The West's coastlines and landscapes have sucked artists in from all over the globe, among them the well known Dutch painter Willem van Goor. He and his wife Doutsje and their daughter Hesseltje came to Ireland on a camping holiday in 1994 and ended up staying. After that first trip, they decided that if they saw a house with a garden by the sea at the right price, they'd emigrate. They started their second Irish holiday in Rosslare and worked their way around the coast. On the last week, they came across Bleanaskill Lodge on Achill Island and that was it.
The overwhelming variety of wildlife here with the mountainous landscape and the Atlantic on the doorstep has inspired Willem's botanical paintings ever since.
The couple upgraded the house and invested in protecting the property from the sea. But it was the gardens where they put in the most work. The three acres of woodland are a joy to meander through. It's so rare to have a garden that produces so much on an island in the Atlantic that Willem and Doutsje open it up to visitors. "It is a blessing to be able to share the beauty of the place with so many visitors," says Doutsje.
The house was built as a hunting and fishing lodge in 1840. It is already set up to be run as a B&B because Willem and Doutsje have always opened their doors to guests. There are three bedrooms and four bathrooms in the main house, as well as a kitchen, pantry, dining room, drawing room and snug. There is a separate chalet that is rented out in summer months to holiday-makers. This has three bedrooms, a living room, kitchen, lounge and bathroom. Today it's all on the market with an asking price of €390,000 through Achill Island Property (087 278 3836).
The island with all its foibles, has become part of Willem and Doutsje's make-up, so although they could live without the storms, electricity cuts and bumpy roads, but they couldn't bare to leave the community they have become such a big part of. "We hope to find a smaller house with a smaller garden on beautiful Achill Island," says Doutsje. "We want to retire and just downsize the responsibility according to our age and ability. Hopefully somebody will fall in love with Bleanaskill Lodge and the gardens as we once did."
Jimmy Lawlor and his daughter Hetty are also big names on the art scene in the west and beyond. Jimmy has been exhibiting for over 15 years and long time art critic Hugh Leonard said of his work: "Imagine a Salvador Dali who has regained at least half of his sanity and moved to the west of Ireland, and you begin to enjoy art that is not only accessible, but as warm and fantastic as a good dream."
Daughter Hetty hit the headlines last year when she became a finalist in the Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year aged just 17. In the final, she was commissioned to paint Spice Girl, Geri Horner. Audiences and judges were enthralled by her canny ability to craft light and to magic vibrant life into canvases. The final sitter for the competition was singer Emili Sandé and Hetty's portrait was the most popular with the audience, but the judges controversially went with another artist. Hetty said: "I was genuinely shocked when they announced I was through to the semi-final, but I'm over the moon. It was great to meet and paint David Tennant and Portrait Artist of the Year is a great platform to showcase my work."
She has always said her work has been greatly influenced by her father. Jimmy's paintings present familiar rural scenes but with a humorous twist. Living in Kilmeena outside Westport, Jimmy says: "I definitely feel influenced by the landscape. You work with what you know. I take everything from the landscape to the people and have good fun working on my paintings. The scenery is incredible around here and we're only a five-minute walk from the greenway, so never far from inspiration."
Jimmy and his wife Phyl also own a gallery in Westport, which is 5km from their home that they've just put up on the market. Hawthorn Cottage was built in 2000 and is a four-bed house with a traditional feel and a floor area of 2,237 sq ft. There is a living room that connects to the kitchen and dining room, and a family room that opens out to the back patio. There are two bedrooms and a bathroom downstairs, and upstairs is a galleried landing that overlooks the family room, with two more bedrooms and a shower room. It's for sale for €369,000 through agents Sherry FitzGerald Crowley (098 29009).
"Our two girls were constantly drawing around the house from a young age," recalls Jimmy. "We gave them free reign and didn't mind if they drew on the walls! We always kept them white because we knew it's what they wanted." Hetty adds: "This house means a lot to me because it is the place where I grew up. It is the place where I learned all of my art skills and techniques, good or bad. It let me go from drawing on the white walls to making art a career. The parts I'll miss most about the house are all of the memories I have in it."
Meantime big sister Anna is in her fourth year of animation in Dun Laoghaire IADT and Hetty is set to join her to study art from September.
The house comes with a studio where Jimmy and Hetty have worked together. "We might work side-by-side but she does her own thing," laughs Jimmy.
The family doesn't plan to move far because they love the life they have made in Kilmeena. "Anna loves the college way of life but at the same time she looks forward to coming home. They both love Westport. It's definitely a slower way of life here."