Artist's dream home in Howth with 39 windows, a new Victorian-style kitchen and an Aga
Artist Sarah Gallagher grew up in Howth, a village she loved. After marriage, she moved first to Glasnevin, then Sutton, before getting her wish to move back. Howth had changed but, she says, it’s still wonderful
As the Dart makes its way from southside to northside, few can fail to enjoy the lovely, if intermittent, sea views. However, as it trundles into Howth Station, the commuters are usually too immersed in gathering their belongings and getting off the train to notice the nature of the environment around the station - lots of steel and railings; an industrial quality.
Sarah Gallagher is something of an exception. These are the things she notices, and, indeed, photographs, and later she turns these scenes into dramatic paintings in oil on linen, some of which hang in her lovely home in Howth - though they rarely hang for long. Her works are in demand, despite the fact that she only recently went back to painting, having studied in her 20s at the National College of Art and Design (NCAD).
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The fact that she got one of the much-sought-after places at NCAD was a source of great pride to her late father, who was himself very artistic in his day. "My dad was accepted into NCAD when he left school, but his mother wanted him to do accountancy. He worked as an accountant in the pharmaceutical business all his life, but he always did art on the side," she says. "He used to do night classes at NCAD. Art was his way of switching off. He used to do pottery and sculpture. He did it almost to the end of his life - he exhibited a year before he died."
Sarah, who has lived practically all her life in Howth, painted even as a teenager - she recalls getting in late at night from the local nightclub and going to work on her paintings. "I don't know how my parents put up with us. My brother Darragh [McDonagh] is a photographer, and he used to turn the bathroom into a darkroom - they were great parents," she says fondly, adding that her mother, who was from the North, was very glamorous - like Sarah herself - and involved in local musicals.
Sarah did get to do her four-year degree in NCAD, but she didn't pursue a career in art until much later. "I did textile design. At that time, fabrics were my passion," she says.
After her degree course, she opted to study marketing and business. Then she headed for Australia for a year. "During the time I was there, I met a girl who told me she was a buyer," Sarah says. "I thought, 'I wouldn't mind doing that', and when I came home, I applied to Dunnes Stores. I actually got a job with them in display, then I got into homewares. But I only stayed a few years. I decided I wanted to get back to painting."
She did some painting courses with Nick Miller, and concentrated on her own art for a while, but marriage and babies stymied that plan somewhat.
For a girl who loves her home village of Howth as much as Sarah does, it's not surprising that she met a local lad, Conor Gallagher. "I would have known him forever. Dad would have picked him up at the bus stop, that kind of thing," the bubbly brunette explains. "We got together when I was 24. A crowd of my girlfriends from NCAD and I went one night to The Summit in Howth, and Conor was there, and we met up. Then, when I went to Australia for a year, he came down, and we travelled around."
Conor's father was a builder, so he was around houses all his young life; becoming an auctioneer was a logical step. He worked with Douglas Newman Good for many years, then, in 2014, he and his brother and a friend went out on their own, and their estate agency, Gallagher Quigley, is thriving.
Sarah and Conor now have three children - Mia (17), Louis (15) and Grace (10). During the early years, when the children were really young, Sarah was taken up with looking after them, but she was determined to go back to her art.
"Even when they were very small, I was always doing something creative - gardening, interiors, the house," Sarah says. "Then I did some painting courses in Enniskerry five years ago, and I was back in action."
She has a studio in her house, and she goes in around 9.15am every day and stays at her work until early afternoon. "I'm a routine person. I go in, put on my music and I get lost in the painting, so I set the alarm for around 2.15pm to remind me to collect my daughter Grace," she says.
Sarah is in love with Howth - she raves about how kind all the villagers were to her dad when he was in the late stages of Alzheimer's - and always has been, so it's no surprise that she finds much of her inspiration in her surroundings. "If I'm feeling inspired, I wake up feeling excited and dying to get to work. I love it," she enthuses.
She has painted many scenes of the harbour, but she notes that her interpretation is not too pretty-pretty - she likes her work to have an edge. "I like a little bit of grot," she says. She feels she has exhausted the harbour for the moment, and is very excited about the trees and woods near her home. She and Conor and the kids travel a lot - they do house swaps, and she often finds inspiration in the places they travel to. She takes masses of photos and uses them as a basis for her paintings when she gets home. She used to work to commission, but found that inhibiting, and instead sells her work through local galleries and exhibitions.
Sarah likes to work on a very large scale. She's also very particular about the kinds of paints she uses, and a linen canvas is a must.
When she feels a painting is nearly ready, she likes to spend time with it, getting to know everything about it. "When I feel I'm getting to the end of a painting, I bring it into the breakfast room. Sitting with the painting like that, I get to see what more it needs," she says.
Sarah is extremely lucky that she has a studio in the house, which means that Grace can have playdates over to the house, and her mum can continue working. "Having the studio in the house means I'm as near as if I were in the kitchen. Grace can pop into me any time," she explains.
Given the business Conor is in, it was probably inevitable that the couple would move around, and they lived in Glasnevin and Sutton, before moving back to Howth 14 years ago, which Sarah was always determined to do. "It was a sleepy village when I was growing up; it's busier now, but I still love it," she says.
The house they bought is only a stone's throw from Sarah's family home. Dating from 1890, it's detached, and on its own grounds. "The Earl of Howth is said to have lived here at one stage," says Sarah.
"When I was growing up, my best friend lived here, and I always loved the house. So it was great to buy it. It needed work, but we didn't realise how much until we moved in. For example, it had a beautiful conservatory, but the roof was leaking and needed to be replaced."
In the end, they turned the conservatory into a more concrete extension of the house, and have a lovely light-filled living space there, though they still call it the conservatory.
Several of the jobs were huge - the house has 39 windows, and most were in bad condition. But they wanted to preserve as much as possible, so they refurbished the windows, rather than replace them.
They put in new floors, and new panelling and coving throughout the downstairs. They kept what they could, including period items such as the original bath in the bathroom. They put in a new Victorian-style kitchen - made by Mark McDonagh, whose work Sarah is very enthusiastic about - but kept the original Aga. "I love cooking on the Aga," Sarah enthuses.
Sarah recently repainted the whole house, which comprises four bedrooms and four reception rooms, and she gave the whole place a new lease of life with gorgeous colour schemes, cushions, lighting and accessories.
Her walls are hung with lots of artworks - not always her own. She has three Gerard Byrne paintings. "I bought them because I felt so inspired by his work," she says generously.
There is another reason why her own works don't dominate - she's short of her own paintings. "All my good work is in other people's houses," she laughs.
And that's no bad thing for a working artist.
See sarahgallagherart.com See gallagherquigley.ie
Edited by Mary O'Sullivan
Photography by Tony Gavin
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