked them in vinegar. I made the ladies in the deli laugh- what a weird kid!

Do you refer to cookbooks or chefs memoirs?

I have a ridiculous number of cookbooks. If they even contain one decent recipe they are worth their weight for me. I have a great one from the seventies from members of the WI which has ideas on long forgotten dishes, I love Elisabeth David’s almost novel like books that make you want to go shopping, Dirt Candy by Amanda Cohen which is in comic book style, Magnus Nilsson’s Faviken which I couldn’t put down and kept me awake thinking of how his philosophy could be applied to Irish cuisine. But my favourite is Eleven Madison Park which nearly brought me to tears with the beauty of Daniel Humm’s dishes. There is also a very useful section in the back with recipes for gels, sorbets, butters and purees which I refer to constantly. You don’t have to follow recipes in books exactly as long as you understand the ingredients and cooking processes; you can make them your own.

Your menu at The Grass Roof is very cutting edge and yet comforting, tell us a bit about how you draft up your weekly menus?cafe

My menus are normally pretty much worked out a week or two in advance. I look at the weather, current affairs, seasonality and event the general mood of the population and try to orchestrate something relevant. I have some very odd dishes but also include some plain food cooked well using great ingredients. I also love to include products from local suppliers such as Chef Sham’s Sauces, Bluebell Farm organic jams, Jordan’s Atlantic sea salt, Sean McMorrow’s burgers and locally sourced vegetables from our own land, Reggie’s Veggies and of course the Organic Centre.

How involved are you in the Slow Food movement?

I’m the leader of Slow Food North West and so far I’m the only working member of the convivium! I started the group because I could see that we in Sligo, Leitrim and Donegal have so many exciting food producers, farmers and tourism businesses that I thought we should all have an opportunity to promote ourselves and network with each other. We have had some great events and there will be a big one coming up in August or September- a cruise on Lough Gill with an island forage. Keep an eye on the website and the facebook page for updates.

You grow and utilise a lot of your own food at The Grass Roof and for the van. How much time a week do you think you spend from garden to plate at your chosen field of work?

Actually my husband does the gardening as I have black fingers of death. We only have two acres and most of that is occupies by sheep, chickens and, occasionally, pigs. We have a polytunnel, a greenhouse and some newly prepared outside beds, as well as some forest area where we have planted wild garlic and a few edible weeds. Even with such a small area it is a huge amount of work and gardeners have my utmost gardenrespect.

Is it worth it?

There are times when you get knocked down; everyone has an opinion and sometimes they don’t see the bigger picture but on the whole it’s great to see people pointing and talking about the food on their table. I like to think that I can offer them at least an experience that they won’t have had anywhere else. It is very hard work but so is stacking shelves in a warehouse, at least I am lucky enough to do something that I’m passionate about.

Do you have a favourite restaurant or Coffee shop?

My absolute favourite is Kai in Galway. The last time I ate there was a couple of weeks before I started in the Grass Roof cafe and it totally changed my thinking on what I was going to do there. Closer to home I love Miso in Sligo and Cafe An Bia Slainte in Manorhamilton. I’m also super excited to see what Ethna Reynolds will do at her new place opening in Collooney next week, Nook.

What are your five essential larder items and who makes/supplies them?

First and foremost James Jordan’s amazing sea salt from Donegal, the peat smoked one in
particular which I hope to nominate for the Ark of Taste at the Slow Food Terra Madre celebrations this September in Turin. The White Hag brewing company in Ballymote produce beers that I think reflect exactly my food; Joe Kearns makes sour ale which pairs with fish, dark, treacly stout for braising beef and smoked ale for pork. Never before have I tried a beer and immediately the little hamster in my head hops up on his wheel and starts running for his life. Wild garlic is in season at the moment for a very short time and it’s such a pleasure to harvest it on the very day that it will be served to my customers. Hans and Gaby Wieland taught me how to make kombucha and I’m having a lot of fun fermenting things with it. It’s a probiotic that works with liquids to basically make them fizzy and awesome. Lately Tina Pommer has been foraging for me and providing fantastic local roots and plants for me to use at the cafe such as wild pea, goose grass, watercress and willow herb. What a wonderful opportunity to create dishes relevant only to this place and time right now.

