Monday 22 January 2018

Hound's great leap leads from the Wirral to Achill

A chance encounter led to a change of scenery for artist Deborah Joyce, writes Lucinda O'Sullivan

WHEN you take your dog for a walk, you don't think that it will lead to a total career change, let alone moving to another country.

Such was the case for artist and gallery owner, Deborah Joyce, when she took her "big hound" for a stroll on the promenade at New Brighton, on the Wirral peninsula, in the north-west of England.

Deborah laughs as she recalls, in her soft Liverpudlian accent: "I had two corgis and a big hound. It was a dreadful day and I was all muffled up from head to toe in wet gear. I decided to take the hound out for some air."

Once hitting the promenade, the hound, however, made a beeline for Achill native Patrick O'Malley, jumping up on the civil engineer, who was doing marine defence work on the pier at the time. "He was a big dog and most people would have been afraid of him, but not Patrick, and the dog was in his face."

This chance encounter resulted in Deborah and Patrick falling in love, marrying, and eventually settling on Achill Island.

It must have been fate too that brought Deborah back to the land of her forefathers. She is second generation Irish, with her grandparents having emigrated from Ireland to settle in Liverpool.

"The Joyces were from Connemara and the Grays were from Dublin. My meeting with Patrick was quite romantic really. I met him a couple of times more accidentally and then one evening I was en route to a do in the yacht club and I met him in a bar. My friend kept on saying 'we must go now' but I said 'no, I am going to stay'. I thought he was a poet because he can recite poetry, verses and verses, with great passion, so that fired me up really."

Divorced with two children, now 23 and 19, Deborah had been doing psychology in university but was always interested in art. "I started to paint again, and Patrick said, 'you must do a degree' -- and I did -- in fine art."

That was 13 years ago. Now settled in Achill with two more children, aged 12 and five, Deborah opened her eclectic Hill Top Gallery at Pollagh, three years ago, in the midst of the recession.

"It has been great. I had nothing to go on. I have sold plenty of paintings, which is good for me. Crafts sell but as far as income is concerned, it is landscapes and seascapes. My last exhibition was in November in London in a group show in the Brick Lane Gallery. It was a multicultural group and great to be included in it. I like creative art, to do what comes to mind."

Deborah also has paintings by her daughter Tanith Billingham, as well work by Jacqui Davies, and amazing bogwood sculptures by Liam Kelly, created solely from bogwood found on Achill Island. James Bond himself, Daniel Craig, has a piece of Liam's work.

It would be hard not to be inspired by the awesome magic that is Achill Island in all its wild beauty, but Deborah's paintings jump out at you from the walls with their vibrant verve, colour and drama, that also reflect her friendly personality. Among the works is an amazing painting of Keem Bay with Atlantic breakers crashing down, and one of Purteen Harbour which would evoke happy memories for the rest of one's life. A painting of a white stallion galloping through the crisp white waves, as well as a quirky painting by Jacqui Davies of a baby calf staring at the moon, also catch the eye. There is something here for everyone and every pocket as she also sells prints. "A print of that horse went to Saudi Arabia last summer, they go really well," Deborah says.

Apart from her own range of postcards, and artistic gifts, candles and soaps, the Hill Top Gallery has a range of vintage clothing including a number of pieces by Ralph Lauren. As well as exhibiting individually, Deborah and Liam Kelly are the co-founders of the recently launched Academy of Achill Art which now has 13 members.

Hill Top Gallery, Pollagh, Achill. Ph (098) 43003

Whilst on the subject of creative arts, I met Stephen Nolan of Mountcharles Pottery in Donegal who has been involved in the pottery business for just over a year.

"I used to be involved in pottery up to about 10 years ago. I was then working for a Korean company in Sligo, who manufactured video games, which unfortunately closed down. So it was a case of needs must with the new pottery, I have the skills, and they never went away. I do the throwing and my wife, Shaza O'Hara, does the decorating."

I have to say I see a lot of pottery on my travels around the country but I was particularly taken with Stephen and Shaza's work.

It is really different with wonderful blues and greens, classy and romantic, yet practical. Shaza is extremely creative and also takes wonderful photographs, as well as making beautiful scarves and bags.

I loved a picture of their young son Rohan clutching a hen, Edwina, in a blue bowl. "Mugs and bowls always go well, I try to make functional ware, so not only will you be using it but it will look good," says Stephen.

So, if you want some really nice pottery, that will look good and evoke happy thoughts, take the road to Sliabh Liag, west of Donegal town, and visit Mountcharles Pottery, and Edwina, the hen, who is still going strong!

Mountcharles Pottery, Co Donegal. Ph (074) 973 5016

Sunday Independent

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