To Make Something out of Nothing, to see something in that Nothing: Tom Doherty Photographer

Sweet Afton

“How to grow Shallots”. From the IPPVA Fellowship Series

It is a sunny, blustery Easter Monday evening and I sit with Tom Doherty at the back of the house he and his wife Frances are restoring in Borrisoleigh. I have known Tom and his work for several years now, and this renovation project is very fitting, I feel, for someone who has spent the last thirty years as a social observer – documenting stories through images; capturing events; observing life in all its permutations. The house is a listed building, steeped in material culture and this project clearly is a labour of love. No one could be better equipped to document and participate in the work, using his artistic eye and his photographic skills, than Tom Doherty.


Tom is member of the IPPVA – Irish Professional Photographers and Videographers Association. This is the governing body of professional photographers in Ireland and all those who are members are qualified registered and insured.

Tom explains to become a member you have to submit a panel of your work to be assessed – the photographer’s control of light and ability to focus the lens etc, among many other details, would have to be deemed of an acceptable high quality to be admitted as a member. This puts you on the first rung of the ladder, as it were, within the Association which is called your Licentiateship. Next then is the Associateship where a photographer would have proven him or herself to have achieved a higher level of professionalism. Finally then is the Fellowship which is the highest level you can go in the Association in Ireland.

Tom achieved his Fellowship from the Association in 2011. He did a series of photographs documenting the interiors on derelict houses in Tipperary primarily but also some in Italy where he regularly visits. These images were not staged in any way. Tom photographed what he found in the houses. The opening image above of the Sweet Afton cigarette box with a note hand written on it, is an excellent example from this series, as is the image below, taken from a house Tom lived in as a child after his Mother died. The rawness of life is captured on a dusty derelict floor – work, symbolized by the jeans; romance by the Mills and Boon novel, and the violence that sometimes sadly exists around us, by a child’s toy red gun.


From the Fellowship series

Tom’s level of skill has also gained him Fellowship with the MPA (Master Photographers Association) in Britain and he is also a member of the Federation of European Photographers (FEP) and qualified for their European photographer award in 2011. Recently he was made one of their International Jury, a tremendous acknowledgement and recognition of the quality of Tom’s work over the years.

Early Years

Tom grew up in Knockeen, one of seven children, he was the second oldest. Tragedy struck early in his life when his Mother died when he was only seven years old. Tom and his siblings were sent to live with different Aunts and Uncles so the family were split up at this difficult time. A few years later Tom’s Father remarried and Tom and 3 of his brothers eventually returned to live with their Father and step mother at Moykarkey, Thurles.

Paul Reilly

He attended the Vocational School in Thurles and was fortunate to have one very inspirational teacher there – Paul Reilly, who taught Tom art. Paul later went on to work in curatorship in Limerick. It never occurred to Tom to pursue an artistic career though he did well in honours art for his Leaving Certificate. He tells me ‘back in Ireland, in those days, a career in arts wasn’t a viable option’.

So after leaving school Tom got an apprenticeship as a refrigeration engineer in Thurles. Hard times were looming economically in the 1980s and people were losing jobs, so when Tom was made redundant he found another job in the same line of work, in Bailieborough Co. Cavan – servicing and installing agricultural refrigeration equipment for farmers.

He started to do photography as a hobby for his own enjoyment at this time.

Time in Co. Cavan

A job was advertised in the Cavan Leader for a press photographer and the owner of the paper, Captain Jim Kelly, hired Tom. For Tom the change of career allowed him to develop his creative skills and to document the turbulent society that was then around him, living in a border county. There was also the fact that, to use his own words, ‘in those days being a press photographer was a good earner. Press photography was valued then’, Tom explains. ‘I was never motivated by money but it was important to me to have my work respected’.

The Job was varied. For example he covered a visit to Cavan, by a descendant of the Sioux War Chief  Sitting Bull (1831-1890) at the reputed birthplace of  one of his greatest opponents  – US General  Philip Sheridan  (1830-1888).



At the General Sheridan Memorial, Kilinkere, Co. Cavan


These were difficult and different times in the North, Tom explains. It was a very divided and divisive society to live and work in. The image below is of a Celtic reenactment event from those years. I comment it is not easy for us to understand the emotions of that time from this vantage point – though Brexit has reawakened some of the anxieties and tensions that existed in extreme then.

Celtic Warriors

Celtic Warriors. 

The paper closed after a few years so Tom then worked as a free lance press photographer, teaming up with local journalists when stories arose. He covered several amazing stories of the conflict in the border areas and had a few hair raising experiences. I comment he must have been terrified? But Tom says he always wanted to capture real life, to document events as they happen.

He often goes to Italy to festivals or demonstration and loves to be in the middle of these events. He traveled to Paris immediately in the aftermath of the terrorists attacks in 2015 to take photographs such as the one below. His interests have always been in this side of photographic work, as well as creating images that are akin to fine art pieces they are so visually beautiful.


Paris 2015, after the attacks

Moving Back to Tipperary

Tom was back in Tipperary in the mid nineties and met Frances again, whom he had been dating before he left for Cavan years earlier. He was looking to develop other aspects of his photographic work because, he explains, press photography had become devalued. Tom was a member of the National Union of Journalist but journalists began taking photographs themselves so photographers rights were falling by the wayside. ‘The good days for press photography were over and the profession was devalued’ Tom explains.

This was the lead up to the next big economic crash of the Naughties.  Provincial papers were letting go of photographers so it was a race between free lance photographers to have their images selected for publication and the one who charged the least usually got selected. Certainly a time to move to some other area of his photographic work.

He opened a shop in Nenagh framing and printing photographs. He explains he wanted to establish himself in Tipperary as a photographer and felt this was a way to do so. He found this phase of his life challenging – it was hard to make ends meet paying rent for the shop and all the other bills that arise with rental premises.  The shop was open for about six years before he decided to close it.

Suicide Awareness

Tom never stopped engaging with the world around him – the image below, taken in Nenagh on December 21st 2018, the shortest day of the year, depicts a vigil held by people affected by suicide locally. The image is called ‘Light up the Darkest Day’ and is another wonderful example of how Tom’s work captures both the joys and the sorrows of real life.

Light up the darkest day

“ Light up the darkest day”.

Meeting Tom

Tom called into my shop one day in Nenagh and introduced himself and left his business card.  So I hired Tom to take the images for an upcoming piece for Image Magazine.