Talk us through a typical working week for chef Aisling Stone.

It’s not really that exciting! Monday is spent in recovery from the 2016-01-26 18.59.22weekend- normally I can’t even remember my own name… Tuesday is shopping in Sligo and menu planning,
Wednesday I write up the menu and prepare ice creams, sorbets and sauces, Thursday I’m in Carrick buying vegetables from Reggie McNulty and visiting my friends in the Oarsman (my old bosses are so very kind to advise me on business), Friday I’m at Manorhamilton farmer’s market and finalising prep for the weekend and early Saturday morning until Sunday evening it’s up and at ’em, full speed ahead and all guns blazing at the Grass Roof cafe.



Slow Food North West


Ceramic Artist Peter Fulop

DSC03294-HDRWhat inspires your creativity? 

Work born out of the desire to materialize my contemplations, my inner visions through a creative process. My teacher, Professor Koie Ryoji approach to his practice and philosophy of Gutai and Sōdeisha postwar art movements of Japan inform my visual language.

Why, as an artist did you decide to focus specifically with clay, what drew you to the material?

As a child I was already gathering clay by the riverside and made sculptural pieces which I fired in our wood-burning stove. Later on I began to work as a painter but kept the clay for three dimensional  works. As young artist I went to work in a ceramic designer lab where I got a deeper insight into the process especially the alchemy side, which made me to commit myself to clay. Clay is very accessible and friendly and allows me to work in a rapid, action way of making.

Which artists or schools of practice do you admire and why?

Abstract Expressionist of the New York School, the avant-garde movements of Japan and my recent interest in the Bauhaus School with the work of artist Laszlo Moholy Nagy. To highlight some of the individual artists who greatly influence my way of thinking includes Noguchi, Takesada Matsutani,  Jun Kaneko and Cy Twombly, Kazuo Yagi.

Your latest exhibition ‘NOBU’ was inspired by the Japanese Zen tradition. How exactly was the work informed by this and does it continue to influence your work?

The philosophical linage of my teacher and contemporaries has a deep root in zen philosophy. Through my practice I examine Impermanence,  expresses the notion that all of conditioned existence in a constant state of flux, human life embodies this flux in the aging process, the cycle of birth and rebirth and in any experience of loss.

You have travelled and exhibited work on an international platform. How has the experience of living and working with different cultures affected both you and your work?peterfulop_02

Certainly, meeting artists from other cultures, having the challenge to work in a new studio in a new country and engaging with the local community widening your approach on every level. Unfamiliar becomes familiar, familiar becomes unfamiliar making you to challenge your views, art practice and take your work further. Meeting colleges and making friends in different part of the world makes your Leitrim existence a cosmopolitan experience.

How do you prepare for an exhibition? do you take notes, sketches and plan ahead or is the process a more organic one?

Mostly I work with the space creating a body of work site specifically. I observe and especially when I am in a different culture I immerse myself into the surrounding atmosphere. Concept rise from these walkabouts and impressions of space, using the flow of energy I create work directly without sketches. Sometimes when I work on a large scale installation I use a master sketch to keep me informed all the way through the project, but the rest is improvisation.

Do you think artists are treated well in Ireland compared to in other countries? 

Comparing to all the countries I have visited during my residencies, Ireland has a huge amount of support for artists, on many levels and from many avenues. I feel very fortunate as without these supports I would not have travelled and exhibited nationally and internationally. In the recent years it become difficult to sell works or even to regularly exhibit resulting to look for new ways and new avenues.

peterfulop_04What are your thoughts on ‘the memory of clay’?

Clay is earth,  containing memories of millions of years as part of the circulation of life and death.

Do you agree with the idea of taking a holiday or time-out from creative practice?

Yes I do, disconnecting and keeping a distance helps to revaluate and recharge.

Talk us through a typical working day for Ceramic Artist Peter Fulop?

I hardly have a typical day, it depending on the project. I have intensive working periods when I work on a project. I work long hours when I have a good flow and take a break when the clay just not open for collaboration. It is a fact, we discuss this among ceramic artists that it is better to keep a distance when the clay is not in the mood.

