The party refuses to end in the City of the Tribes

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Grafton Street is one of the posher shopping streets in Dublin City. It’s nice any time of year, but every December in the run-up to Christmas the atmosphere on the street changes. Perhaps it’s an imaginary hangover from childhood, but in my memory, the street starts to sparkle around Christmas and there’s a buzz in the air.

I felt the same atmosphere back in 1991 when I hopped off a bus on my arrival in Galway City, the City of the Tribes for the first time, but it was a Tuesday afternoon in October. There was no festival or holiday to explain the atmosphere – and I quickly learned that’s just the way it is in Galway. I was there to start a university degree, and I never left. All these years later, that atmosphere is never very far away. True, there are days when no amount of the legendary Galway vibe can overcome the grey, cold and drizzle. But I haven’t experienced such a day in Galway for a long time – I must be due one. In January, no doubt.

Yesterday I had to hang around in town for a few hours while my daughter went to the cinema with a friend, so that I could pick her up later and not have to make the trip twice. I took my opportunity to find a nice spot to draw. Far from the town starting to quieten down – it is November, after all – it was so lively that I felt just the smallest bit left out (although I don’t know of many activities other than sketching where you can sit on your own very happily for hours). The people who passed me were typical Galwegians: a guy in a Nordic pattern knit jumper, lots of fellas in beanies with man-bags worn crossways over their shoulders, Brits over on drinking weekends, pretty girls talking animatedly in Spanish, French and Italian and older, somewhat dishevelled men with dogs who knew which pub to turn into without indication from their masters.

I drew this from the outside bit of Fat Freddy’s, a restaurant that has been in Galway since I first arrived 23 years ago, looking down towards the Claddagh. The management had kindly draped blankets in cherry pink and red tartan on the backs of chairs, so that if you did feel like soaking up the atmosphere outside, you could do it in comfort. But I was dressed in my winter sketching outfit, and had no need of such pampering.
You can see McDonagh’s fish restaurant on the right – that’s been there for decades, and the fish and chips they do in the take away part are always super-fresh. Over the Claddagh I could see a classic late-afternoon winter sky, a watery blue with purplish-blue clouds stealing across it.
The stonework building to the right of the sky is medieval and beautifully restored but I don’t know what it is…I will find out.

Two days earlier I had found myself in similar circumstances, with an hour to kill before a meeting. I wanted to draw outdoors, but the rain was pelting down so hard that all the PVC tablecloths under the awnings had pools of water on them. I floundered about pathetically for a bit on the near-deserted street, wondering what to draw, then I headed into Neachtain’s pub on the corner of Quay Street and Cross Street, which is a few doors up from McDonagh’s fish restaurant, on the same side of the street.
Many moons ago, back in my university days in the early nineties, I was a regular in Neachtain’s. What a toxic way to enjoy ourselves: as if the over-indulgence in Guinness wasn’t enough, it was in the days before the smoking ban, and you could barely see across the room for the thick grey haze, to which I willingly contributed. But you were guaranteed the craic in Neachtain’s on such a night – you probably still are, but I wouldn’t know, as I lead a different sort of life now. I don’t even know how much a pint of Guinness costs, and as for cigarettes – I have the classic reformed-smoker puritanical zeal. But last Thursday afternoon, there were no revellers in Neachtain’s, just a few well-behaved types having lunch or a quiet drink. The crackling fire in one of the many alcoves and snugs made it most inviting. I ignored the memories that threatened to creep in and distract me, settled down at a tiny table in a corner and took out my drawing stuff.

I was unnoticed, other than by the beautiful waitress who brought my soup, and I couldn’t believe that I got to draw a person from this close remove without interruption. If he did notice me, he let it go. Maybe he was too distracted by memories.

I’m going to try and capture Galway’s atmosphere this winter – from both indoors and out. I’ll stop when the magical vibe fades and the town goes to sleep for the winter. But I’m kind of thinking it could be a marathon…

Róisín Curé

Art Materials I Use and Can Recommend

My favourite watercolours are made by Schmincke. I use a very small set when I am on the move, or this set of 24, which is available to buy here from Utrecht Art Supplies (in the US):-

Set of 24

Set of 24

or in the UK and EU :-

Jackson’s Art Supplies
Schmincke : Horadam Watercolour : Metal Set : 12 Half Pans

I also use Escoda Versatil brushes (available from Dick Blick in the US) :-

Escoda Versatil Brushes

Escoda Versatil Brushes

or from Jackson’s in the UK and EU :-

Escoda : VERSATIL Kolinsky Synthetic : Series 1540 : # 8

There are three pens I always use. The first is the Platinum Carbon pen, which can be used with cartridges or a converter. A converter is useful when you are choosing your own ink. The Platinum has never let me down: they tell you to use it every couple of days to avoid clogging, but I have left it longer than that and I have never had a problem in many years of use. It is also very reasonably priced and is available to buy from Amazon :-

The second pen I am never without is the Kuretake Brush Pen. I always use waterproof Platinum Carbon ink cartridges in my brush pen. This is available to buy here from Dick Blick in the US :-

Kuretake Brush Pen

Kuretake Brush Pen

or from Jackson’s in the UK and EU :-

Kuretake : Bimoji Fude Pen : Black Medium BRUSH : Maroon pack XT5-10

The third pen I really enjoy using is more expensive, but I chose it for its flexible steel nib, which gives a lovely variable line thickness. It’s the Namiki Falcon and is available here from Amazon :-

I find that grey ink gives a softer line than black – it’s more like a pencil line – and I always make sure at least one of my fountain pens contains grey ink. I use Lexington Gray by Noodler’s, which is waterproof when dry, also from Amazon :-

I use various types of watercolour paper, but one I come back to a lot is by Langton, available here from Dick Blick :-

Daler-Rowney Langton Prestige Watercolor Blocks

Daler-Rowney Langton Prestige Watercolor Blocks

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