That was the first of many photo shoots we did together during ‘The Business’ years and in the years afterwards. I always knew he would do a superb job.

The image below is of a model wearing one of my designs – a red organza dress, and the image was used as a post card in the shop.


‘Running for a Train’, Photo used in Advertising for ‘The Business’

Tom photographed our wedding on December 22nd 2007.  He tells me he enjoys wedding photography where he can bring his skilled eye for documenting a story to bear.  He explains there is a perception of wedding photography as staid and boring but with the years of experience Tom has in press photography, he can really bring his imagination to capturing ‘behind the scenes’ moments, of a couple’s special day.

The image below is one he took the morning of our wedding here at Greenville, while Valerie Patterson was doing my hair and makeup .

Wedding Makeup

‘Wedding Makeup’ with Valerie Patterson

One of the images Tom took in 2009, when we did the Kilmainham installation at the Hilton Hotel, won an award for him at the IPPVA . ‘Stormy Sky’ was an image taken at the St. Jude’s Spire in Kilmainham.


‘Stormy Sky.’ Taken at the ruins of St Jude’s Church, KIlmainham, Dublin.

Photography as Art

We chat then, sitting in the evening sun, about the perception of a photograph as an art image. It is unfair, I suggest, that some brilliant pieces of photographic art are dismissed, as ‘mere photographs’. ‘Think of Andy Warhol for example’, I mention and how he used photography to create art pieces which sold for millions of dollars. Tom suggests different cultures have different understanding and appreciation of what is art or not and the Eastern States in America , Australia – newer western countries were ahead of others in respecting photography as an art genre.

Take for example the two images below – one taken at ‘The Business’ where I am wearing a mask for a Halloween event we were advertising. The photograph has many features of a painting.


The Halloween Mask

The Halloween Mask


The other, below, was taken here at Greenville of a chair reupholstered using the rose motif which often featured in my designs.

The Chair with the Rose Motif

The Chair with the Rose Motif

Photography and Art History

I mention that I was fascinated to read, in Donald Preziosi’s book on Art History, about the link between photography and the discipline of anthropology – and the role photography played in the emergence of Art History as an academic discipline.

Preziosi writes:  ‘ history is in a very real sense the child of photography, which has been equally enabling of the discipline’s fraternal nineteenth century siblings, anthropology and ethnography. It was photography which made it possible not only for professional art historians but for whole populations to – think art historically- in a sustained and systematic fashion…. thereby setting in motion the stage machinery of an orderly and systematic university discipline’. (Preziosi, 2009 pp 500).

Technological progress, and the emergence of photography therefore, has facilitated the growth of the press; emergence of museums and galleries; even the study of art as a professional discipline within the Academy. One could say that photography and the development of these institutions – made it possible to imagine the concept of the Nation-State. But that is taking my blog off in another direction and it is not my interest to engage in political analysis here. Yet in a sense, to go back to my opening title for this blog, a quote from Tom, the emergence of photography really did make it possible ‘to make something out of nothing, to see something in that nothing’.

There may be ‘no such thing as a rich photographer in Ireland’ as Tom tells me, but there is a much richer artistic culture, because of photographers such as Tom Doherty.  I look forward to continuing our creative collaboration in the year’s to come.

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Interview Easter Monday 2019 ( Pic by Seosamh)



Tom Doherty F.I.P.P.A.Cr./F.M.P.A./Q.E.P.
Qualified European Photographer Award 2011
Awarded Fellowship from the Irish Professional Photographers Association
Awarded Fellowship from the Master Photographers Association (U.K.)

I.P.P.A. Open Art and Creativity Category Winner 2011
I.P.P.A. Avant Garde Wedding Image of the Year 2011
I.P.P.A. Award of Excellence 2011
I.P.P.A. Award of Excellence 2010
I.P.P.A. Avant Garde Wedding Image of the Year 2010
I.P.P.A. Award of Excellence 2009
I.P.P.A. Reportage Wedding Image of the Year 2009
I.P.P.A. Pictorial Category Winner 2008
I.P.P.A. Reportage Wedding Image of the Year 2008
M.P.A. Award of Excellence Overseas Landscape/Travel 2008
M.P.A. Award of Excellence Overseas Avant Garde Wedding 2007
I.P.P.A. Craftsman Award 2007
I.P.P.A. Avant Garde wedding Image of the Year 2007
M.P.A. Award of Excellence Overseas Pictorial / Illustrative 2006
I.P.P.A. Pictorial Category Winner 2006
I.P.P.A. Reportage Category Winner 2006


mobile: 00-353-87-7518601


World Class Music on Our Doorstep: Talking with Róisín Maher, Curator, ‘Finding a Voice’ Festival

Rosin and Cliona

L to R: Róisín,  Alexina Louie,  Clíona

It is hard to believe that it is almost two years now since I launched my blog here at Greenville. Even harder to believe that in those two short years, I lost two people from our family, that were so loved.

I was delighted in May 2017 when the newly appointed Director of South Tipperary Arts Centre, Clíona Maher, agreed to do the launch. Clíona had returned home from France with her husband and their son, to Clonmel, where she grew up, to take up the position in 2017. I had not met Clíona before, so it was wonderful to have someone launch my blog who was so energetic, enthusiastic and committed to the Arts and in particular their development in Tipperary.

Shortly after meeting Clíona I had the pleasure to make the acquaintance of her sister Róisín who is the Curator of ‘Finding a Voice’ – the Clonmel festival which just celebrated its second successful year in Clonmel.

Maher Pharmacy Clonmel

Róisín and Clíona (and their sister Derbhile) are the three daughters of the late Seamus Maher and Kathleen Maher. Their father owned a pharmacy in Clonmel on O‘Connell Street, and while the Mahers no longer manage the business, the new owners have retained the Maher name over the door, which Róisín tells me, the family have really appreciated.

Their mother was a Montessori school teacher and she established a pre-school in Clonmel in the 1980s with a Gael Scoil element – a very innovative educational concept at the time. Róisín tells me her mother was ahead of her time, in many respects.

Following your Dreams 

Not surprisingly then the Maher girls were encouraged to follow their dreams and their educational passions. Their home was one where the arts were supported and appreciated, and their late father was a founding member of the Clonmel Theatre Guild. The late Brendan Long was the first Artistic Director and the Guild is currently celebrating their 50th anniversary.  Their father regularly was involved in different roles, sometimes growing a beard for a part he might be performing.