Patrick Deeley Inaugural Winner of Dermot Healy Poetry Award

Patrick DeeleyTell us a little about yourself, Patrick

 I was born in the Callows of rural East Galway but have lived for many years in Dublin.  ‘Groundswell: New and Selected Poems’ is the latest of my six collections with Dedalus Press.  My books for young people include ‘The Lost Orchard’, published by O’Brien Press.  My most recent book is a memoir, ‘The Hurley Maker’s Son’, published in Ireland and the UK by Transworld.

‘The Hurley Maker’s Son’ is receiving excellent reviews.  How important is review and acknowledgement to you as a poet?

 Well, very important, of course.  Writing is hard work.  The biggest thrill for me is writing something that feels as if it’s caught what I wanted to say and brought a certain ‘magic’ to it.  The reward after is for others to read my work, and when a reviewer gets to the heart of what I’ve written it’s a validation.

What journey led you to becoming a poet?

That’s a journey best described in the memoir.  I was a dreamer as a child, awkward around the many machines my father used as a sawmiller, joiner and hurley maker.  Images ‘happened’ to me from the beginning, a heightened, cinematic take on the world.  The wetlands near home – thin-skinned, dangerous, primal – brought me face-to-face with nature and I exulted in that.  But still there was the language of timber and machines used in the carpentry shop which I slowly fell for, and the practicalities of life requiring to be attended to as I grew older, and the graft that I came to see as necessary in order to learn the craft of poem-making.

What was the first poem you published and in what publication did it appear? Did you celebrate?THMS1 (10)

My first three poems were published by David Marcus in New Irish Writing in The Irish Press in January 1978.  He was very supportive and published over thirty of my early poems in the space of a few years.  I pinned the first ones on the wall of my bedsit, and the landlord kicked up as he said the poems were causing the plasterwork to crumble.  Yes, I celebrated with a few pints, and I had a laugh at the good of what he said.

What poet/poets do you return to over and over?

Keats, Theodore Roethke, Padraic Fallon, Edna St. Vincent Millay.  So many of the old ones.  And, among contemporary poets, Derek Mahon, Macdara Woods, Padraig Rooney – numerous others for particular poems that strike me as truly achieved.

How do you approach your practice, are you consistent and disciplined, do you ever get writers block?

I’m not disciplined in terms of devoting time every day to writing.  But once I become hooked on an idea or image, I could spend all night working at the poem.  Previously I had a busy job as administrative principal of a primary school and this took up most of my time.  Writer’s block doesn’t arise – or so I tell myself.  I gather experiences and the poems come out of these.

Do you have a favourite place to write? (It could be a country, a room, chair…) and are you superstitious? (favourite pen/ brand of notebook)

No to both questions.

Has your writing ever surprised you, does it have a life of its own?

Yes, if writing is any good it has to surprise its author as much as the next person.  Hopefully it does have a life of its own – at least when I look back at my best work, I wonder how it came to be written by me.  But, in the long term, I’ll have to wait and see, not that the possibility of literary immortality would ever cost me a thought.

In what way has teaching informed your work as a poet?

When I started as a teacher I encouraged the children to make poems out of their own experience and to use their own colloquial expression – that was in Ballyfermot, a place rich in music and lore – and then I decided to keep the idiomatic language of my neighbours in East Galway towards the forefront of my own poems, though inevitably other influences have coloured and tempered this with the passing years.

How important is the publisher/poet relationship?

Each has to trust and believe in the other.

Talk us through a typical working day for poet Patrick Deeley.

I work mostly in the evenings or late into the night.  Lately, since the publication of the memoir and the fact that people seem enthused about it, I do what seem to be more conventionally ‘writerly’ things – draft articles, attend interviews, travel on promotional work.  I get up early most mornings, go for a long walk beside the River Dodder, visit my wife Judy in her art studio, cook meals, attend hurling matches, read books, listen to music, meet my friends or talk to them on the phone.  Any or all of these experiences can trigger a poem.  I become immersed in writing for several months on a specific book, and when it’s done I take a break.


