Burren View

by Mary Weil
Pastel painting by Mary, at Stone Cottage, looking to The Burren.  

Traveling makes me want to paint what I see, to capture the light, colors, scents and the whole place and time.  This can be wonderful and well as challenging, but very worthwhile.  Plein air , outdoor, alla prima painting, or expeditionart as I call it, means you stand and look and respond.   And, the best part is once you have focused and looked and immersed your senses in the place, IT IS YOURS.  Your mind has absorbed  and recorded it, and when you recall that place, you KNOW the rocks, shadows, shapes, what birds flew by, how the sky and water reflected each other.  As painful or burdensome as it sounds, hauling easel and supplies thru airports and countryside, once done, you have the opportunity to create an intimate recollection of that place.  If you’re lucky, you also have a representation of your experience  that sings of the place as well.





Traveling to Creativity

(reblogged from byalannapass.com)

I traveled to the small village of Ballycastle, Ireland in early June to take a week-longIMG_0763 printmaking workshop at the Ballinglen Arts Foundation before Mary, Linda, & Deb joined me.  The instructor, Ron Pokrasso is from Santa Fe, New Mexico.  It would have been a cheaper option to take the class in “Beyond Monotype” at his home studio but I have been to Santa Fe numerous times and was looking forward to exploring new territory.  Since I love Irish music & culture and loathe hot weather, Ireland seemed like an ideal location.

IMG_0794Travel for the sake of travel is not my thing (see my post “The Reluctant Traveler”). Wandering around looking at tourist attractions is tedious for me.  If I have no other purpose to be there other than being just an observer, I am bored.  Give me a sense of purpose and IMG_0772I am engaged.  In the past, Spanish language immersions with homestays gave me the opportunity to experience Mexico & Central America on an intimate level.

Then about eight years ago, I realized if I was going to get serious about my art without domestic distractions, I was going to travel away from IMG_2248home and immerse myself in creativity for a good week.  I was fortunate to discover Ghost Ranch Retreat Center in N. New Mexico where I have returned most summers to get a creative & spiritual boost.  Even though I plan to return there in the future, I am widening my options now to other locations.

It’s been my experience that when I travel with a purpose, not only do I learn more skills, I develop deeper social & cultural connections.  There are so many options to chose from in this regard.  During this trip, we ran into an enthusiastic group traveling with a knitting and spinning focus.  There are trips and classes that are focused on gardening, photography, history, you name it.  Next year I hope to go to an Irish music camp in North Carolina.

If you are a reluctant traveler, as I am, or an experienced traveler, consider traveling to creativity in the future.  It will definitely add new dimensions to your skill set and give your travel more depth.IMG_0888

Pascal’s Pants

June 13, 2017 proved an extremely windy day on the coast of Connemara.  Despite this, Deb and Linda decide on an excursion to Omey Island–a spot of an island connected to the mainland by a stretch of wet sand when the tide goes out.  Walks to Omey Island, have to be timed carefully–so as to know when the tide will wash back in and cause a stranding on the little island. No one lives on Omey Island anymore, but in the past it was inhabited year round.  Human habitation stretches back to early Christian Monks who established a community here. The remains of their small stone abbey can be found in a well hidden, sunken, grassy pocket of land on the north side of the island.  We picked up beautiful colored rocks along the shore line, explored the crumbling abbey, admired the vistas out to sea, but soon had to return before the tide came in.  Wind blown and hungry, we dropped into Sweeney’s Strand Bar in nearby Claddaghduff for a bite,  and there we learned about the remarkable Pascal Whelan, Omey Island’s Last Man Standing.


Pascal’s Pants

Pascal Whelan, last resident of Omey Island, was a well known stunt man, born on Omey and taken to Wales by his family at age 6. He eventually emigrated to Australia where he took up the trade of “fillum” set stunt man (as they say in Ireland).   He lived the “high life” until the fatal day that changed him forever.  On the day in question, his very best friend, performing a stunt devised by Pascal himself, fell from a height of 80 feet. The dear friend died in Pascal’s arms.  From there, Pascal more or less left the world of daring and high living. He took up a solitary life in his remote, wind swept Omey caravan.  At Sweeney’s, we talked with Mrs. Sweeney (the best sea food chowder cook in the world!) who told us Pascal was a gentle and intelligent soul, if a somewhat broken man. He got by on very little, without even a belt to hoist up his worn out pants.   He frequented Sweeney’s almost daily, until one day he failed to appear.  After a few days, Mr. Sweeney decided to cross the strand and go looking for Pascal.  He found Pascal, aged 75,  lying dead in his small caravan space. Pascal was buried on the barren island where he was born.  A Irish photojournalist, Kevin Griffin, documented Pascal’s life in a curious book titled Last Man Standing: The Solitary Life of an Island’s Last Resident. Pascal claimed life on the island provided him with what he needed; he fished; he ate and slept; his jerry rigged radio gave him all the information about the world that he wished to know.  Pascal affirmed that there is a wide divide between loneliness and solitude and that his life was full enough.  I  (Linda) found Pascal’s story and Griffin’s photographs quite poignant.  His search for solitude touched some cord in myself.  I went searching for a few words to the wise from John O’Donohue and found this quote:

“Solitude is one of the most precious things in the human spirit.  It is different from loneliness. When you are lonely, you become acutely conscious of your own separation.  Solitude can be a homecoming to your own deepest belonging.”  

