Monday, 18 June 2018

The Wild Atlantic Way

It was so hard to tear myself away from Cill Rialaig, but right at the nth hour I had a message on Instagram that one of the people I have been following, Susan (@todayinireland) was in Ballinskelligs and could we catch up for a coffee? I have been following Susan because she really gets about this part of the world, and to be honest, I thought I would bump into her on the beach one day or walking around in Waterville, but of course, it was literally just as I was leaving town. It is so lovely to meet people face to face that you have connected with on IG!

A coffee catch up at Barbara's on the beach, Ballinskelligs
Back into the car for 45 minutes and it was time for another goodbye at Caherdaniel from John and Kerryann (@atlanticirishseaweed). I love these two people who are so passionate about seaweed and making a living from educating others about the benefits of eating and bathing in it!
The Blind Piper, Caherdaniel
We met downstairs at The Blind Piper, a true Irish pub - a bit early for a pint for me but not for some I could mention! Kerryann gave me a bag of seaweed to eat and a couple of seaweed bath bags to try out so luckily most of the places we have stayed have baths.

Sneem for lunch at the Bakery
Back in the car we passed through Sneem and stopped for a quick lunch before heading to Kenmare, where I was keen to see the Kenmare Lace and Design Museum

In the 1800's sisters of the Poor Clare convent in Kenmare introduced needlepoint lace to the women and the girls of the locality as a response to the poverty that followed the Great Famine. This was an incredible initiative of the nuns who also arranged for tuition from tutors from the Kensington School of Design in London and the Crawford School of Art in Cork, leading to the establishment of a school of design in Kenmare.

Gouache painted designs by the nuns of the Poor Clare Convent, Kenmare
From this school came designs that won acclaim in exhibitions around the world. Kenmare lace graced royal functions and liturgical occasions, however eventually economic factors brought about its decline and apparent demise. These designs have been revived and local lacemaking continues today.

Lace design and lace on display in the local church.
Next it was off to Bantry to have a look around Bantry House, the private estate still owned by the descendants of the Earl of Bantry.

The view of pantry House from the rear Garden.
Home to the White family since 1739  this house has a garden with seven terraces, overlooking Bantry Bay, with many works of art both inside and outside the house. After many years of neglect the garden terraces were overhauled in 2016 and work continues on the garden restoration today.  The inside of the houses was magnificent, but photos were not allowed.

Onwards to our destination, Kinsale, where we spent two nights. Kinsale is a gorgeous seaside town, known for its colourful buildings and fine dining. 

Kinsale Harbour

One of the many pubs in Kinsale

Cute cottages

Colourful buildings
Our next journey is to Kilkenny, to see the famous Kilkenny Craft and Design Centre, kiss the Blarney Stone and then head towards Belfast for my research at the Ulster Museum herbarium.

Monday, 11 June 2018

Slán Cill Rialaig

5am view from Cill Rialaig
When I first arrived at Cill Rialaig to start my two week residency, the islands and neighbouring headlands were mostly covered in mist, conjuring up the mythology of Hy-Brasil.  For the past week though, the view to the islands have all been exceptionally clear as we have had hot and mostly sunny days.  I have spent some time this week on Ballinskelligs beach, fossicking for seaweeds, sea glass and other flotsam and jetsam to put on the studio windowsill.
Ballinskelligs Beach

Egg cases from the Nursehound catshark
One of the interesting finds has been some egg cases from the Nursehound catshark.  Also known a 'mermaids purses' shark egg casings come in all shapes and sizes.  Most Australians will know the Port Jackson shark egg cases as being architecturally spiralled, like a giant ceiling or wall plug, but dark brown. These egg cases are beautifully adorned with long curly tendrils from each of the four corners. The Nursehound Catshark (Scyliorhinus stellaris) is near threatened in Ireland and the north-east Atlantic. Their eggs are laid amongst the seaweeds just under the low tide mark and take 9 months to hatch. Pity I can't bring these home with me....