Extract from ‘The Hurley Maker’s Son’, a memoir by Patrick Deeley

 ‘Will you go to Owenie’s and get me a few messages?’ my mother asked. ‘You can buy sweets yourself if you want.’

This was the most familiar road of my childhood – to and from school, to and from herding the cattle in Mullagh Beg, to and from hurling practice in the big field beyond Mullagh Cross. But now night was falling as I headed out, a reluctant eleven-year-old, to buy the ‘red packet’ tea – Rajabaree – my mother had requested, and the ten Gold Flake cigarettes that would last my father for a week and a half.

Things sounded louder in the dark. The breeze sighed and relented. A sudden little thrash – a bird or a mouse or a rat – stilled me for a moment, then again my footsteps echoed on tarmacadam and I heard the steady whisper of my pulse behind my ears.

Bushes and briars clung to either ditch. Primroses, golden-hearted in their radiance, seemed to shine ever more intensely as the darkness thickened. I had a sense of something strange about to happen, but on my night-walks this feeling invariably accompanied me. I could put names to all the farmhouse lights, steady and scattered in the blacked-out distance. The smells of the teacher’s pansies and tulips wafted up over her wall and her big, rust-coloured sheepdog barked. A recently installed porch-lamp bloomed whitely across the fields as I reached the height beyond the hairpin bend. There stood the Master’s house, its prize apples ripening behind a high thicket.

I came to the church and caught the faint gleam of its stained-glass windows and the pale outline of the Celtic cross that dominated the smaller monuments in the priests’ graveyard. A bat zinged past my ear, unnerving me slightly. An old woman whom I didn’t recognise emerged through the heavy oak door, gathered her bicycle where it leaned against the church wall, stepped daintily onto a pedal and eased away downhill without saying a word.

My mother had given me a five-naggin bottle for refilling with holy water but I didn’t want to be caught dead carrying it into Owenie’s. I plonked it behind the font in the church porch and headed out again. Everything held a memory. There was the ridge of tar against which I bumped my big toe in barefoot weather, and twisting above it the elderberry bush whose bitter juice purpled my lips in autumn. Beyond a rusty gate the meadow where I’d dived to catch a grasshopper and come up with a pocket watch stretched away towards the furze bushes under whose thorns I burned my mouth while smoking a crooked pipe. Across the road from the church the beech trees seemed to whisper about the windfall burrs and cupules I’d sifted through for nuts that might still be edible. Nearby, on a concrete pedestal with steps leading up to it, the pump that slaked my thirst on warm evenings after school pretended it was a dinosaur, its spout the small head and its handle the long tail not quite touching the ground.

Just as I passed the hollow where a girl lifted her dress and said she would show me hers if I would show her mine, the cables above me started their thin piping. Owenie’s grocery shop with the petrol pump and the blue and yellow Maxol sign held high on a dinged pole and the wide clean gable window came into view. I nodded at the bags of flour and the trays of chocolates and the Fizz Bombs and the Black Maria liquorices and the shelves of boxes and the bacon slicer and the array of foodstuffs in tins and the smell of fresh bread, and Owenie massaged his broad brow and said God but you’re out late, what can I get you?

He handed me the tea and the packet of Gold Flake and then took a big, square-faced bull’s-eye jar and twisted off its lid. He fluffed a brown paper bag open with his fingers and placed it on the Avery weighing scale with the numerous demarcations and the super-sensitive needle. His elbow jerked as he dug the scoop into the jar and chucked the bull’s-eyes into the bag. He studied the needle, nudged a few extra bull’s-eyes in and spun the bag closed using both hands. ‘That’s it now,’ he said.

I picked the bag up by one dog-ear, paid him and left.

The night felt colder suddenly and I remembered how Ena and Simon saw a white mist rising with a whoosh above the bushes and came home pale and frightened. I broke into a gallop and told myself it was just for the heck of it. Past the Maxol sign I ran, past the level field where the showbands played in the six-pole marquee, past the water pump, past the church before I realised my mistake and turned reluctantly back.

