THE wildly beautiful county of Leitrim has been a destination in recent years for people wanting to escape to a rural life of peace and serenity. This includes many artistic and crafts people who appreciate the joys that the county has to offer.
At the heart of this cultural and artistic life is The Dock Arts Centre, housed in the beautifully restored Courthouse in Carrick-on-Shannon. This is a welcoming and inspirational place for everyone, including running workshops, music and painting classes, for all ages. In addition, its Black Box Theatre hosts comedy evenings, music and theatrical events, magical children's shows and poetry readings. It also has three galleries with a busy exhibition schedule, showing the best in Irish and international art.
Located on the ground floor of The Dock is the Leitrim Design House, a retail and exhibition space, which represents over 250 makers and artists working in a wide range of disciplines and the very best of contemporary craft. Here you will find amazing works all across the artistic spectrum from metal to glass, textiles to ceramics, accessories to photography, wood and books.
Geraldine Gray, manager of the Leitrim Design House, told me, "It's a very active place – we have lots of workshops and courses. We started under the umbrella of the Enterprise Board, which did research into the craft and arts sector in Leitrim and found there was a real nucleus.
"An organisation was started called Visual Leitrim and we brought members to shows. This got stronger and stronger and we opened up the retail shop in 2000 in The Dock."
In 2013 the Leitrim Design House worked in partnership with Leitrim Sculpture Centre and Leitrim Development Company on a creative training programme entitled Leitrim Livecraft. This was highly successful, with 40 people coming through from the training programme with a business plan.
"The programme engaged with 75 artists and crafts people living in Co Leitrim, and this year some of those participants are taking part in a retail programme with retail and marketing consultant Eddie Shanahan. This programme will conclude with a summer exhibition at the Leitrim Design House."
A craft mini-series, Essence of Craft, is now running. Each month features a different craft discipline, and in March the focus will be on textiles.
On Saturday, March 8, local milliner Wendy Louise will be taking a millinery workshop from 10am-1pm which coincides with events in The Dock for International Women's Day. "We run regular events, such as ladies' nights, 'meet the maker' events, multi-cultural community events, exhibitions and so on."
The creativity and ideas of people are quite amazing.
Jo Gray is a self-taught photographer with a portfolio that spans over 20 years. The Jo Gray collection is a selection of limited edition signed Giclee prints on high quality archival art paper. They are hand-printed black and white photographs made using traditional methods, all finished to exhibition standard with antique white mount board and natural wood frames.
His work covers the island of Ireland, concentrating on the North-west where he lives and also on the Atlantic and Antrim. He likes to seek out hidden undiscovered places.
"After 20 years exploring this territory, I still look at it with a fresh eye and respond with the same awe that inspired me at the start," says Jo.
He has both a landscape and heritage collection including the Hearts Desire collection, WB Yeats collection, Monastic Settlements, the story of the origin of the Shannon Pot, and Inishmurray.
Majella McAuley is based in the Food Hub facility in Drumshanbo with her business The Soap Box.
"We are a complete natural handmade soap business," says Majella. "It's a cold process soap – it takes a month to mature."
The wonderfully textured cake-like tranch of Aniseed soap, topped with star anise, looked good enough to eat. The range also includes Flower Power, Goat's Milk Shea Butter and Honey, Lazy Lavender, Jasmine Spice, Manuka Honey and Oatmeal. The best seller is the dual- coloured Seaweed, involving two types of seaweed.
"We make them with high quality essential oils and all of the soaps have their own natural exfoliants," Majella says.
Majella started her soap business in 2011.
"I have always been interested in natural skin care because natural products really are the way forward – and these soaps are full of glycerin. There is also a shaving soap for men – Irish Stout and Seaweed – and we recommend our Goat's Milk Shea Butter and Honey for children with eczema or anyone with a skin condition."
Roy Humphreys, based in Mohill, is the fourth generation of his family to work with wood.
He is a self-taught wood turner: what started out as a hobby has developed into a business, and he has now been doing this for 20 years.
"I use timber which has fallen around the farm, mostly ash," says Roy, though he uses all native timber in his work: yew, beech and oak as well as ash.
He makes wonderful bowls with incredible detail that really caught my eye, and Roy also makes lamps, tea lights, nests of tables and plant stands.
Also exhibiting at the Leitrim Design House is Dublin-based artist Paula Fitzpatrick, with her range of fine art miniatures – fine art on a badge.
Paula is a multi-talented woman who studied fashion at the Grafton Academy. Moving to London, Paula worked for Hardy Amies, who was once the royal couturier.
While in London she also studied jewellery making and silk screen printing, and on her return to Dublin opened a successful dress designing business from a salon at Upper Leeson Street.
In 2006 she studied visual arts practice at Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art Design & Technology, graduating in 2010. She works with stone, bronze, wood, steel, ceramics and fine art print.
Look out too for lovely ceramics and glassware by Alan McCluney of Leitrim Pottery & Glass.
He works from a small studio overlooking the Rossinver Mountains in Co Leitrim, creating uniquely thin, functional and decorative stoneware pottery that is dishwasher safe. So, although it looks very fragile it is intended for careful everyday use. Practical as well as beautiful.
Go and feast your eyes and your soul at the Leitrim Design House.
Today in LIFE magazine I review Shutters Restaurant in Blackrock, Co Dublin. However, since my visit and going to press, the owners of Shutters, Martin and Dolores Cotter, have changed the direction of the restaurant, its focus, its food and its entire team. So, I am afraid that the food that I have written about is no longer available.
The menu has completely changed, so the only relevant comments in my review now are those about the decor.
The new kitchen crew, headed up by Denis Matthews, was previously at the Dalkey Dispensary.
If you live in the Midlands and fancy perking up your cooking skills, then you might be interested in cookery demonstrations by Yvonne Carty, who has a bespoke catering company, Hey Pesto. She is also an avid tweeter and a Failte Ireland Food Ambassador.
Her Taste of the World and Easy Entertaining courses, based in Tullamore, Co Offaly, take place on Tuesday nights from February 25. The cost is €30 per night, which includes tasting and recipes.
Now that spring has sprung and you are perhaps inspired by the Winter Olympics, you might fancy an activity package put together by the business folks in Strandhill, Co Sligo. This package is aimed at couples but can be tailored for groups.
You drop off your bags at the Strandhill Lodge and Suites at 10.30am and head off for a surf lesson.
At 1pm it's brunch at Shells cafe and at 2pm you wallow in a seaweed bath for two at Voya Seaweed Baths. At 3.30pm you are treated to an icecream or a smoothie in Mammy Johnston's Ice Cream parlour before heading off for a guided walk with maritime archaeologist, Auriel Robinson from Seatrails, to the top of Knocknarea Mountain.
At 6.45pm I think you will be ready for your early bird meal at Tra Ban restaurant overlooking the bay. After that its music and craic at The Strand bar.
You should sleep well after that lot!
Bookings: email Anthony at firstname.lastname@example.org