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Mary by Ann Quinn

Oil on canvas

Courtesy of the artist

Donegal artist Ann Quinn is known for her landscapes. She's painted her native county, its bogs and skies and potato drills, she's painted the Iranian desert, birds' nests in winter trees on Kildare Street, and Quinn has just been awarded the K and M Evans Prize at this year's RHA Exhibition.

This painting of her mother's friend and neighbour is one of her very few portraits. It's called Mary, once the most popular name in Ireland; even boys (Gabriel -- Gay -- Mary Byrne) were given it as a middle-name. It's a name that evokes a long-ago Ireland of May altars and Corpus Christi processions.

Mary McLaughlin was born in 1935 and lived all her life in Donegal. She could be a benign nun but this kind, gentle soul is a woman who must have known all the hoo-hah and commotion and worries and joys of family life. Now 77, she is the mother of 12, has 35 grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren and, until her retirement 10 years ago, ran a pub called 'Mary's Bar' in Ramelton for 35 years.

Here's an open, friendly, lived-in, wrinkled face. Botox? No thank you. The smile is as natural as the cropped grey hair, and the alert eyes behind the modern glasses look beyond the artist. Her expression and stance contain a quiet confidence. A plain soft-grey background suits her wholesome presence. The cardigan and top in soft black with a simple decorated neck are quietly stylish. A single, lustrous crystal hangs on a delicate chain. Nothing here is bling bling. She's the kind of woman whom you could never imagine saying, 'Because I'm worth it!'

This paper with its 930,000-plus readers means that almost a million people will encounter Mrs McLaughlin this morning. A brief encounter. A private painting, this will never be shown in public but will hang on a wall in Donegal. Those who see the original will know that Ann Quinn has painted a life lived.

Quinn's work [www.annquinn.ie] can be viewed at the current RHA show, the Mullan Gallery Summer Show in Belfast in June and the Taylor Galleries Summer Show in August.

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