Other finds have been a diverse array of seaweeds, including Himathalia elongate, often known as Sea Spaghetti or Thong Weed. It is delicious the way Kerryann from Atlantic Irish Seaweed prepares it with sesame oil and soy, but I was just eating it straight from the sea as well - it has a delightful crunchy nutty texture.
Himanthalia elongata
And of course, you can't come to Ireland without finding Irish moss, or Chondrus crispus, the source of carrageenan used extensively in the food, cosmetics and textile industry.

Chondrus crispus

During my time at Cill Rialaig I have also connected with Alexis and Stephen from Fermoyle Pottery and Garden, just a few minutes out of Dun Geagan. They invited me to come to their studio to decorate a few ceramic platters and it was a great opportunity to try my surface design skills onto a new substrate. It also gave us time to play around with the seaweed I had collected and to experiment with some ideas that might go into production for them.

Painting one of the platters at Fermoyle Pottery
Alexis and Steve have a lovely house and extensive garden complete with a huge poly tunnel which enables them to grow vegetables all year round and try out plants that would not survive the harsh winters. The whole family hangs out there in the long summer nights and it also doubles up as a unique area for drying clothes when the weather is wet (which it hasn't been!). They keep chooks and guinea fowls and grow vegetables, fruits and herbs in an effort to be self-sustainable and to provide their kids with a knowledge of where their food comes from. The poly tunnel is the kids favourite place to hang out because that's where the strawberries and new peas are growing right now!

Playing around with seaweed inspired ceramics

Stephen perfecting the edges of my platter (yes he has shorts on!)

One of the seaweed bowls we are working on.
Stephen and Alexis are very encouraging and they are in the process of setting up a lovely Airbnb above their studio - perfect for a potter (hint hint) and are looking to collaborate with artists on a series of platters for a unique Artist range. They keep talking about what we will do the 'next time I come to Ballinskelligs'😊 and to be perfectly honest I can almost see that happening.....
For the time being it is a day to be finishing off work, as it is wild and windy, overcast and looking like rain outside.  I have to start packing and tomorrow I head off to Kinsale, Cork and Kilkenny.  Then next week I will be in Belfast at the Ulster Museum Herbarium ...stay tuned!

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Seaweed Locavore

I am a recent convert to Instagram (thanks to all my workshop students who have been nagging at me for years...!) and the full meaning of how it can bring like-minded people together hit home yesterday when I finally got to meet two people I have been following - Kerryann and John Fitzgerald from Atlantic Irish Seaweed. They operate out of a teeny tiny village called Caherdaniel on the wild Atlantic coastline, about 45 minutes from Cill Rialaig.

John and Kerryann Fitzgerald
When I realised that they were close to Cill Rialaig whilst I was planning my trip, I immediately emailed John to see if I could attend one of their seaweed foraging workshops.  John explained that these workshops are ideally timed according to the best tides for seaweed collecting, so an exact date could not be scheduled until I got here.  Unfortunately, the tides were against me attending a regular workshop, but John had another idea in store for me....they had been approached by Tourism Ireland to showcase their locavore business and it just so happened that the film crew were coming to film while I was here. Would I be interested in participating??? You bet! 

Atlantic Irish Seaweed office at The Blind Piper, Caherdaniel
We met upstairs at The Blind Piper pub, and in true filming style, we started with the end of the seaweed story first - that is, we got to eat the fruits of our, or rather Kerryann's labour, before we went foraging. This was timed perfectly because it was lunchtime, and I was eager to try the dishes laid out before us.  By us I mean the four "tourists" for the day, so in me at least they had a bona fide model!

Getting our instructions for the filming from Simon the Cameraman.
Kerryann had prepared an array of delicious looking foods using local ingredients as well as different kinds of local seaweeds. Her descriptions of each dish were mouthwatering in themselves but the hardest part was having to "pretend" to eat and enjoy for the camera, because of course we couldn't actually eat the food until the film crew were happy with the footage!

