Friday 23 February 2018

What Lies Beneath: Woodfield by Fiona Soden

Woodfield by Fiona Soden, Oil on canvas Courtesy, The AK Collection

Woodfield by Fiona Soden
Woodfield by Fiona Soden

Niall MacMonagle

When they married, he was 60, she was 23, and in this house, on 90 acres, four miles west of Clonakilty, their eight children were born, epidurals not an option. Aged 81, the father, on his deathbed, singled out his youngest child, Michael, then a six-and-a-half-year old boy, as someone who would do great things for Ireland.

This Tuesday, 95 years ago, that same boy, then all of 31, was shot dead at Beal na Blath and the rest really is history: Michael Collins had signed the Treaty, a Civil War had followed, a cross marks where Collins fell and today his portrait hangs in Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's office. The great debate about the great Collins continues.

Cork-born artist Fiona Soden's grandfather fought on Collins's side in the War of Independence and visiting Woodfield during the 1916 centenary celebrations, she was struck by "the significance of a simple rural dwelling place in the history of our country". Though Mrs Collins had built and moved to a much bigger, finer house in 1899, just yards from the birthplace, that house was burnt down by the Essex Regiment in April 1921. Only the ruins of that home remains but the birthplace still stands.

For Soden, there's "a sense of peace and understated beauty" at Woodfield and "yet there is a sadness on viewing the burnt ruins". But her painting is alive with colour. Tall trees, the baby blue sky, the montbretia on both sides of the diagonal path. "Broad brushstroke and palette knife for texture" are her signature. When Soden visited Woodfield, it was summer. She took photographs, sketched on site and later, back in her studio, and using artistic licence, she added yellow blossoms in abundance.

"The emotive art of Van Gogh and Cezanne" inspire Soden, who has been drawing and painting since childhood. She watched her grandmother paint. She joined Neil Kelleher's art class aged 10 and still paints in Kelleher's Tuesday night group, landscapes and botanical still lifes her speciality (

And her career in environmental engineering hasn't hindered her art - place always matters.

As here in Woodfield: a small house for a big fellow.

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