In light of their upbringing then, it is understandable that all three girls pursued careers in the arts – Róisín is  a lecturer in CIT Cork School of Music – though she has a ‘portfolio career’ having worked in different roles in music: arts administration, concert organizing and course development and lecturing; Clíona’s background is predominantly in theatre but she is also very knowledgeable about all aspects of the arts and as mentioned is currently Artistic Director of South Tipperary Arts Centre and is soon taking up a new position as Festival Director at Clonmel Junction Arts Festival. Derbhile, the youngest of the family, is married to an American – she is a keyboard player and vocalist and her husband is a drummer and they moved back to Chicago about eight years ago from Ireland.

The Inspiration for the Festival ‘Finding a Voice’

For this blog I wanted to chat to Róisín in her capacity as Curator of the festival – a title that always interests me. It comes from the Latin word ‘cura’ meaning ‘to take care’ – it also involves interpretation and selection, a ‘keeper’ of cultural heritage. I ask Róisín how the idea of ‘Finding a Voice’ festival arose.

The festival is a celebration of female composers both living and dead, but also a celebration of women involved in different aspects of the classical music world, as musicians, conductors, patrons etc. Róisín tells me she was always ‘aware of the lack of inclusivity, in terms of classical music programming, in relation to women composers’.

Róisín continues to explain to me that about ten years ago she introduced a new module at Cork School of Music on women composers. This was not something being taught in other third level educational institutions, in Ireland, at the time.



Illustration by artist Shona Shirley Macdonald for Festival Publicity

Róisín tells me that it is her belief from experience that ‘the way to change things is to be really practical about it’ and for this module her students were asked to either write an essay or perform a recital of works by female composers. This really left a positive and lasting impression on many students, who, by performing a piece by a female composer or studying it in detail, would grasp its importance and perhaps build on the experience after leaving third level education.

When Clíona returned in 2017 to take up the position as Director at South Tipperary Arts Centre, she and Róisín would sometimes brainstorm about ideas that might work or be developed and, among the many possibilities they discussed, was the idea for a festival for Clonmel around female composers, something Róisín, after her years of teaching in the area, was highly knowledgeable about.

Clíona decided to apply to the Arts Council for a Music Project award to fund the event. You could say the rest is history! I comment that both Róisín and Clíona have a unique skill set – they are highly creative; supremely competent at arts administration given their success to date – and have another key skill so necessary to get things off the ground – diplomacy.

‘Finding a Voice’ Festival takes place in conjunction with International Women’s Day and the quality of the performances is nothing short of world class.

Main Guard Clonmel and the Irish Baroque Orchestra

Main guard clonmel

Main Guard Clonmel, photo Courtesy Office of Public Works

The Irish Baroque Orchestra were a key component this year and they performed on March 8th in the stunning location of the ‘Main Guard’ and played an entire programme of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century female composers. The performance was breath-taking, complemented by the amazing acoustics of this old and deeply historic building in the centre of Clonmel town, which was built about 1675 by James Butler, Duke of Ormonde for County Courts and Officials of the then Palatine County of Tipperary.

baroque orchestra

Irish Baroque Orchestra performing in the Main Guard

Róisín explains the festival committee hope to work with the Irish Baroque Orchestra for the next three years in performing the works of female composers, so for those who may not have heard them perform this year, put a note in your diary for March 2020.

Alexina Louie Composer

alexina louie

Alexina Louie                                  Image Credit:   D Kelly photography

In this year’s festival the Canadian composer Alexina Louie, who will celebrate her 70th birthday later this year, attended the festival and her works were performed on the opening day. She was  very impressed at the quality of the performances she experienced in Clonmel over the course of the weekend. It is wonderful, I comment, to see living composers like Alexina Louie meet the musicians playing her work and meet those attending the event, in particular for younger generations – the experience of talking to a living composer is so important in instilling the idea that such career paths are open to all those with musical ability.

Composers with Mary Dullea

Female Composers with Mary Dullea
L-R: Jane O’Leary, Rhona Clarke, Marian Ingoldsby, pianist Mary Dullea, Amanda Feery, Carol Hayes, Anna Murray
Photographer: John D Kelly photography

I can’t help thinking often of the late Professor Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, born in Clonmel, whom we lost only last year. He would be delighted to see an event like this in his former home town. Róisín tells me he lectured her in UCC in the 1980s before he left for his position at the University of Limerick.

Clara Schumann Bicentenary

Clara Schumann

Clara Schumann

Among the wonderful performances at this year’s event was a day dedicated to the work of Clara Schumann (1819-1896), composer, concert pianist and wife of fellow composer Robert Schumann, including a panel discussion about the process of composing by four of the seven women who had been commissioned to write Reflections on a Scherzo by Clara Schumann, one of two world premieres inspired by Clara Schumann (the second being Jane O’Leary’s Clara) for her 200th anniversary.

Pauline Oliveros (1932-2016)

This year Joseph and I brought the boys to the Sunday afternoon event, also at the Main Guard, to hear ‘The Quiet Music Ensemble’ – a Cork based experimental music group, performing a piece which they had commissioned from the late Pauline Oliveros (1932-2016) called ‘The Mystery Beyond Matter’. The boys loved it – the sound was just amazing in this old building. Some of the audience choose to sit on the window sills (as I did); some lay on mats on the floor; some sat quietly in their chairs, some walked peacefully around – as this haunting music echoed through the building. Róisín’s two daughters Aisling and Orlaith were there, as was Clíona’s son Killian and we both agree it is so important to see the younger generations partaking in and experiencing live performances such as this, giving them an understanding, not just  in the works of traditional classical composers, but of more recent compositions that challenge us to think about music and how we play it and hear it, differently.


Image Credit:   D Kelly photography

sunday afternoon

Image Credit:   D Kelly photography

I look forward to attending next year’s event scheduled for 6th to 8th March 2020 and to interviewing Clíona, at a later stage, to look retrospectively at her achievements as Artistic Director of South Tipperary Arts Centre and when she takes up her new position as Festival Director of Clonmel Junction Arts Festival.

In the meantime, I once again commend both Róisín Maher and Clíona Maher for what they have achieved with ‘Finding a Voice’. It is an event now firmly on the Irish cultural calendar – a first of its kind certainly in Ireland. It is world class music on our doorstep here in Tipperary. Support it.

