East Donegal Inspiring Art

Image of Anns painting The Burn Fields, oil on board, 71 x 117 cm
The Burn Fields, oil on board, 71 x 117 cm

I grew up on a farm in East Donegal, with endless views of hills on the horizon line. I am the youngest of ten children. I am deeply connected to the landscape surrounding the farm, I feel a blood connection to the earth beneath my feet when I return and walk the same fields I walked as a child, as if the landscape has eyes and welcomes me back. To an outsider they would look like ordinary green fields but to a local person each field is a much bigger, living thing, with it's own name. My parents first met while gathering potatoes in one of these fields almost fifty years ago, I have many memories from my childhood in the same field and to stand in the middle of it now is to see a glimpse of the origin of my life played out on this familiar green stage.

The weather was the main topic of conversation at the start of each day when I was growing up. I developed a consciousness of the weather and the natural elements. The smell of dampness rising off the wet coat belonging to my father, hung over the chair every night and put against the fire to get dry for another day's work. The faint orange glow at night across the valley, which I was told were the city lights of Derry. The crows building their nests on the first day of March. The arrival of the swallows in on the 14th of April every year.

I feel I inherited a deep respect for nature from my parents. They are always looking for signs from nature that could forecast the weather, in case the weather 'breaks' such as crows flying low and cows standing in close to the hedge. I believe my mother has a creative side, which was never nurtured, she has taken great photographs outside many times. I remember once a drawer full of moths in my bedroom and she said 'leave them alone, they're only sleeping', a reflection of her sensitivity to nature.

Since moving to Dublin in 1997 to study at the NCAD I have made many paintings from the intimate surroundings of the farm where I grew up. By going away I have been able to see the place more clearly.

I met two great women in my teenage years that made a lasting impression on me and somehow paved the way for me to become an artist: Sr. Mary Clenaghan from the Loreto Convent, Letterkenny, an incredibly kindhearted, generous art teacher that encouraged me very much, and the artist Melita De Naro whom I met one evening when I was aged 19 when she took me on a drive in her car full of paintbrushes and books to see Mount Muckish up close. That day, I thought ‘I want to live like her’.

On the morning of New Year’s Day this year, my brother Thomas cut down the dark wall of fir trees at the bottom of my parents’ garden, which let an intense light into the house for the first time in 12 years and a view I had not seen in years. I immediately borrowed his wellington boots and went outside, following the light down through the fields, that were full of shallow lakes of rain water. The painting above ‘The Burn Fields’ came about as a result of this incredible moment of light, standing where the fir trees stood, on the first day of this year.