John O’Donohue, Anam Cara.




May the Wind Be Always at Your Back

We departed Fushcia Cottage with a constant hard wind blowing over Kilcummin, flattening the grasses, a thick bank of clouds to the West reflecting the morning sun.  Not yet raining but cold.  Our destination was Ballycastle by way of Down Patrick Head on north coast of County Mayo to view sea birds and the spectacular remote coastal cliffs of the Wild Atlantic Way.  The weather deteriorated a bit as we arrived at the car park. We started our upward hike toward the cliff edge.  Strong winds blowing in off the Atlantic and some slanting rain.  As we bent our heads down and moved up the incline, I (Linda) mumbled to myself “Is this, at all, necessary?”  Sheep more or less have the run of County Mayo, so it was that we had to side step sheep dung and pockets of bog as we continued toward the edge.  We snapped pictures, stretched our necks to look over but kept well back from the edge, which from time to time can suddenly cave and peel away into the ocean.   As we turned and headed back to the car the wind now assisting our descent, Mary had a revelation.  “Now,” she said, “I grasp the true meaning of that Irish blessing–May the wind be always at your back!”   We all shouted in sudden realization–This saying has a quite literal meaning!  Only the Irish experience the deep nature of this blessing in the struggles of their everyday world!   That day at Down Patrick Head, there was bestowed on us a blessing and a lasting memory all its own.

May the road rise to meet you

May the wind be always at your back

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

And the rain fall soft upon your fields.

And until we meet again,

May God hold you in the hollow of his hand.



Downpatrick Head



An Irish Midsummer’s Eve

(reblogged from byalannapass.com)


sunset BallyvaughnHumanity around the world has its differences in what holidays are celebrated.  The one thread that unites us is the changing of seasons.  Most cultures have some kind of observance for the seasonal markers around the equinoxes and solstices such as Harvest, Halloween, Day of the Dead, Christmas, Hanukah, Easter & so forth.   In Northern climates, the Summer Solstice, or
Ballyvaughn ChurchMidsummer’s Eve is cause for celebration. On the longest day of the year, there is a little magic & love is in the air.

Ireland is no exception.  On this Midsummer’s Eve, we attended aChoir Ballyvaugn most lovely event, a choral concert in the local church in the village of Ballyvaughan put on by the Lismorahuan Singers.  In the choir were the smiling faces of numerous local faces we had gotten to know during our week long stay there. What a perfect way to spend our last night in Ireland- worthy of a poem.


The earth groaned as it rounded

The final point of its orbit

The sun shone brightly into the hours

Of this shortest night

It claimed its final victory over darkness, this year

And as it did, the flowers bloomed

The faeries danced

And the choir lifted their voices in song

Wrapping their chorus around our hearts

Filling us with strength for the slow waning of the light

To come day by day

In the weeks and months before us

But here, now, we are illuminated fully

Let us celebrate the fruits of summer

& bask in the power of the sun’s rays

On this magical Midsummer’s Eve

The Burren- If These Rocks Could talk

(reblogged from bylannapass.com)

The land that we now know as Ireland once lay below a vast sea that covered the earth. The ancient seabed filled with layers of dead sea creatures metamorphosed into

The moon shapes in this rock are fossils of sea 

limestone. Over a process of millions of years, the land was uplifted forming hills and mountains.  A series of ice ages further changed the landscape by sculpting out fjords and leaving valleys and lakes in their wake.  The Burren in Western Ireland is a perfect place to explore these ancient processes. we were so lucky to spend a week in this amazing area in W. Ireland.

A granite “tourist” left by a glacier in the limestone.
A sculpture from limestone, water, & wind.
Wave action left these beautiful patterns in the rock
A perfect planter for a tongue fern carved by water.
A sculpted pool.
Making a cairn of limestone on a mountain top in The Burren in memory of my father.


This is a blog by committee, a wonderful concept that taps the unique experiences and focus of each of us.  We’ve decided to post by themes. This post is a chronology of our trip, a framework for future posts.