For more information on Finding a Voice see:

tel: 353-52-6127877

Remembering my Café – Boutique – ‘The Business’, 1 Summerhill Nenagh

business blog 1 001

It is not unusual, perhaps,  that I decided to write this particular blog, at this particular juncture in my life.  January is a time for reflection and this year, once again, we do so with a heaviness of heart.

I mentioned in the introduction to Greenville Style, that on the day I sat my Viva (Latin for, by ‘live voice’)  – the defense of my PhD,  in Cultural Anthropology at NUIM, my external examiner Professor Hastings Donnan , asked me, after the exam, what I intended to do next. He must have anticipated that I would say ‘find a publisher for the thesis’ or ‘look for an academic position’. My response greatly surprised him: ‘I want to open a fashion boutique’.

The Journey to ‘The Business’

The journey to ‘The Business’ began. Researching and planning the shop started pretty much immediately after I left NUIM and put behind me, for ever I thought, my academic life.

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With Olivia and Rosie at The Grafton Academy of Fashion Design Dublin

I wanted to get out of academia, and  get involved in the arts, culture, fashion and interior design. I needed mentally and emotionally a break from years of difficult academic study. I did a short course at The Grafton Academy in Fashion Design in Dublin ( and met wonderful people there.

I also started, but never completed, a course at UL in Entrepreneurship. It just was too much like the academic life I had left behind me, or so I felt and I had difficulty trying to apply the theoretical business approaches I was being taught, to the creative and business idea, I had visualized, and wanted to bring to life.


Nenagh seemed the perfect location for such a shop – at a cross-road, almost, mid Country, where I felt people could easily travel to it.

A  prosperous town in the late Nineties and early Naughties, I found a property to rent at No 1 Summerhill, that caught my eye and the rent was not prohibitive. Though I recall one local person, telling me at the time, that the business was ‘doomed to fail’ before it even opened. Apparently ‘all businesses that established in that premises, never succeeded’. I tried not to focus on that particular comment and put it down to begrudgery. There was no shortage of that! vintage car 001

Vintage car we parked across the street from The Business . Our window displays were always like works of art!


During this time I had moved back to live in Killough and I had met my future husband. My world started to become filled with artistic and creative people, which I had missed for over a decade and a half. I was collaborating with wonderful people involved in the Arts – Lyn Kirkham and Paul Finch of Greenmantle; Giordana Giache; Alexandra Zolich; Magdalena Soltysik; Tom Doherty; Sizmon Pruciak; Dessislava Oberholtzer – to name a few. Life was good.

I also completed research on Tipperary personalities I had been working on and that got published in a specially themed edition of the The Irish Entrepreneur Magazine (Sept/Oct 2003), which I was delighted about.

business.entrepreneur 002

Good… but Challenging Times,

Saying that I could also list all the things that were a huge challenge and concern to me at that same time, that cost me many sleepless nights. The fact that I had no first hand experience in fashion buying was a huge concern and, on reflection, the single biggest problem I faced in making the boutique side of the business work. You cannot learn this skill from a book and I had no experience in this area – something that I now see was vital for the enterprise to succeed. I also became pregnant, unexpectedly, with our eldest child Don (now 14)  -in the mist of setting up the business.

Steadfastly I nonetheless dug my heels in and kept going at it. I wanted my shop to be more than just a boutique. I wanted a little café too; and a gallery space. I wanted my shop to be a place for cultural events and gatherings. I had a great team with me, helping me in the day to day aspects of things – Adam, Diane Fahy, Aoife Flaherty and Josie Nolan, among others.

It was a time when finance was easy to get and Banks were lending – too easily. We certainly could not see the financial crash that was looming down the road, on the sunny Sunday afternoon, when I finally opened my dream business venture at 1, Summerhill Nenagh.

The Opening Day

The official opening happened on September 12th, 2004,  when I was nearly 8 months pregnant. The shop was thronged with people. Brian Kennedy, who was guest of honour and officially opened the business, sang ” You raise me Up”; the late Anne Bushnell, who regularly visited us here at Greenville before she died, gave probably one of her most wonderful live performances. And the late and inspirational Professor Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, who we lost only last year, came along, to have a glass of champagne and wish us well.

Tim Ryan Exhibition

That first year I had to juggle prenatal hospital visits with buying trips for the next season. This was a very difficult juggling act. I was also planning my next big event at ‘The Business’ – an exhibition of the works of locally born knitwear designer Tim Ryan.

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This was the image we used for the Invitation card to Tim Ryan’s exhibition. It is a photograph of a section, of the knitted dress he designed for me for the opening of the shop

This was planned for Oct 29th 2004 and we were delighted when cultural critic and writer Robert O’Byrne agreed to come down to Nenagh to open the event.

We exhibited 8 designs by Tim on Saturday October 29th – displaying his attention to colour and fabric and the originality of his beautiful pieces.

It was another great evening. I did not anticipate that I would be on route to St. Luke’s hospital the following afternoon. Labor pains started , not long after we got home that night after Tim’s exhibition opened. Don was born, Sunday evening October 30th – to the overwhelming joy of Joseph and I, our respective Mothers, extended family and friends. Our precious first boy, one of three, we so adore.

Fashion Show and Presentation of the works of customized Vintage Designer, Mei Hui Liu

The next event I held was in 2005 – a vintage fashion show and I presented the unique works of London based customized vintage designer Mei Hui Liu.

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Invitation Card for the Fashion Show featuring Mei Hui Liu’s designs. This is a drawing of one of her dresses.

I was delighted that Cyril Cullen from Farney Castle, another highly respected knitwear designer, compéred this event.  There is a book about Cyril “Knot Sure: The Life and Work of Irish Fashion Designer Cyril Cullen”  by Margot Cullen, his daughter, for those interested to know more about his work.

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Cyril Cullen and Denise

Models walked up and down the beautiful hand crafted stairs at the shop (designed by Greenmantle, Killea) and the atmosphere was, again, electric.

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Joanne Hynes and Baby Don

Joanne Hynes popped in for a glass of wine and I had one of my own Mother’s dresses modeled on the day – which I still have and occasionally wear.

Fiona Marron Exhibition

The exhibition of Fiona Marron’s works in 2006 was another special occasion.