Some of the seaweed degustation menu 
I can't recall all the types of seaweed or foods we ate eventually, but we had a sauerkraut, top left, local pork prosciutto with samphire, thin slices of pepper beef with seaweed spinach and wild garlic and a rich labne with a seaweed pesto, all artistically presented on an eclectic mix of vintage and contemporary plates. We also drank a kombucha made with pineapple and seaweed, and for desert some chocolate seaweed bonbons and a seaweed toffee brittle. 

After we actually did eat the lunch (delicious!) we headed down to nearby Derrynane Beach, where John talked us through the procedures of collecting the various seaweeds, safety precautions, and identified at least half a dozen types that we had eaten for lunch. 

Derrynane Beach
In a normal workshop, John would give a lecture first and then forage later, but this was an unusual day, and everything we did was not done once or even twice but many times to get the actions just right to sync with each take. 

I certainly hope my acting skills were up to it, not that I needed to act because I was so interested in the identification of the seaweed and how to use it in everyday food. The health benefits of eating seaweed are enormous, and John had all the facts and figures off the top of his head, informing us about Vitamin B6, omegas and gut bacteria. Seaweeds were the very first vegetables humans ate and the precursors to all our land plants so it makes sense to include them back into our diet ....and they can be free if you collect in the right areas and prepare them correctly.

What a fantastic day and what a truly unique Irish experience for me - plus I got to meet my IG friends Kerryann and John. A day of laughter and banter was cemented over a few pints in Bridie's pub when we finally called it a wrap! If you are ever around Caherdaniel way I would recommend doing something completely Irish, local and authentic like the seaweed workshop because it is something you will remember long after each spectacular coastline and touristy destination becomes a distant memory.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Cill Rialaig Artist Retreat

Tigh Josie Cottage with the green door, Cill Rialaig
Arrived at Cill Rialaig in Ballinskelligs last Thursday afternoon to start my residency - a short two weeks but hopefully a productive one. Cill Rialaig is situated in the restored ruins of a pre-famine village, on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. It perches high above the ocean on a rugged clifftop and the only sounds are the birds, the waves, the wind  and the sheep in the paddocks. The nearest town of Ballinskelligs is 7 km away and it has a population of around 600. The other town of Cahersiveen is 20km away and there are several supermarkets and other shops there for necessities.

View from the mezzanine bedroom window
There are 8 restored cottages in total, one of which is the communal meeting house, Tigh an Comhra (Gaelic for House of Conversation).  I've been inside but we have yet to have any communal gatherings or meals there. There is also a laundry, presided over by Michael who keeps everything ticking over at the retreat. Each cottage has a mezzanine bedroom which is accessed by split wooden stairs - actually much easier to traverse than single steps because the gradient is so steep! The cottages are spartan but contain everything you need - sofa, chairs, tables and basic kitchen and bathroom. The studio end of the cottage has a glass roof with views to the sky and rocky hill right behind the cottage. It is amazing to stand in the space and feel that you are outside in, if you know what I mean.
Since I have been here I have been exploring the nearby beach and surrounding towns, the magnificent coastline and the ruined abbeys and castles that seem to spring up around every bend in the road. Because of my recent injury (fractured wrist...!) I am taking advantage of being driving around, and unfortunately any adventurous hiking is also out because my hand is still in a splint and I don't want to risk undoing the healing that has been happening over the last 7 weeks.

Sunrise this morning at 5am
Sunrises can be spectacular because the warmth of the rays starts burning off the mist that has settled over everything, obscuring the nearby islands and the other promontories. Slowly the landscape is revealed as the sun climbs higher. In contrast, I have been trying to capture the moment the sun sinks at around 10-11pm, but it is so elusive.  It is not the spectacular sunset we are used to in Australia, well not while I'm here anyway, it is more a gradual sigh of release at the end of the are not even sure if it is setting or if it is just a figment of your imagination. I go to bed in the light and sometimes I wake up at around 3am and it is dark, but not for long.

