Saturday 9th April
The day starts off really cold – in fact there is frost on the grass when I go outside to my studio. But it starts to look better and my youngest, Liv, and I head into Galway City. She wants to buy shoes and I don’t want to join her in her search so I sit outside McCambridge’s on Galway’s Shop Street. I am lucky to get a table outside, as it’s the best spot in Galway to watch people pass by and you have the best cuppa and cake you could ask for. I have a cunning plan for my sketch and I have come prepared: I wear my beautiful Sketch With Roisin-branded baseball cap. The sun suddenly is strong and directed right where we’re sitting and without it I would be able to sketch nothing. Soon I am down to a t-shirt. Ireland, huh? You just never know with the weather.
My plan is to sketch something for class – if it works out. I know that not everyone has the confidence – or the nerve! – to draw a stranger, but we all like to sketch over a coffee, so my idea is to give the students a takeaway, nicely-boxed method for sketching their cup of coffee in the sun. The shadows are strong and the paint palette is limited so I feel it shouldn’t be too too hard.
Next to me is a man alone at a table. Two women arrive, a mother and daughter, as it turns out. The man invites them to share his table. The daughter goes in to get the coffees and by the time she’s back the man has found out the country of origin of the older lady (somewhere in the Middle East), how long she’s been in Ireland (20 years) and as much information as it’s physically possible to get in five minutes about her husband, what he does for a living, how she finds the weather here, the language, the customs, what she likes about Ireland compared to her country and how she likes the food here. Her daughter arrives with the coffees and soon the man knows how many brothers and sisters she has, how often she gets back to her ancenstral homeland and pretty much everything else about her. He doesn’t seem to notice that they don’t ask him anything in return. He finishes off with a story (“translate this for your mother, she’ll love this”). It’s actually a good story, about the time his daughters are interrailing and notice a cute guy on a train in London whom they think might be Indian. They proceed to exchange opinions, in Irish, about the wonder of his beauty: his lovely mouth, his perfect nose, his gorgeous hair, his cute ears (“why they noticed his ears, I have no idea” says the man). As they pull into the station where the lad is getting off, he turns to them and says – in perfect Irish – “Have a great stay in London”!
Moral of the story – Irish isn’t the secret code it once was. Beware!
The students do great work in class the following Tuesday. I hope they will apply the principles to their own cups of coffee at café tables, even when the sun is doing different things.
Sunday 10th April
I draw a very simple Reel about Reuben the terrier’s preoccupations in life. They are: ball no.1, ball no.2, fluffy elephant and his pack, headed up by me.
Monday 11th April
Liv’s brother Paddy, who is 20, is back from university for a couple of days, and they want to head into town together to go shopping. I am very happy to drive them in, as it’s a warm day out but freezing in my house. It’s about lag or something, says the person responsible for keeping it warm (my husband Marcel). I park in the docks and immediately feel inspired but waste a good twenty minutes making sure there isn’t anything better in the streets of Galway. There is not. I sit on my small stool next to the water and get busy. It’s a lovely scene and I am very happy with my choice. I decide it will make a good subject for Tuesday’s class.
Wednesday 13th April
I hear a piece on the radio about puppy farming. I fill with impotent fury. If only I could help. (I am also annoyed, as I always am, that it appears many people don’t distinguish between puppy farmers, whose breeding bitches are horribly treated and dreadfully neglected, and the wonderful and noble breeders who put all their love, care and expertise into breeding only the healthiest of dogs – like the expert breeder Annie Taylor, who gave us our adorable Reuben. For the record, her dogs frequently live to ripe old age and look like young things until the very end.) I draw an inconsequential caricature of a puppy farmer for a Reel, post it, then take it down two minutes later, as it’s too sad. If you’re involved in looking after dogs, for a charity of some kind, you should consider hiring an amazing genius cartoonist to help you get the message across about buying only from reputable breeders. If they’re busy, I’m available too (my box of dogs looks like a box of rats and won’t inspire anyone).
Thursday 14th April
Marcel and I are asked, very politely, to leave the house overnight, as our youngest wants to hold a soirée for her friends. She is a great girl. “I’m only inviting respectful friends,” she says. She spends the days leading up to the party collecting ice to make sure she doesn’t run out. If only I were that organised now – let alone as a teenager. Marcel and I are only too happy to have a night away and we head to Clifden, in Connemara, and the Abbeyglen Castle Hotel. Walking in, I am transported to the magical holidays of my childhood: with eight kids and in pre-Ryanair days, my parents weren’t flying abroad for holidays, so they bought a beautiful house in Connemara (Cleggan) and that’s where we spent our endless, always-sunny summers. The hotel is decorated in the same style that I remember from that time – polished dark wood, turf fires, very cosy, spotlessly clean, vintage West of Ireland grandeur. We’ve been ugraded as our wonderful tech guy Ronan has used his connections to make our stay even better (“I know the innkeeper” he says). Our room is beautiful, with a four-poster bed and a cast-iron bath the size of a football pitch. After we settle in, we go for a stroll around Clifden. It’s the capital of that part of Connemara, and it’s full of extremely colourful buildings. With my propensity to muted (tasteful!) tones as a watercolour painter, I’m not sure how I’d approach sketching it. We manage to get a delicious salad at the last minute in a really friendly café, and pop into the bookshop next door. I take care of business (“do you stock An Urban Sketcher’s Galway? It’s by Róisín Curé”) and buy a book called Moneyland by Oliver Bullough, about the fathomless greed of people who use “offshore” to take advantage of the laws of whichever country best suits their tax-dodging ambitions. I’ve heard the author on the radio and I like the cut of his jib. We loll around reading in our fancy room – for two workaholics this feels extremely indulgent – and later on are treated to a Prosecco reception and storytelling session by the amazing innkeeper, another Ronan, followed by an excellent dinner in the hotel restaurant. The food is cooked to perfection – I anticipate a scuffle over the sugar snaps and green beans, but decorum prevails and I get them – the staff are adorable and full of smiles and I cannot fault a thing. The wonderful innkeeper Ronan and I discuss ideas for hosting a painting holiday in Connemara.