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Denise,, Honor Heffernan and Fiona Marron

This was opened by jazz and blues singer Honor Heffernan  ( who had used one of  Fiona’s lovely paintings, as part of her album cover, ‘Fire and Ice’). Again, a large gathering came on the evening, and several of Fiona’s works sold. I was always eager to support designers, artists and craftspeople – from every walk in life.

Kate Hennessy

business.kate 001I held several other smaller exhibitions and events such as displaying the work of Kate Hennessey, pictured here with her husband Tom Muldowney. We always managed to add something extra to an event at the shop – like having an old vintage car park outside the shop’s front door.


All during these years, as mentioned above, I was still going back and forth to London and Paris to plan and buy the next season’s stock. I was managing aspects of the café  which I became fascinated with – but again had no first hand experience, back then, in the food business.

I was learning on my feet, as it were, about how to buy prudently and how to run the café – but difficult times were ahead before I had worked some of these fundamental aspects of my fledgling business out. 001

With our second beautiful son Joss on the way in 2007, we were eager to plan our wedding. Or should I say – my beloved Mother certainly was! On a cold but dazzlingly seasonal December evening in 2007, I married Joseph at the Church of the Sacred Heart in Templemore. We held our reception back at our home at Killough – Greenville, the place we both loved.


business 6 001During 2007 I started sourcing fabric and doing some basic designs for a line of my own dresses. I sold several in the shop, one off pieces, that had an old Hollywood glamour style.

I collaborated with seamstresses and artists to make the dresses and I particularly loved organza (like the yellow  organza dress I am wearing in this photograph, taken in the shop). I used lace and satin fabrics also.

Economic Crash and Closure

When 2008  dawned, with economists talking about a crisis of monumental proportions, that the United States were already reeling from, I fully understood the seriousness of the situation the country was in. We were in. My shop was going to close and the ramifications were going to be enormous for Joseph and I. The global crash violently hit Ireland. In the space of a few weeks, between the end of 2007 and 2008 my dream, ‘The Business’ was over.  Panic set in and manageable cash flow problems, that could have been resolved if people had been given a few weeks, resulted in closures, panic and vile publicity. Like many caught in the middle of this global and national mess, our lives, literally, fell apart, in the space of a few weeks. If there is anything positive I can say about this nightmare period of my life it is only this – we soon discovered who are real friends were. One or two whom I would have considered loyal friends, proved themselves to be anything but.

Kilmainham Exhibition 2009 and Interview with Deirdre McQuillan ‘The Irish Times’

True to character though, I kept going, with great difficulty!. I was asked to hold an exhibition of my own creations, at the Hilton Hotel, Kilmainham in early 2009, in collaboration with photographer Tom Doherty. Tom and I have worked together artistically for several years. I am looking forward to writing a blog about his photographic career soon.

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Exhibition of my designs at the Hilton Hotel Kilmainham 2009

I was  very honoured when ‘The Irish Times’ fashion editor Deirdre McQuillan interviewed me about my style for a piece in ‘The Irish Times’ shortly after that published on April 4th 2009. So while the years that followed the closure of ‘The Business’ were difficult, to put it mildly, for Joseph and I, I still continued to build on all that I had learnt during those incredible few years, creating and managing my dream café  -boutique.

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Photograph of the page from ‘The Irish Times’

Return to Education?

As I write this  piece, there are several books on the desk in front of me. One is called ‘The Art of Art History’ by Donald Preziosi , which I have been reading since early in January. I visited the Department of Art History and Cultural Policy, at UCD, last November and it is my hope to return to do a Masters in Art History, Collections and Curating , there in the next few years.  I sincerely believed, the day I sat my Viva, I would never return to academic study again!.

There is also a cookery book from Avoca Cafe which I am currently rereading and sampling recipes from (which are great by the way). I am also looking into doing a Professional Certificate Course at Dublin Cookery School next year.  I certainly could never have anticipated the learning curve running the café at ‘The Business’ was going to be. I knew so little then about preparing food and most of my focus went to health and safety issues that were, of course, central to running a café.  Since then I have spent endless happy hours making home lattes, baking breads, and cooking meals for family, friends and guests at Greenville.

Finally I have a copy of one of the many beautiful books by Robert O’Byrne – ‘Romantic Irish Homes’ , (2009) which I was looking at, only last evening, for inspiration with a room I am redesigning at Greenville.


So at this juncture in my life, I can look back and see how it all fit together, despite the heartbreak of some dreadful moments.  My upbringing in Killough; my family (some of whom we have so loved and so recently lost, perhaps adding to my reflective mood);  the years studying for a PhD in Cultural Anthropology; ‘The Business’; my interests in Tipperary people and Tipperary as ‘a place’; the Arts; fashion, food and design –  it all, sort of, ‘adds up’ and makes sense, in a surprising type of way.

Central to it all now are four inspirational people I have the privilege to spend every day with – Joseph, Don, Joss and Étienne Devine. Thank you.

Thank everybody who has helped me learn and keep forging forward to gain new experiences. That is what life is all about.






Living the Business: Fiacri Country House Restaurant & Cookery School

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It is a sunny Sunday morning early in December and Don and I are heading over to Fiacri Country House Restaurant and Cookery School to interview Ailish Hennessy, the chef and owner, together with her husband Enda, of this renowned local enterprise.

There is a feel of Christmas in the air, and driving these local roads, like driving up to Killea every day, reminds me of time spent with my brother Tim. I recall one particular Christmas Eve he and I went to Knock and the surrounding area, near where Fiacri House is situated, as Tim wanted to meet some farmers, with whom he worked in the cattle dealing business, to give each a bottle of brandy for Christmas. Suffice to say it was a bit of an adventure and I recall we got home very late, having missed Christmas Eve mass.  Mother was not a bit happy with us!.

Since October I have made the trip to Fiacri House on several occasions as I did the cookery course that Ailish holds on Tuesday evenings, for four weeks, in October and more recently her Christmas evening class. There are classes at Fiacri House all the year round, and participants can enjoy sampling the dishes prepared in the class, in their beautiful dining room, afterwards. It was a really most enjoyable experience and I learnt some lovely new recipes.

Don and I arrive and even though it is only 10.50 am on a Sunday morning, the place is buzzing. Fires are lighting and Grace, their youngest child, is hoovering the carpet in the lobby. Things are almost ready for the arrival of a huge party of people at noon for the day Christmas cookery demonstration.