Sunset over the Atlantic
On Sunday there was an art opening at Siopa Cill Rialaig, the Cill Rialaig Gallery, cafe and shop in nearby Dun Geagan.  Two of the artists staying in the retreat, Jane Seymour and Bina Shah were exhibiting together. Jane is a ceramic artist whose works are evocative of landscape, mists and layering of texture and colour in monochromatic tones.  Bina uses mixed media, cold wax, printing making and painting to evoke natural and urban environments.  The opening provided the opportunity to meet Noelle Campbell Sharp, the founder of Cill Rialiag whose vision for an artist retreat has seen over 3,500 artists stay here.
Noelle Campbell Sharp introducing Jane Seymour and Bina Shah
And in an amazing coincidence, I caught up with Irish textile artist, Nicola Henley, at the opening! I first met Nicola years ago when I had an exhibition at Timeless Textiles in Newcastle and she had arrived in Australia to also exhibit and conduct workshops.  Since then she has returned to Australia many times and we had planned to catch up when I was in County Clare, but fortunately she is a good friend of Jane's and attended the opening and is staying for a few days at Cill Rialiag...small world!

Catching up with Nicola Henley
I will post again with some of the amazing coastlines I have seen on my day trips around Ballinskelligs, beach fossicking, seaweed collecting and drinking in the inspiring landscape.

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Glasnevin Botanic Gardens

Summer has hit Dublin with a vengeance and I am really enjoying the sunshine and long doesn't get dark till around 9.30 or 10pm, so you can manage to fit so much more into a day.
On Monday I had an appointment to view items in the Glasnevin Botanic Gardens Herbarium which I had already identified months ago. Many herbaria simply do not have the manpower or resources to accommodate random requests to view their collections, so one has to have both the knowledge of the collection itself and the ability to work independently within that environment to gain access. Lucky for me I have some cred...haha....after this I will call myself "the seaweed whisperer" ...all will be revealed....

Glasnevin Botanic Gardens, Dublin

View of the Palm House

Like the Herbarium at TCD, Glasnevin Herbarium was furnished with gorgeous old wooden cabinets and drawers, although most of the collection itself is kept in a steel compactus. Items I had requested were waiting for me, but I was also given free range to the unincorporated material which, to my mind, holds the greater interest because it is material that is not broken up into taxa and distributed within the scientific working collection. For me, this is where I can find untold stories, mysteries and give rein to my inner supersleuth.

The Herbarium

My primary object of interest was a 19th century album of Irish seaweeds collected by William Sawers, a collecting companion of my focal collector, Charles Morrison. I have documented approximately 15 Morrison albums now, and this album would enable me to pinpoint specific collection locations and times that they collected together. Comparison of handwriting on duplicate specimens will enable me to accurately interpret an album I will be viewing during my residency at the Ulster Museum Herbarium in a few weeks time. I have planned everything down to the nth degree for this trip as it is a once in a lifetime opportunity to get the final clues needed for me to finish writing  a paper and focus on new artistic work for an exhibition next January.

Sawers Seaweed Album

Here are a few examples of Sawer's album. Incredibly, there was also a letter attached from a botanist written  in 1952 who was also trying to determine the same things I was - the differentiation between Sawers and Morrison collections! Unfortunately she has passed, but I wish I could go back in time to discuss my findings with her.

Looking familiar, same but different!

The wonderful thing about life is it always throws you up something you don't expect, and on this trip so far there have been two collections which have not had information about them on file, but which I have managed to find provenance for, or add substantially to that knowledge. One collection was at TCD, and the other here at Glasnevin.

Encounter Bay Seaweed folio
In a listing of holdings there was an item called "Encounter Bay seaweeds" - no other information.
I had asked to view it but initially thought it must be a Jessie Hussey collection. Jessie Hussey was an Australian seaweed collector of some regard in the 19th century who lived at Port Elliot in SA and collected in Encounter Bay. She was a respected collector for Von Mueller and Agardh, the Swedish phycologist.  I followed her footsteps last year, collecting at Encounter Bay, and introducing my husband's young nephew to the joys of mounting seaweeds and beach fossicking.

