White-Tailed Eagle and Perch by Poppy Melia
Just when everything was falling apart economically a good-news story was about to begin. A plane touched down at Kerry Airport. The eagles had landed. This was in 2007 and white-tailed eagles had been flown in from Norway to be released into Killarney National Park where the Eagle's Nest, a dramatic peak, is a reminder that this was once home to these mighty birds. It is again.
Extinct in Ireland since the 1900s, when landowners had killed them off, these new eagles were greeted by a 100-strong protest of sheep farmers. Despite opposition, more Norwegian eagles are now released every year. Some have been poisoned, one was shot but, earlier this year, eagle chicks were born in County Clare.
For artist Poppy Melia this particular white-tailed eagle is her neighbour. Melia has observed it frequently, closely, and she also does meticulous, scientific research: this bird of prey with its eight-foot wingspan is more than brilliantly accurate, it captures the bird's power and majesty, its habitat. And so in demand is she that for the past 10 years she's worked by commission and hasn't exhibited.
Melia, born in 1966, graduated from NCAD and spent a year in the Polynesian Islands. Since then she's been to many other faraway places – Nepal, New Zealand, China – but the wonderful world on her doorstep in County Kerry is her inspiration. Melia canoed on Caragh Lake and photographed the water lilies.
"I brought one flower and one lily pad home to take really close up shots. I always start with a rough sketch composing all the elements which is not always possible to get into one frame of a photograph – I love that about a painting. I wouldn't like to put anything in that wouldn't be there, like a flower from the wrong season. It has to be truthful."
Against a pale moon in a pale cream sky above the MacGillycuddy Reeks and rippling lake water, busy with perch, this eagle is poised, balanced, dominant. Its feathers, wingtips, white tail, gold beak and claws are rendered precisely. The original is dazzling, huge and this eagle is happy: it's got a fish in its fingers.