Ailish is sitting having a cup of tea at her kitchen counter, where the demonstrations take place, and she invites Don and I to join her and commence our chat.

Templetuohy Tipperary & Adalaide Road, Dublin

Ailish Hennessy was born Ailish Maher, the daughter of Betty and the late Tommy Maher in Templetuohy. I asked her if she grew up in a ‘foodie household’ and she tells me her Mother was a good cook and so was her maternal grandmother Sadie Clarke (who died, aged 96, only a few weeks ago). Ailish tells me her grandmother reared fourteen children and ‘could make a meal out of nothing’. Another family member who was a big influence was her grandaunt Jo who ran a guest house in Dublin – Kilronan B & B on Adelaide Road.

Ailish frequently spent her summers at her grandaunt’s guest house where she helped out. She loved cooking from an early age. Her grandaunt ran a top class operation and had very high standards, Ailish tells me, something that clearly left a lasting impression. However neither her Mother nor her grandaunt wanted Ailish to pursue a career as a chef, which was her dream. They wanted her to become a teacher or a nurse. Being a chef was no life for a woman, it was believed. After completing her Leaving Certificate at Our Lady’s Secondary School in Templemore (where she studied Home Economics under the late Sr. Gabrielle) there was a little compromise made – and Ailish went to Bolton Street to do a course in Hotel Management.

Alix Gardner

Ailish soon discovered Hotel Management was not the course for her. Still wanting to pursue her dream of becoming a chef, she started taking private classes under Alix Gardner, who ran a private ‘Cordon Bleu’ Cookery School in Dublin. Ms. Gardner was quick to spot Ailish’s unique talent.

Ailish won a scholarship to continue her studies with Ms. Gardner and her teacher informed Ailish’s mother that her daughter was going to go places, and not to stand in her way anymore. Finally, it had to be accepted that Ailish Maher would pursue the career she had wanted from an early age – to become a chef.

Rathsallagh House in Co. Wicklow

On completion of her scholarship Ms. Gardner had three top class jobs lined up for Ailish but advised her to take the job at Rathsallagh House in Co. Wicklow. While the salary was a little less , this would be a really worthwhile experience where Ailish would flourish. And she did. She stayed there for three years and Kaye  O’Flynn  was another big influence on her emerging career.

Cookery Classes Back in Tipperary

On her days off Ailish would come home to Templetuohy where she started to give cookery classes at her Mother’s kitchen table. They grew in popularity and she soon had as many as thirty people coming to participate. Not surprisingly her reputation as a gifted young chef was rising and she was head hunted by the Egans of Inch House who were opening up a restaurant in the Ragg Thurles. Ailish started the restaurant there but it was not long before she was again head hunted, this time by Frank Mulcahy of the Anner Hotel in Thurles. They were expanding and growing the hotel business and offered Ailish a lucrative contract to come on board.

Anner Hotel

This, however, was not the kind of kitchen Ailish was used to running – the numbers she was catering for were huge, and she had to divide her time between large wedding and other parties  and running the restaurant – a juggling act that was very difficult though she learnt a great deal  about managing larger groups here. She met her future husband Enda Hennessy, the son of John and Mary Hennessy, around this time and they were planning to start a small cookery school at their new home, in Boolareagh Knock where Enda was farming the family farm.  The plan was, after their honeymoon, that Ailish would continue to work in the Anner Hotel and run the cookery school on days off. They built their family kitchen with this in mind, ensuring it reached the Health and Safety standards needed.

Waterfront Roscrea

Once again Ailish was approached, this time with the offer to set up her own restaurant at the Waterfront Roscrea. A beautiful building, she explains to me, but the rent was very high for the location and it was hard to make the venture profitable as most of the customers wanted a seat at lunch time only. There could be large parts of the day when business would be very quiet. Ailish, however, worked almost a 7 day week here and was at this time, pregnant with their first child Tommy. A month before Tommy was born she became ill with toxemia and was hospitalized and she and Enda decided, reluctantly at this point, to close the business in Roscrea.

‘The Phone Never Stopped Ringing’

Amazingly she was no sooner home from hospital with their new baby when their phone started to ring and people wanted to know could they book a table to come eat. The plan was a cookery school, not a restaurant. So they were effectively looking to book a seat in their home!  This had not been the plan but when Ailish received a call from their local Parish Priest asking if he could book a table for lunch, for Bishop Willie Walsh and ten other priests, the day of the local Confirmation  – the realization dawned that they were most likely about to start a restaurant, right  there under their feet, at their family home.

Converting the Garage

Ailish says they had no place to put the priests and the Bishop unless they seated them at the family kitchen table! So very quickly and demonstrating the type of work ethic and resilience both Ailish and Enda have in abundance, they converted the garage situated and attached to the house into a dining space, by laying down a timber floor, polishing an old fire place that was in storage at her parent’s house in Templetuohy and installing it, and hanging some good curtains they had used at the Waterfront. Within a few weeks they had a space capable of seating their first large party at the house.


So successful was the fledgling business that just after one year their accountant advised them they should apply for a loan to expand. So they did,  building the first of two extensions to the property in 2000. Not even skeptical bankers could deter them!. It was clear the business was there and growing from word of mouth. Ailish and Enda felt sure they would make it a success story – and they did.

The Meaning of ‘Fiacri’

There are two possible meanings to the old Irish word ‘Fiacri’ and Ailish tells me it was Molly Maher from the Stables – a thatched cottage down the road, who lived to be 100 years old,  who told Enda and Ailish about the name and connection to the field where they had built their new home. One meaning is ‘Hunting King’ but the more likely meaning, in this context, is ‘wet marshy field’. 20180912_154636

Ailish says when they were building on the site they came across stones that would indicate drainage from older years, confirming the likely reason why the place was named ‘Fiacri’. And so the house, and soon to become well known gourmet restaurant, was born, something we have to be so proud of here in Tipperary.

In 2004 they were the winner of the Georgina Campbell Feile Bia Award and they are also listed among the top 50 restaurants in Ireland by Hot Press.

