Wednesday 25th June
I am a believer in “drawing in the cracks” and so I sketch the view from the post office in my village, while I wait for the kids (my girl Liv and her classmate and friend Mattie, who I bring home twice a week) to arrive off the school bus. I can’t find a pen that works with brown or black ink in it, only green. But I like it. The village is a different matter – there is nothing whatsoever attractive about Kilcolgan. It as if no taste or planning has gone into any of the buildings, and the noise of traffic is deafening and annoying. Once you turn off the road towards my house, though, you are in what can only be described as paradise. The noise of traffic fades immediately, you are flanked by green hedges and wild flowers and all you can hear are birds and the buzzing of insects. It’s a funny thing, this juxtaposition of bland truckstop and natural paradise.
Thursday 26th May
I find myself in Kilruddery House on Southern Cross Road in Bray, Co. Wicklow. This is one of those old country estates (18th century maybe?) that I imagine were something to do with the English presence in Ireland. I know the “mistress” of the place, Fionnuala, or did, many moons ago: I was friends with her older sister Bella when the family lived in deepest Clare. There are about a thousand beautiful girls in the family and slightly fewer beautiful boys (okay, there are nine kids in the family) and the parents came from England to live in idyllic self-sufficiency, first in Donegal and then in Clare. They were a hugely hospitable family and there was always a welcome around their table for anyone who happened to be hungry. I come from a family of eight children, and one of my parents isn’t Irish, and my parents built their house in idyllic countryside; like Bella’s family, there were always freely-expressed emotions in my family growing up, and between that and all the other things we had in common it was no surprise that I always felt really at home with the family. Bella’s house was built right on the coast, and I remember skinny-dipping in the turquoise water with some of the many sisters; my parents built their house on a mountainside, next to the highest waterfall in Britain or Ireland, and if truth be told once I nearly skinny-dipped at the foot of the waterfall, at midnight, with my older sister, one of our cousins and a friend of my sister’s, but I was a teenager and much too shy, cloak of darkness notwithstanding.
So here I am in the new pad of one of those beautiful sisters, doing a recce for a workshop I will be leading in a few days’ time. I am not going to be teaching in the Walled Garden, but I can’t resist sketching what I see there: along one side of the path, between vegetable strips and a picnic area, is a row of little orchards, each surrounded by that natural fencing you see in gardens where the gardeners know what they’re about. Each orchard is full of apple trees in full leaf under which peck chickens. The first has white chickens, the second brown and the third black speckled, each with about ten hens and one fine rooster. The latter are simply magnificent. In the white-chicken arena, the cockerel has creamy white feathers and is resplendent in glossy black tail feathers. His bright red cockscomb and wattle sets it all off nicely. He’s either really friendly or really curious, and hangs around long enough on the other side of the fence for me to sketch and paint him – as does one of his lady friends. I love their fluffy bottoms and neat stubby black tail feathers. I think I could paint chickens from life every day.
But I must get on with my job, and I reluctantly leave the chickens to make my way to the formal gardens, where I will be teaching a workshop to 100 people. I have never taught that many before, so I have to plan it like a military operation. Each group of 50 will only have an hour and a quarter, so there will be no room for time-wasting. This means, for example, that when I bought the paint sets for them I had to make sure they would not be individually wrapped, which would take ages to unwrap – the little things borne of experience.
I find many statues in the formal gardens which are exactly what I want to use as subjects, as they are simple, contained and are the perfect way to explain how to depict light and shadow. I get sketching and work out what I will do on the day.
The formal gardens are, well, formal; the rich green grass lawns are clipped short and two long strips of pond break the grassy stretch. There are many statues and on this sunny afternoon I am spoiled for choice. The manor house itself is opposite the formal gardens and is finished off by an orangerie. I want an orangerie! This one has walls of glass like a greenhouse, a marble floor, orange trees – lots of them – and white busts line the walls, so we can go and sketch them if it rains. The formality and splendour is a far cry from the handmade, homespun, wholesome vibe of Fionnuala’s family home growing up. Knowing her, I am sure she is an excellent caretaker and will have the next generation at the top of her mind.
My mother joins me when my job is done. We walk back along sunlit paths to the car park and towards the entrance, past fields of ginger-haired, bristly pigs who aren’t remotely friendly or interested in us and only want to eat grass. In another field, their children, perhaps six or seven months old, are far less obsessed with eating and run towards us. I want a pig!
Monday 30th May
My youngest, Liv, has three exams today. Nothing too serious, and however she gets on it won’t affect the rest of her school life, but nonetheless she’s a bundle of nerves. She comes into me and her dad on Monday morning before school, bursting with excitement.
“Naima’s tested positive for covid!” she says. “She’s asymptomatic but she can’t come in and do her exams, so is getting 100% of her average to date! I was at her house for a sleepover on Friday, so I might have it too! I have to take a test!”
Naima is her best friend: I have never seen Liv this animated in the morning. She checks her phone. “Naima says if I test positive, I can go to her house and we can have a day of cross-stitch and smoothies! Aaaagh – it’s like a mock execution!”