Thurs. June 8 – Mary, Linda and Deb arrived in Dublin after an overnight flight. Stayed at the Waterloo Lodge. Attempted to combat jet lag with a long walk through Dublin, battered by a thunderstorm, fortified by tea, scones (at Queen of Tarts), beer and fish and chips (at Searson’s Pub). Alanna was in Ballycastle, County Mayo, at a print making workshop since the Sunday before.



Fri. June 9 – Picked up our trusty chocolate brown Skoda at the Dublin Airport around noon after the adventure of the lost  black bag.  Lunch and fabulous tours of Newgrange and Knowth.  We weren’t on the road West until after 5pm.  We arrived at Fuchsia Cottage just before dark and just before the big rain and wind hit.  A magenta storm according to Mary’s weather app.  The house was rattling but we were cozy and warm. The next morning was windy but clear. We walked the wide, sandy beach and looped back to Fuschia Cottage. The next day, wet and gray, we braved the walk to Kilcummin pier, the scene of Wolf Tone’s short-lived rebellion against the British in coordination with French revolutionaries, 1798.  We walked in wind and rain accompanied by Conor the dog and a busy border collie.  We lit the turf fire when we got back and dried our clothes by its radiant heat.  We had dinner and Jack the Lad ale at the Village Inn in Killala.


Sun. June 11 – After a windblown visit to Ceide Fields, we had dinner with Alanna and her fellow class participants at Ballycastle Art Centre.


Mon. June 12 – Mary, Deb and Linda visited Downpatrick Head, windy as usual, but clear and no rain.  Lovely hummocky bog land and stunning cliffs to turquoise ocean.  We picked up Alanna and headed to Clifden with a stop in Newport for a great lunch at Kelly’s Kitchen.  We scored cozy felt smurf slippers in a craft shop. We drove the skinny, precipitous road to Achill Island all the way to Keem Strand.  Basking shark fishing took place here. The liver oil fueled the lamps of Dublin.  This is the land of Grace O’Malley the Pirate Queen (1530-1600), queen of Clew Bay.


We arrived in Clifden around 8pm and settled into the Clifden Lighthouse Dwelling.  It’s an old building, a little tired, but an easy 5 minute walk into Clifden.  Clifden was a good base to stock up on food and engage in some retail therapy.  Deb and Linda drove out to Omey Island at low tide.  We walked across the sand to the island, beach combed and cairn constructed and visited the church ruins in a sheltered hollow, hidden from pirates.  We had a lovely lunch of veg soup and seafood chowder at Sweeney’s.  We learned about Pascal, the last man standing on Omey Island.


Deb, Mary and Alanna drove out to Roundstone and hiked a bit in the bog.  We found a wonderful craft center where Alanna fell under the spell of Malachy the bohdran builder.  After a walk on the white sands of Dog’s Bay, we met Pat the pony man.  He took us to his horse barn and introduced us to three generations of well-bred Connemara ponies.  Some important trans-Atlantic firsts around Clifden:  Marconi exchanged the first trans-Atlantic radio message here in 1907. Alcock and Brown completed the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic in 1919, crash landing in the bog near the radio station.


Thurs. June 15 – We drove to Rosaveel, parked the car and caught the 10:30 ferry to Inishmor.  We stayed at the cozy Pierhouse.  Windy and gray, but not much rain.  We toured the island with lying Bertie Flaherty and walked out to the Dun Aengus fort.  We walked to dinner and music at Joe Watty’s pub.  Next morning we explored the island and caught the 4pm ferry back to the mainland.  We drove around Galway bay and got to Ballyvaugh and Stone House around 7pm.  A sigh of relief:  home base for 6 days.



June 16-June 21– Stone House.  The weather finally cleared for us.  It’s a magical place, the Burren hills on one side, Galway Bay on the other, easy walk to town and a lovely loop walk right out the door. We had a most perfect visit to the Cliffs of Moher, warm, still, endless visibility.  We caught some spontaneous music in Doolin at O’Connor’s Pub.  It was a weekend folk festival so lots of musicians hanging about.  Kathleen and Danny, Don’s cousins, stayed at a BnB in Fanore.  We shared meals and long walks with them.  Cousin JP came drove from Tuam for dinner two nights.  Emily and Eric joined us for a night and got to meet the Irish relatives.  We had a serendipitous meeting with John O’Donohue’s sister in law, a friend of Noel’s and she connected us to a most perfect Solstice choral concert at the church in Ballyvaughn.  So many rich experiences for all of us here.  We needed at least another week.



June 22- Dublin airport hotel, last pint at the pub.  Up at 3:15 the next morning for the trip home. And then begins the re-entry to the real world, trying to savor and imprint in our memories the many rich experiences of our Irish journey.