Saturday 24 March 2018

What lies beneath: Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve by Jane Hilliard, acrylic on canvas, courtesy of the artist

Christmas Eve by Jane Hilliard
Christmas Eve by Jane Hilliard

Niall MacMonagle

Mary Robinson will always be remembered for that simple, symbolic gesture of putting a light in the upstairs window of the Aras in December 1990.

Its light, an energy-saving bulb, we presume, said to the Irish diaspora: we remember and welcome you. The tradition of a light in the window, that President Robinson honoured, is an old Irish one.

On Christmas Eve, especially, a lighted candle was placed in a window to welcome the Christ child and it was lit by the youngest person in the house.

We want our Christmases to be perfect. At this time of year we dream our way back to childhood and Jane Hilliard, in her painting Christmas Eve brings us back to an idyllic, rural scene at Christmas time.

Though painted from her imagination "it's sort of the distant view I see from my home in Kerry. The foreground is loosely based on the landscape I see around me and we do have a black cat!"

This painting is of "nowhere and everywhere". Every year Hilliard makes a painting for the Kerry hospice Christmas card and "this one was done with them in mind".

Hilliard, aged ten, moved from England to Castlegregory - "a real adventure". The candle light in the window at Christmas time and the Wren were new to her. She left school at 13 to care for her mother who died two years later. Her father also died young. Married at 17, her husband Mike would remember fondly those Christmas candles; today her grandson plays accordion and joins the "Wran".

Self-taught, Hilliard's paintings and prints are now on show in her very own studio and gallery in Tralee.

Though the thatched cottage to the left is iced over and though the snow covers roads, fields and those mountains sweeping down to the sea, the overall effect is cosy and warm.

The church and every house are aglow and the moon, peeping through fluffy clouds, silvers the entire scene.

Here, there are no storms, no floods. All is as it should be at Christmas: all is calm, all is bright, all is beautiful.

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