Friday 15th April
Marcel and I have hired a ghillie and plan to spend the day fishing on Lough Corrib, the last great wild brown trout lake in existence. Marcel spent much of his youth catching fish, although not with a fly. But flyfishing is true sportsmanship – you are trying to trick the fish, and are pitting your wits against theirs. You are just as likely to go home empty-handed as catch anything. It’s not raining, the lake is vast and it’s not cold. I am warmly dressed but a little the worse for the hospitality of the hotel, and I won’t be fishing. The ghillie is an experienced angler named Tom. The boat is small and made of wood and fibregass and there is ample room for the three of us. The day’s sport starts around 11.00am: we hop into the boat, which immediately lurches, so that I fear for my safety. Tom starts the engine and we pick our way through a maze of channels through treacherous underwater rocks. The edges of the lake are shallow and we can see those rocks, large, flat & creamy beige, just under the surface of the tea-coloured, clear, peaty water. You would need to be with someone who knows his way around. Soon it’s impossible to tell if the distant copses of trees are part of the mainland, or one of the hundreds of islands on the lake, which is some thirty miles long and a few wide. On one side are the blue hills of Connemara and the other is wooded, flat limestone. The hours stretch out before us. It’s overcast and small fishing boats break the empty flat water all around us. It’s no wonder the lake is such a popular fishing spot, attracting anglers from all over Europe: the native brown trout is a powerful, attractive fish, the larger of which can weigh up to twenty pounds, and it’s very pretty with its large brown spots. The larger fish are mean old cannibals, their size the result of their taste in trouty friends and neighbours. The trout of Lough Corrib are notoriously hard to catch, and almost as hard to land. Fly-rods are light and delicate, the better to fool the fish, so landing a powerful trout isn’t easy. There are hundreds of fly patterns which anglers tie in their attempts to trick the fish, all in colours of the surrounding landscape – olives, purples, greys, ochres. The entire ecosystem is the result of hatching flies, without whom the whole shooting match (fishing match?) would not exist. You’re either pretending to be a wet fly (a nymph) or a dry fly (a hatchling). A drop of oil keeps the dry fly on the surface.
The ghillie casts. Marcel casts. I read Moneyland. I sketch. Marcel’s line gets terribly tangled, the result of the S-shape formation of the line in dry-casting. He can’t see close-up well enough to untangle so I help. I fall asleep. I fall backwards and am jolted awake. I try sitting on the floor of the boat and forget to take off my glasses, so wake up with a sore face smushed into the frame of my specs. I take them off and go back to sleep. Casting and untangling, falling asleep and reading, are the themes of the day. Catching fish is not. The brutes are not cooperating and tales of wild brown trout and others’ successes do not help. Geese fly past, honking in alarm. Swans float past, serene. Seagulls swoop to catch the newly-hatched flies. We follow the seagulls – where they are, fish are underneath. I think that seagulls catching hatchlings the second they’re born is a bit baby-turtly and remark to Marcel that no one cares about them. “They’re flies,” he says. The sun comes out. We have a packed lunch on a deserted island of about 30 acres. We sit on the little quay – someone has built a tiny timber getaway house there – and I look into the clear brown water and imagine swimming on a still summer’s evening. In my mind’s eye I see the wild flowers that will be everywhere in a few weeks’ time. Make no mistake, the West of Ireland on a beautiful day is as close to paradise as you will find. We hop back in the boat and there is more casting, untangling, removing hooks from clothes, hats, hair, hoods. I am safe in my special Sketch With Roisin baseball cap. The hours wear on. Casting. Untangling. Snipping off one of the three flies on Marcel’s line to make tangling less likely. More untangling. I start to think of a soft car seat far from a wooden boat. The sun gets stronger. By the time we return to shore at around 6pm the evening is glorious, very different from the scene in my sketch. Marcel is sad. He says he might give up fishing. He takes comfort from the fact that Tom has tried everything and has still caught nothing. I tell him it’s ok to give up and try something else. But we are very happy and all of the young partygoers have survived – just about, I see a ladder at a funny angle in the garden when I get back – and it’s been a nice two days.