One of the many Plocamium specimens from Encounter Bay

This huge folio of over 90 mounted specimens was definitely not her style - there were no collection locations or dates and the specimens were very repetitive - very much an amateur collection, yet impressive in its size ( each sheet was 75cm in length)  and expensively bound. I carefully sorted through each fragile specimen. This was no easy task as many of these collections are either covered in soot or dust or, even more insidious, chemicals for preservation. This means that it is necessary to keep washing your hands at regular intervals....tiresome, time-consuming, but not negotiable. As I was sorting through the specimens, one of the pages had a name on it - the only one in the whole folio. It was Hon. G. was that??? The Keeper and I had no idea but a quick internet search by me found that the Honorable G. Hawker had been  a prominant and well-loved politician in the SA Assembly from 1858. He arrived from the UK in 1840 with a Bachelor of Arts from Trinity College, Cambridge, and went into sheep farming. At the time of his death he was one of the oldest JP's of the district, and was one of the longest serving member of the SA Parliament in history. I didn't find any direct refernce to seaweed collecting as a hobby, but it's early days yet and I haven't finished with the Hon. Hawker yet! More sleuthing abounds........

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Hello from Ireland

My blogging has been suffering ever since I started posting on Instagram, but I am about to make up for lost time during my 6 weeks in Ireland. Many of my readers will already know of my interest in seaweed, or more particularly, seaweed albums of the 19th century. This obsession started in 2016 when I had an arts residency at the NMA in Canberra, and fell in love with an anonymous seaweed album.

The Port Philip seaweed album, NMA

This obsession lead to the discovery of many more albums by the same collector and I am now in Ireland to undertake further research on him as artist in residence at the Ulster Museum Herbarium in Belfast. I will also be doing an arts residency at Cill Rialaig near Ballinskelligs on the south west coast of Ireland, which starts at the end of this week. A big thankyou at this point to artsACT for supporting my travel to Ireland to undertake this residency.

I touched down in Dublin two days ago and have been walking around getting a feel for the city and its ambience. The predominant matter to hand has been the vote yesterday on the referendum to repeal the 8th Ammendment of the Constitution which bans abortion in all cases except to save the life of the mother. This is a vote to repeal, not a vote on abortion as such, and counting the votes starts today, but watching the news last night there were many counties with 50-75% turnout to vote, although voting was still open till 10pm, long after I had crashed!

Trinity College Botany Bulding

My first full day yesterday was spent in the Trinity College Herbarium where I had organised to view their seaweed albums. This was a rare and wonderful opportunity, and although my collector was not represented there were several other intriguing albums to compare and contrast with our Australian ones.

Trinity College Herbarium

Several of the 19th Century Seaweed albums in the collection

A page showing some beautiful red seaweed

Trinity College Herbarium was the academic home of the eminent Irish phycologist William Henry Harvey. Harvey notably wrote the 5 volume Phycologia Australica, after spending two years from 1854-6 collecting over 20,000 Australian seaweeds. And yesterday I was privileged to handle his handwritten letters and his Traveling Set of Australian seaweeds. This has to be a 12 on a scale of 1-10 in amazing experiences, to know that my hands were touching the seaweeds he picked up from our shores all those years ago. I am so grateful to Staff at TCD for allowing me access entrusting me with these historical documents and objects. And don't worry, I will be going back on Tuesday to see the Book of Kells!

The Herbarium Library also contained the volumes of “The Nature-Printed British Sea-Weeds” by Bradbury and Evans, published in 1859. These intricate prints were created using the unique “nature-printed” process whereby a plant is pressed into a plate of soft lead, leaving an impression from which an electrotype is made. The resultant prints are incredibly detailed and realistic, capturing the fine detail of each seaweed, and it is possible to see and feel the raised surface of the printed inks on the paper.
Front page of one of the Bradbury Nature Printed Seaweed books

A gorgeous Delesseria sinuosa.

Punctaria latifolia

Sphacearia scoparia

Its been a great first couple of days here sightseeing, walking, walking and trying to decide whether the national pastime is smoking or drinking....! Off to the National Botanic Gardens tomorrow to see more suprises in their herbarium.