We drive to the shops and she buys a test. She has to do it in the car: I will drive towards the school, so that she won’t be late for her exam if she tests negative, and so that we can turn around if it’s positive.
“Where can we rub the swab that’s really covid-y?” she asks. “A door handle?”
As she waits for the result, she turns to prayer. “God, please do me this favour! I know I haven’t been the best believer lately,” she says, “but I have done good deeds, I’m sure of it! I just can’t think of any right now!”
Then she asks me if I have a pink pen. I say I do, but not with me. She’s wondering if perhaps the “positive” line can be added…manually, so to speak. We arrive near the school. Negative. As she gets out of the car, she turns to me.
“Mum, it says it can take as long as 30 minutes for the test to show positive,” she says. “Keep an eye on it, will you? And I won’t look too closely…”
Wednesday 1st June
I’m down early. I open the dining room window and see a spider in its invisible web, upside down, as is the wont of spiders. It is small, light brown, with long, skinny legs, and it is tending to a creature which it has wrapped up in silk. I look closely and see that it’s not a fly but another spider. It’s chunkier than the free spider, making me suspect it is a different species and a murder victim. I make a little video to freak out Liv, my youngest, who has arachnaphobia. I show the spider to my son Paddy, who is 20, when he comes down.
“It’s horrible Paddy,” I say, “you do realise that spider would have had to break the legs of the other fella to get him into the web?”
“They remind me of those fellas in a building site,” he says, “you know the way there’s always a pair of messers, and one is always falling into the concrete…”
“The foreman is going to be really annoyed when he finds out,” I say, “he’s going to be all, “It’s you two eejits at it again – now look what you’re after doing! That’s it, no fag break for you!” “
We come back a while later, and the murderous spider appears to be sucking the juice out of the wrapped-up one.
“No point letting his friend go to waste,” we agree. But Paddy says it’s a terrible way to treat your friend.
Friday 3rd June
One of my students has made a great sketch while she is at the hairdressers. I have an appointment the next day, and my student’s sketch reminds me to do the same during my visit. I am not tended by two hairdressers, but I draw her twice as she moves.I go in with hair well past my shoulders and come out with a bob: next day, my pencil case of sketching stuff is full of chopped-off hair.
“It IS very short,” I say to my husband, “but I think it’s nice.” “Yes,” he says, which gentle agreement takes me by surprise, given his track record of fury at any shortening of (my own) hair, then adds, “and it’ll grow back.”
Saturday 4th June
In the morning, we make our way across the country to visit my parents’ place for a family lunch on the East Coast. My older sister will be there, having flown in from Jamaica, as will my niece from Madrid. It’s a lovely day and I sketch from the passenger seat. I make an Instagram ReeI of it which is fun. Later, I include a little “swatch” of fabric to represent my husband’s shirt, as it’s very nice, and will always remind me of the day’s occasion. Plus, the dashboard is a bit empty there.
Later, my husband and I hang out in Dublin City together, while Paddy and all the rest of my family go to watch a hurling match. We’ll pick Paddy up later and drive back to Galway. It’s amazing to walk the same streets of Dublin where I sketched all alone for an entire year, this tie in company. I reflect on what a vast undertaking it was, and I am happy that it appears to have touched so many people. I receive an email from one of those people. Here is what she writes:
“Dear Roisin Cure,
My name is Natalia. I am from Ukraine, Kyiv region. I came to Ireland because of the war that is now in my homeland. My daughter and I were warmly received in this country. I am very very grateful to the people who help us. Currently, my psychological state cures a lot of walking, sometimes running. So after English courses, (I’m very bad at it) I wander the streets of Dublin, visiting interesting places. Although it’s only been a month in Dublin, I already have my favorite places to go to more often … After visiting the Marsh’s Library, I bought the book Dublin in Sketches and Stories, (my hands reached for it like a magnet). At first I was fascinated by drawings. They are so alive. It was as if I felt the wind, heard the voice of seagulls, smelled freshly baked buns .. And then through Google translator (thanks for this invention! ) I read the book and I liked it even more. Your light sketches about the city, how you feel about it, sincere dialogues with relatives … got acquainted with the work of Patrick Kavanagh … I visited almost all the places in the pictures, some cafes.
Thank you for your work.
In Ukraine, I learned about Dubliners from a book by James Joyce, and in Dublin – from your book.
It’s nice that I can write to the author of the book and share my impressions of what I read.
Good luck and inspiration to you!!!
P.S. I really want to buy your book about Galway. Where can I buy it?
As I read, tears prick my eyes and my throat tightens. I can’t add anything to this, except to say – I always hoped someone would one day compare my book to something by James Joyce. Now they have. The person who has done so may not be Irish but that doesn’t change the fact that my book has now been spoken of in the same sentence as that esteemed genteman. Needless to say, soon a copy of my Galway book is winging its way to Dublin to her.
I guess this is truly an example of a picture saying a thousand words.