Living the Business


I look at my watch and it was now just after 11.30 and people were already arriving for the cookery demonstration at noon.  I commend Ailish for her remarkable energy and work ethic. ‘It cannot be easy’ I comment, ‘running a business like this from home’. Ailish is frank about the fact that it is a very demanding life. She was working the previous night until after 2 am as they had over eighty people for dinner. She was up at 7.30 am that morning and she was about to start a food demonstration at noon. The mind boggles – to have the energy to run this business, at this level, the past twenty years, and rear four children – Tommy, who has just joined the Military; Denis who is in 5th year (and now helps manage the bar at the weekends,if possible with school work commitments ); David who is in 3rd year, and their youngest Grace, pictured above with her Mam when she was a little younger. This is surely a family enterprise story of passion, dedication – but above all else, of hard work and talent.

‘Are any of the children interested in getting involved in the business?’ I ask? ‘Grace is’, Ailish says, ‘but I don’t encourage her. She could have an easier life!’. I am surprised to hear this after the effort it took for Ailish herself to convince people to allow her to pursue her chosen career  path. Somehow I get the impression Grace will make her own mind up on the subject, when the time comes.

Fiacri House is just ten minutes drive from Greenville Cottage and I encourage all our guests to go and enjoy this unique evening out in their restaurant, serving locally sourced and produced food, to the highest standards.

IMG_20181209_113451I return home after getting a photograph with Ailish, taken by Don, driving back along those rural and beautiful winding Irish roads, the sun sparking in the December mid day sky. My mind is busy thinking about the fascinating story I have heard. I have people coming later for late lunch and I am going to make Ailish’s delicious savory goats’ cheese tart, followed by one of her delicious desert recipes, like the one of her amazing deserts, photographed in this blog.

I am looking forward to the Spring classes already. While a big part of me wants to return to education soon and take the MA in Art History, Collections and Curating at UCD, there is another big part of me that would love to do a professional cookery course at the Dublin Cookery School. Maybe in time I will do both!

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Gazing from Tipperary: Mary Finn’s Remarkable Journey


‘The colour changes all the time in the landscape’, Mary Finn tells me.  We sit around her kitchen table, in the beautiful light filled home, designed for her and her husband Jim Finn, by Jim’s cousin and their mutual friend Jim Coady, in 1971 when they got married.

We ‘gaze’ at a recent painting of hers which Mary has propped on the shelf to discuss with me. It depicts a scene from Littleton bog, near Thurles, where Mary often goes to take photographs and observe the colours in this unique Irish landscape. ‘Landscapes can be bleak’ she cautions.  The flowers in this piece add life to what is, in reality, a now disused railway track that runs through the bog. They capture the attention of the observer -the gazer. Mary frequently uses photography as a reference point when starting a work of art. She and Jim have both a keen interest in photography.

Our interview touches on the theme of observation frequently. The word used in art theory is ‘the gaze’. It is an interesting verb, the verb ‘to gaze’. In an article about this published in ‘The Chicago School of Media Theory’ journal, Jennifer Reinhardt refers back to The Oxford English Dictionary which defines the verb as: ‘to look fixedly, intently, or deliberately at something’. The Dictionary also mentions that in early use, ‘gaze’ merely meant ‘to look vacantly or curiously about’. The origins of the word, Reinhardt speculates, come from Old Norse and a word meaning to ‘gaw’ – meaning to gape or stare.

Of course ‘gazing’ has become more controversial in recent decades, in art theory and other disciplines, as clearly it can suggest a power dynamic between the observer and the observed. I mention the word is also used in Anthropology, my area of training.  Both disciplines put much emphasis on seeing; how we interpret the world around us; how we give meaning to ‘objects’ or to cultural practices,  our relationships, either through writing ethnography as Anthropologists do – or by painting or drawing.

Recently discussions have revolved around how the objects observed in art can also draw us in and change our perspective, change our way of seeing. Subject and object interact, as such, in this relationship. It is a more equal dynamic.  The art viewer becomes also the observed, rather than just the observer.

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“A Bar at the Folies-Bergère” Édouard Manet Image via Courtaulds Institute

Mary mentions a painting that has intrigued her, Manet’s painting of ‘The Bar of  the Folles Bergere’ where the lady behind the bar observes us from her work place. The female gaze here is powerful, reminding us of the limitations, perhaps, of our own judgements and opinions – the limitations of the critic’s gaze.


‘One of the things that intrigues me is listening to how the observer interprets a work of art’ Mary tells me.  ‘People bring their own experience to the image and different people see different things… it’s amazing. This is what ‘the gaze’ is essentially about for me’ she explains.

This may all sound very ‘theoretical’ – but Mary Finn’s life and her body of work is the product of her keen eye and her ability to see that bit deeper than others. Her work is steeped in local community. This is where her unique artistic ‘gaze’ was initially focused and formed – in Thurles and the surrounding areas. At 71 years of age she has had an eclectic career but one thing has been consistent throughout – the importance of art and what that creative eye can bring to any endeavour.


Mary grew up in Thurles, one of two children. Her Father (Michael) and Mother (Annie) owned and managed a shop called Mixie O Connell’s in Liberty Square and Mary remembers how, as a child, she was always decorating and arranging things in the shop.

She had an interest in design and in fashion but when I asked her if this was noted by her parents or her teachers at the Presentation Convent Thurles or Loreto Convent Kilkenny, where she went to Boarding school, she says, without hesitation,  ‘no’. I comment that only a few decades ago, the language of creativity did not exist either in education or in day to day life in Ireland. Indeed it is still not fully incorporated into our educational system, the Victorian model still predominating. Mary says it was expected she would either become a teacher, work in the bank or become a nurse. And of course the hope was she would marry well!. This was the norm for her generation and for her gender. A career in any area of design or in art would have been unheard of.


Work by Tina ( Bridget) Shelly


However, there was one very powerful female personality who did influence her creatively, although they never met!  Her Paternal Grandmother Tina (Briget) Shelly . She died young after the birth of her only child, Mary’s father and is buried in Killinan Cemetery Thurles.  She loved to draw and paint and many of her pieces were in Mary’s home growing up. She tells me she posted one of her Grandmother’s paintings on Facebook 100 years after she died. Clearly her Grandmother’s work had a deep and lasting influence, and showed Mary that there was value in drawing and painting, even if it was presumed it would not lead to anything that might make money or inform a career.


Mary’s Father also died young, at 46, when Mary was only 16, a tragedy that had a huge impact on her, the year she was doing her Leaving Certificate. In a beautiful tribute about this sad experience Mary writes:When my father left me, I was distraught, but I now realise after all these years that I have kept him close by nurturing the legacy that has sustained me and that I have passed on to my children, his love of the arts, particularly music and art. He never knew his mother who was a very good and an enthusiastic hobby artist’.


