Several years ago, my husband and I embarked upon our first trip to Ireland for our honeymoon, a place we had both longed to visit and of which we both had family heritage. Ireland has always held a place of magic in my imagination. I’ve been inspired by its history, geology, and folklore even before I learned of my family’s ancestral ties to the country.
So in 2017, we rented a car and road tripped around the entire country for 9 days exploring the ancient city centers, quaint countryside, and wild Atlantic coast. The impact that this trip had on me was profound and, in a strange way, it felt like I had come home. After taking thousands of photos, I knew that I needed to embark upon a another journey, one where I attempted to recreate the experience to share with others so that they could feel the magic that I felt while there and keep a little piece of that magic with them in their home. After years of letting the idea simmer in my mind and then hundreds of hours in the studio working with oil paint, watercolors, and cut paper, I have finally completed the first installment of my art collection that I'm calling, "Discovering Ireland, Layer by Layer".
Part 1 features rich, green countrysides, windblown, coastal landscapes, and ancient castle ruins. A collection of my favorite emerald jewels from around the country.
The first magical location we came to was the Wicklow Mountains. Deep in the heart of Wicklow County, these mountains are located just south of Dublin. The mists were clearing in the distance as the afternoon sun began to appear here at Lough Tay. Down in the valley, the lake appeared calm, but up on the mountain where the roadway was, the wind whipped us around along with the wild, golden gorse shrub.
Deeper into the valley we came across the incredible and ancient monastic community of Glendalough. Amongst the crumbling chapels, high Celtic crosses, and indecipherable gravestones stands the round tower. Sitting prominently in the landscape, it is thought that round towers were erected as either bell towers to mark religious services or as refuge for the monks during Viking Raids between the 9th and 12th centuries.
Between the round tower and crumbling chapel ruins is the cemetery, complete with Celtic high crosses and gravestones so old you can't make out what they say anymore. This was one of my favorite views where you could see the distant hills of the wicklow mountains from within the valley.
Once out of the mountains and further into the countryside, we came to the town of Cashel in County Tipperary. Through the arrowslits in the ancient walls surrounding the Rock of Cashel, Hore Abbey and the Golden Vale can be seen. The Rock of Cashel was the seat of the ancient Celtic kings of Munster and subsequently the church and the Golden Vale is the patchwork of yellow-green farmlands that surround it. Spotting Hore Abbey through the arrowslits is like peering into another realm and spotting something magical that you wouldn’t have seen otherwise, almost like the wardrobe to Narnia.
On we went southward to county Cork, eager to see the coastal villages. I was standing on the dock in the harbor of Cobh in County Cork looking back towards the colorful waterfront shops and pubs and was stunned to see St. Colman's magnificent Cathedral rising up behind them. Everywhere around us was the sound of water lapping against the side of colorful fishing boats.
Once in Kinsale, our food tour guide took us to this magical little spot for a picnic of local treats. There, above Sandycove Beach, we were able to look out towards the uninhabited Island of Cnoc an Rois and the ocean passage, famous in times past for being a smugglers' route and in present times for wild swimming.
Situated on the emerald green, grassy hills overlooking the Atlantic Ocean is truly one of the most magical locations I have ever visited. Classiebawn Castle is perched atop the dramatic, rugged, and rocky coastline creating completely unique and captivating scenery. Looming behind the castle is Benbulben, the prominent mountain range of that area in County Sligo, Ireland.
We truly felt like we were in a movie when we visited the Cliffs of Moher at sunset. We were rewarded with a break in the rain long enough for the setting sun to beam through the clouds, illuminating the Atlantic Ocean below and the jewel-tone hillsides all around. O'Brian's Tower made for the perfect focal point with its battlements and archways, perched right on the edge of the cliffside.
Continuing our adventure clockwise around the Irish coast on a long drive from County Sligo to County Antrim, we passed through parts of Donegal. It was bittersweet. We had no time in our itinerary to explore that part of the country yet it was incredibly beautiful, taunting us as we passed through the hills.
Once you reach the tippy top of Ireland in Antrim County, there are several really magical spots. The first that we saw was Dunluce Castle. The remains of this ancient castle are situated on top of a heavily eroded peninsula that juts out into the sea. The ruins are perched precariously on steep slopes carpeted in emerald green and when you get to the farthest point out and turn around to look back inland, this is the view you are met with. It truly felt like being on a film set although made more amazing by the fact that it is a real place steeped in history.
Exploring the remains of Dunluce Castle was an amazing experience. This ancient place is so old that it is marred by crumbling walls that are exposed to the elements and have given in to the harsh Atlantic winds. This is one such spot that looks like it could have started as a window. It now appears as a large, cracked opening in the stone, looking out towards the mystical landscape beyond. This painting explores an added element of three dimensionality by separately painting each layer of the scene in watercolor, carefully cutting each one out with a blade and then mounting them on top of one another creating a 3D, shadowbox-like effect.
When hiking the path to the Giant’s Causeway, we came to an overlook with a view north towards the Atlantic Ocean where the hills around us created an emerald green cove and the wild grasses whipped in the cold, misty winds. Like "A Crack in the Ruins", This painting also explores an added element of three dimensionality by separately painting each layer of the scene in watercolor and mounting them on top of one another creating a 3D, shadowbox-like effect. Each blade of grass in the foreground is painstakingly hand-cut and I couldn't be more proud of how my most ambitious idea turned out.
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