Our first field trip to Achill Island was a short one but it turned out to be very worthwhile. We covered quite a lot of ground, met some great people and got a good introduction to the landscape that Paul Henry painted prolifically over his ten year stay on the island.
We spent the first two nights at Keel Sandybanks Caravan & Camping Park. We arrived on the Friday evening (28/06/13), dined in style in the campervan and went for a night cap in The Annexe Inn, where the ‘smoking porch’ seemed to be the best place to catch a chat with a wise old local. On the Saturday morning the weather was damp and overcast so we spent our time exploring the village and the surrounding area.
The sun came out after lunch so there was some quick sketching done at base camp focusing on the dunes and the distant Minaun Cliffs. There were some impressive cloud formations above Slievemore. We set off on our bikes in the afternoon and made our way down to Gubelennaun where Paul Henry famously tore up his return ticket and chose to remain on Achill. Before returning to Keel we took a look at the infamous Achill Henge, where Gentian and Paul did some charcoal sketches on the concrete. Later there was a quick stop at a fisherman’s house where we bought some ray fins that Gentian cooked beautifully that evening. We once again found ourselves in The Annexe Inn that night, this time for some live traditional music. We chatted with some more locals and some enthusiastic foreigners who are working on the island.
On Sunday we packed up and explored more of the island on four wheels. Keem Strand was our first port of call followed by the deserted village on the southern slope of Slievemore. We then drove through Dugort, which Paul Henry thought was too touristy, and explored some of the bogland to the south in Tonatanvally townland. We finished the day by completing the Atlantic Drive, stopping off at Grainne’s Castle and numerous viewing points. The changeable weather created some stunning views out to sea and an abundance of crepuscular rays. We camped at The Valley House that evening and met some great people in the bar where Paul was roped into singing and playing guitar. After breakfast the next morning Paul and Gentian did some sketching at Lough Nambrack. Before hitting the road for Cork we visited Madeleine Darcy, writer in residence at the Heinrich Boll Cottage, Dugort and sculptor Ronan Halpin in Keel. There were many more people we wanted to meet but we will have to wait until our next visit.
In future posts we will take a closer look at some of the locations we visited and their significance in relation to the life and work of Paul Henry. There will also be posts on the various components of the Achill landscape that were of particular interest to the team during our visit.