Ballynahow Castle

Ballynahow Castle


When Mary finished in secondary school she did a Commercial Course at the Loreto Crumlin and started to work immediately in the Bank of Ireland.

She met her future husband Jim Finn at a joint 21st party she held with her friend Eileen O Donoghue, and Mary and Jim got married a few years later when Mary was 24 years old.

Jim’s family lived just outside Thurles on a farm where the impressive Ballynahow Castle (A 16th century round Castle)  is situated.




As mentioned above Jim’s relative and their mutual friend designed their first home, at the entrance to Jim’s family farm, and this light filled house, in le Corbusier style architecture, is where they started their married life together and the rearing of their four children.




With Mary at her Studio Oct 2018



It is where I sit, on a sunny Autumn day in 2018, to interview Mary. The light flows in the windows as I admire the views from the kitchen table of the surrounding locality. After our chat we go out to her art studio, situated beside the house, to get a quick snap to remember the day.





Mary tells me she started to note the number of people who drove past their home and into the farm to see the Castle and Mary decided to start a B& B at the farmhouse adjacent to the castle where Jim’s parents then lived. So Jim’s parents moved out to their house and Mary and Jim and their children moved into the farmhouse. Mary said it was a big adjustment because it was so much darker than the house they had designed as their home.


Farmers Journal Article 1987

‘Activity holidays’ were beginning to become popular in Ireland and Mary came up with an idea to add value to the farmhouse B&B by doing painting holidays for children. She had been on a residential course, of this nature, in the Lake District in England and she spotted the opportunity to do the same at their home. I comment that this was very innovative for it’s time. They even got major coverage in The Farmer’s Journal for their initiative, in an article published in 1987.

A local art teacher from the Ursuline in Thurles, Bertha Holmes, would come out to the house and eight or nine children would come and stay on holidays and participate in these painting classes.  Mary and Jim restored a thatched building on the farm as an art studio and the classes gained in popularity and recognition. During this time  Mary was also acting as the Tipperary representative for Irish Farm Holidays and so the next twenty years went by, managing the guest house and bringing visitors to Thurles and to their farm to learn more about Irish country life and the history of Tipperary.


When her last child Michael started in university, Mary decided it was time to go back to education. Remarkably she did several diplomas and degrees in the years that followed while also holding down for almost a decade, a full time job with the VEC. She started by attending what was then called Tipperary Institute where she commenced a business Diploma and she completed this at the Institute of Public Administration where she graduated with a degree in Business Marketing. Work experience, while doing the Business Diploma in TI,  was mandatory so Mary got went to work for the VEC, and soon became a valuable and hardworking employee. She did a Higher Diploma in Education Literacy Development (Management) between 2003-6 and  started to work as a Community Education Manager , coordinating  literacy courses for several local VEC schools and colleges.

Her second last son James was at this point getting married so once again houses were swapped and Mary and Jim moved back to their original home at the entrance to the farm and their son took over the farm business.  Mary headed out to work every day and once again her creative side empowered and informed her work as she introduced art into the programmes for teaching literacy. I comment, yet again, this was highly innovative. Mary agrees but recalled how, as a child, she would remember things and learn things by association with an image or a drawing she had done, so she could see and understand how this would help people develop educationally and of course socially. It all seemed to add up like a perfect jigsaw puzzle.

BAVA (Bachelor of Arts in Visual Arts)  DIT Sherkin Island

About nine years into her job with the VEC, someone mentioned to Mary at a drawing class at the National Gallery of Ireland ,  that she would really enjoy doing the Visual Arts degree offered at Sherkin Island.  Mary was allowed flexibility by the VEC to study part time for this second degree and so she made the decision to go ahead with it.  So for the first two years, of the four year degree for a Bachelor of Arts in Visual Arts, Mary studied and worked part time before she retired from the VEC to concentrate fully on finishing her degree and focusing completely on her artistic career.



” Three sheets in the Wind”


Mary never really stops leaning and enhancing her practice. She regularly attends the Slade Summer School, part of the University of London, where practicing artists go to meet like minded artists and upgrade their skills through practice. She also goes to the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig where she enjoys the company or other writers and artists. Mary regrets there is not a more active art scene in the midlands for people to get together for this type of art practice. She contrasts this with places like Sligo where there is a dynamic art community. I mention it may be because the midlands and Tipperary in particular are farming communities and this would perhaps lessen the awareness and interest there might otherwise be in artistic pursuits?.  That said, Mary tells me how grateful she was for Thurles Art Circle, which she and Jim joined in the early 70s and she specifically mentions the role of Tom Holmes and Enda McCann and the importance of having these people around then to stimulate and encourage their creative interests at that time. Jim was one of the founder members of Thurles Camera Club.


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From Mary’s sketch books


As my son Don has come to the interview with me, as he often does, we complete our chat by involving him more directly and Mary explains to him that she makes her own charcoal and even some of her own paints.

She shows Don some of her beautiful sketchbooks and we can’t help being awed by their detail and the obvious talent behind each sketch or painting or note she has kept. I suggest she should keep them very safe for posterity as they are works of art in themselves.

I ask about other artists who have influenced her work and she mentions Jack B Yeats as her consistent favorite but also Alberto Giacometti and William Kentridge. She holds a special place for Brian Friel  (whom I was privileged to meet personally when doing my PhD) and in particular his famous play ‘Philadelphia here I Come’. A story about emigration – something the Irish have experienced for decades since the famine in the 1840s , this play is also a narrative about how we see and interpret other people’s behaviors and emotions – in particular those who are close to us.  It is the critical relationship between Father and son Friel explores in this work and the play suggests their communication may not ‘reflect’  the love shared between them. (Another interesting verb, ‘to reflect’, the origin of which is derived from light hitting the earth with the resulting throw back of colours).

Mary PictureI am so delighted we have one of Mary Finn’s work at Greenville Cottage, a piece inspired by the local bog and windmills – the ancient (the bog) and the modern (the windmills), majestically complimenting each other in one of her wonderful art pieces. A little like how the artistic gaze can incorporate both the interpretation of the observer and the perceived interpretation, by the observed. My guests always comment on it, I tell Mary.

Because of artists like Mary Finn we will look again at the colours that radiate from our local landscape, gaze just a little longer – so we can see things, even our own relationships perhaps, more clearly.