Tuesday 23 July 2019

This Man's Life: The artist is born into one place, but puts blood and belief far beyond


'My first non-wine outing was last weekend at a family barbecue in Foxrock. It was a fantastic party, even though at times it did border on a kind of Beckettian farce' (stock photo)
'My first non-wine outing was last weekend at a family barbecue in Foxrock. It was a fantastic party, even though at times it did border on a kind of Beckettian farce' (stock photo)
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

It is easy to see why Freud believed the Irish were one of the few races in the world for whom psychoanalysis would do no good. We're a pretty messed up bunch, especially over First World problems.

I recently had a semi-serious conversation with a doctor who told me that my self-diagnosed tendonitis perhaps wasn't Tennis Elbow; it might be repetitive stress injury from opening bottles of wine. Rather than switch to screw-top wine bottles, I gave up the grape completely. And switched to beer.

My first non-wine outing was last weekend at a family barbecue in Foxrock. It was a fantastic party, even though at times it did border on a kind of Beckettian farce. Whenever my three sisters or their husbands picked up a steak or a drink in the garden, the heavens opened and we all scurried inside. Twenty minutes later our faltering spirits lifted again when the sun bravely re-emerged from behind the clouds. We all ran back into the garden and acted like nothing had happened.

Twenty minutes later the assembled Egan family submitted to the truth that we don't live in Italy or California when the heavens opened again.

The following day, my wife and I and our young child, Emilia, went to Skerries where the sun was splitting the stones. You could have been in a sleepy town on the coast of Italy. Even more so when we got a table in the window of Brasco's on Harbour Road and had a lovely meal gazing out on the sea.

Then on Wednesday evening the sun came out in earnest again. So we jumped in the car and went to the little bit of beach in Sandycove.

The evening followed a pattern. Emilia kicked her Paw Patrol ball into the sea and I paddled in with the legs of my suit rolled up to get it for her. And as soon I gave the ball to her, she kicked straight it back into the sea again - her tiny frame rattling with laughter as she did so. I owe Emilia an unknowable debt for how happy she makes me. As she built sandcastles, I sat on the beach looking out to sea, pondering life, death and everything else in between. My mind was pretty much summed up by Graham Greene: "Time has its revenges, but revenge seems so often sour. Wouldn't we all do better not trying to understand, accepting the fact that no human being will ever understand another, not a wife with a husband, nor a parent a child? Perhaps that's why men have invented God - a being capable of understanding."

Just as God truly seemed a divine being finally capable of understanding men or me, my daughter kicked the ball into the sea again. This time when I went in to get it, however, the sea ruined my suit.

The following night, the sea was very much on my mind as Liam O Maonlai - who lost his great friend, Kerry poet Danny Sheehy, when the currach they were travelling in tragically capsized off the coast of Spain last month - launched Mark Redden's new exhibition For All In Tents and Porpoises at the Origin. The gallery's owner, Noelle Campbell Sharp, told me that currach-rowing is a shared passion between Liam and artist Mark.

Much later that night, the Hothouse Flowers singer, a latter-day seanchai if ever there was one, was full of praise for Noelle and Mark and their vision of Ireland. A vision that Liam clearly shares. You can almost feel his cosmic energy lifting off the page here as you read the words. I'm not suggesting you read them out loud, but if you are alone, or can go into a quiet room, then I imagine reading Liam O'Maonlai's words out loud won't do you any harm. "Noelle Campbell Sharp did something very important when she chose to buy the ruins of a village on Bolus Head and by doing so honour the culture of the people there," he told me.

"The heritage of the ancestors. She saw a threat to the headland in the possible building of a bus route and saw the preservation of the famine village as way to protect the walk over the head for the generations to come.

"Now artists come and stay in the individually rebuilt cottages and bring the energy of what they experience out and across the world through their art. Wordsmiths, painters and musicians alike live and sleep in Cill Rialaig.

"Mark is committed to his work. He lives it," continued Liam who does indeed live it, too. "Over 10 years he has stayed and worked in Cill Rialaig. He and Noelle have a mutual respect. It is a relationship that is refreshing to see. Noelle is an artist in the world of enabling great things to happen. Mark is one willing to dive into the life and to take it for what it is and what it can be.

"He has been living in Barcelona for the past seven or more years. He has given himself to the craft of the traditional boat, the currach or the naomhog, for over a decade. He studied under masters in Connemara and has done his time along the southwest coast in a naomhog. I have admired this in him for a long time. His work is the child of this commitment. The dreaming of a traveller. The artist is born into one place but puts his blood and belief far beyond. His work is an ongoing story."

As is Liam O'Maonlai's.

Sunday Independent

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