Bringing nature closer to home

AN UPSURGE of interest in the outdoors is creating new opportunities for artists and authors of guidebooks on the Irish countryside.

Scarcely a week passes without the mounting of yet another art exhibition with nature as its subject, or a publication on how to tackle some of the great Irish walks.

It seems more people like to bring the natural world indoors and what better way than by hanging paintings with pastoral settings, or featuring birds and other animals.

Next Friday, September 25, will see the official launch of artist Sarah Corner’s second exhibition, aptly titled Autumn Colour, at the Lee Gallery, Cork. Much of her inspiration comes from Cork, Kerry and Tipperary as is evidenced by her paintings of deer, eagles and owls, for example.

The occasion will also be Cork culture night and the gallery owner, Jerry O’Neill, who says Ms Corner’s previous exhibition sold out, is expecting a big attendance.

Born in Surrey, England in 1964, she grew up with a passion for painting and the natural world. On leaving school, she worked on the restoration of painted and gilded antiques and oriental lacquer, including pieces for the Victoria and Albert Museum, science museums and the Palace of Westminster.

After moving to the countryside of Dorset, she ran her own decorative and applied arts business for about 14 years. She also kept up with her interests in nature and wildlife and, as her knowledge grew, she began to produce beautifully detailed wildlife paintings.

Eventually, she decided to concentrate solely on her paintings. Moving to Tipperary in 2001, she was greatly inspired by the landscape and her recent work reflects this. A residency at the Cill Rialaig Artists Retreat, in Co Kerry, in 2004, introduced her to the stunning coast of Kerry and then the lakes and mountains of Killarney National Park.

According to artist Peter Curling, Sarah’s paintings show a remarkable feel for the Irish landscape, wildlife and all animals in their natural surroundings.

Also to hand is a new walking guide to the Burren and the Aran Islands by Limerick man Tony Kirby, who worked in Italy and Dublin before starting a new life near Kilnaboy, Co Clare, in 2003.

He covers some of the best walking routes in the west and gives detailed descriptions and plenty of interesting information.

Almost every part of the region is covered, with walks ranging from easy, two-hour strolls to the more challenging Burren Way, a six-hour trek from Lisdoonvarna to Ballyvaughan.

As well as being among the most distinctive landscapes in Europe, the Burren and the Aran Islands have a huge number of archaeological monuments.

According to Mr Kirby, low-intensity farming in the area plays a critical role in transforming them each spring into a mosaic of beautiful wild flowers which originate from different climatic zones in the world. ‘These are just some of the reasons why the Burren and the Aran Islands make for some of the finest walking in these islands,’ he says.

Also featured is Coole Park, on the edge of the Burren, just outside Gort, Co Galway, home of dramatist Lady Gregory and a long-time summer retreat for the poet, William Butler Yeats.

On the day I visited, recently, it was raining. That, however, did not detract from the beauty of the place which includes a visitor centre, two, way-marked nature trails, a walled garden, ancient woodlands, a lake and a river.

Coole Park, now run by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, gets plenty of space in Mr Kirby’s guide, which is published by Collins Press. Some features of the place could easily go unnoticed, such as a bat box placed at a roosting site for one of our most threatened mammal species, or the site of a horse pump used in the old day to extract water from the lake.

Also there is something called a ‘ha-ha’, a term you don’t hear used too often nowadays. A ‘ha-ha’ is like a wide, man-made trench forming a boundary to a park, or garden, without interrupting the view. There’s a good example in front of Killarney House, in the demesne area of Killarney National Park.


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