The oak-panelled door was hard to push open. I fumbled for my mother’s bottle and delved it into the holy water font where it filled with a bubbling noise. I looked through the porch glass, towards the long central aisle, the small red sanctuary lamp flickering as though about to drown, the greyish marble altar encircled by the communicants’ rail. A strange feeling gripped me and I peered in more closely, all but pressing my nose to the glass. A black shape appeared to be standing on the altar. I gaped, my whole body tingling now. Could it be Georgie the beggar up to his mischief for he was well known to sleep some nights in the organ-loft? But Georgie was stooped and shrunk where this figure stood tall and imposing. Suddenly the figure raised its arms – seeming to open as it did so a crinkled and convoluted fan of webbing – and lifted off the altar and glided headlong towards me down the empty, dim-lit nave. I scampered from the porch, leaving the bottle dunked in the font, and fled homeward scarcely noticing that the night had begun to spit rain.

‘Don’t you know well it’s your imagination,’ my mother said, handing me a sympathetic drink of hot chocolate after I tumbled out the story to her. ‘The church is a sacred place and nothing bad would ever happen to a person there.’

‘I saw it.’

‘You imagined it.’

There was no talking to her. But now when I look back along the most familiar road, I wonder if I imagined not just the incident in the church but everything down to the gallery of our faces, the little world that was matter-of-fact in each farmhouse out on its own with the door unlocked and no need to knock when you happened to call. I look back and see how my whole life amounts to a dream, but, for all that, I still mourn the loss of the beautiful, fiercely ‘real’ hallucinations that entranced me in early childhood.

‘You just imagined it all,’ my mother said, reasonable as could be, but in that kitchen on that particular night and for several nights afterwards I feared the dark figure and prayed with desperate fervour to be spared his reappearance.

Mrs Heagney visited on my twelfth birthday and handed me a slim, velvety box. Inside there was a fountain pen, navy-blue with a golden nib and a golden lever.

‘It’s too good to use,’ I told her.

‘You’ll get used to it,’ she said with a brusque tinkle in her voice and I caught the soft, earnest look behind the shimmer of her glasses as she showed me how to unscrew the pen at the middle to reveal the ink gut. This set me thinking of the long black insect that lived under a stone in the Callows and I told her as much.

‘Oh, indeed,’ she replied. ‘I didn’t forget to bring the jar of ink.’

We twiddled the pieces back together and worked the lever so the pen filled with a croaking sound. I found a scrap of paper and put down the insect’s name – devil’s coach-horse – and it felt as if I had tapped into something that called a halt, offered a stay, something that was meant for me.






Jo Lewis from Inspirational Homes

inspirational homesHow did you start with the green door?

The idea from that came from renovating our cottage here 20 years ago. It took 7 years to get our house to the stage where we could live in it comfortably.  Such a huge amount of work was involved and we found, because we were new to the area, we didn’t necessarily know the best places to go for everything.  At the end of the process, I thought ‘gosh we’ve got so much information about sustainable building now that we could share this with everybody, it seemed like the most sensible thing to do.  I thought it would be great to have a website where people could put up any information they might have, a web site that is for those who are local, and one that’s localised.  For example straw bale building in America is a totally different experience to building with straw here, you have totally different weather conditions and different environments so it was important to make the website a local one that specialised in the North West of Ireland.  With that in mind, I approached Leader and they funded the necessary research.  I spent the summer of 2010 driving around Leitrim finding people who had homes that had any kind of eco status to them.  It was fascinating.  Anybody who was trying to build or renovate or live in a sustainable way was part of the world I went to visit.  I took photographs of what they were doing, wrote down notes and diagrams, and went back to edit at home.

 Was there an abundance of it?

Yes there were loads of interesting builds out there.  I visited forty homes, I couldn’t believe it.  A real nerve was tapped, a real source of energy, sustainable energy. for crona You’d go and see one person and they would say ‘Oh you must visit this other person down the road, they’re doing something similar in a different way’ so you would discover a variety of ways of building and making on different budgets, with different priorities. Some people might want a new sustainable build, but small and affordable and other people might have an old building they really want to hang on to for historical reasons and I’d document their struggle in how they managed to do that.  Some people are living off grid and others are living without septic tanks so it’s all very interesting.  All of this went on the website and it was launched organically really. Then I thought wouldn’t it be great to have an open house event. There had been one in London and in Dublin but there hadn’t been a rural equivalent. I asked the home owners if they would be interested in an open home event and I didn’t think that many would want to say yes, but they all said yes, every single one of them.  I had no idea just how popular it was going to be!

So I thought this is so generous. I went back to Leader and received some more funding.  Because we all live remotely, we like company when we have it.  So the home owners threw open their doors and the people came in their droves for the first Green Door in 2011.  It was so hugely popular, everybody had visitors and the feedback was really positive especially from the home owners.  You struggle to build or renovate to create something unusual and it might be successful or not, but you’ve got nobody to tell about your journey so when somebody interested actually comes around and says ‘That’s Fantastic’, if you have ten people coming through the door telling you that If you have fifty people telling you that, by the end of the day it’s a great feeling.   People being happy to share information that was the key to the success of the event.  The home owners all said how surprised they were that people were genuinely interested in particular things, about the heating, about the insulation suppliers and that kind of thing.  People were writing down advice, some people sat for hours in other people’s kitchens and just chatted.  So we really tapped into something there I think.  The home owners had put their sweat and blood into these builds to create a sustainable long-lasting home that was created or renovated with respect and friendship for the environment and this dedication really resonated with the visitors.  It’s all about seeing into the future and knowing that in the long run you’ll get payback.

mike and joWhat parts of renovating your own property were the most surprising, difficult or challenging?

Saving the old house.  If someone else had something similar, they’d probably have said, ‘just knock it down and lets start afresh, it would be cheaper and easier’.  It wasn’t in too bad of a shape, it’s a traditional three roomed cottage, several hundred years old, built straight onto the clay, no foundations. The walls were built well but at the top they were all getting crumbly, they were full of infill, rubbly stuff at the top so we had to put a lot of work into straightening the top of the walls, tying them together. A framework had to go around the tops of the walls and we used lime and sand mortar to fill it in to make it solid, and the straw bale extension with render on both sides fitted into that framework.  Then the roof went on top of that.  It has a lovely feel to it, it’s a curved room so it’s worth the challenges it brought us.  In America there are straw bale houses that are over a hundred years old so as long as the property is managed well a straw bale home should last forever.

Why Straw Bale?

Well when we were still in England working in the restaurant, Mike did a lot of research on the various methods of building and restoring in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner. He took a course in straw bale building and when we moved to Ireland we drew up our plans and took them to local architect Colin Bell. He worked on drawings for the site for us from which Mike could build following his instructions. Colin is great at tying with self-builders, he works very well with them.  He offers and gives a lot of support and encouragement.  We brought in local craftspeople who were amazing in helping to build the staircase for example.

Tell us about your Supper Club, the menus are tantalising.

Three years ago Mike came up with the idea of trying a Supper Club.  We thought we’d do one and see how it went so we sold out for that one night.  Then we thought we’ll do it again and this time we did it two nights in a row, because we have to change the whole layout of the house, the living room becomes a dining room.  There are twenty five each night so our house becomes a restaurant for those weekends.  It’s just the two of us but we work well together. We worked together in professional kitchens for years so it’s good fun. I love the hosting end of things, the meeting and greeting.  Mike does most of the cooking (apart from the desserts which I prepare), it gives him his outlet without having to open a restaurant.

Inspirational Homes exists because of the huge creative sector living in this part of Ireland. They came to this area because housing was affordable and the landscape pristine, wild and beautiful.  Green Door and Inspirational Homes exists because those creative types who came to live here were and are passionate about sustainable living, eco considerate building and restoring, locally sourced materials and employing and collaborating with skilled craftspeople. It continues to grow and gain a following because of this demographic, which is unique in Ireland.  When the Organic Centre became established in 1995 it drew more like minded people to this area, then the Sculpture Centre became established which drew even more again so more creative people wanted to settle here.  Then The Glens Centre attracted artists involved in performance, music and writing.  The Bee Park works directly with these people and liaises with the arts centre to create a good environment for everyone living here.  It’s a great place!

Inspirational Homes
Networking for future-proof homes


Green-Door Weekends

Festival of Rural Architecture and Design