We asked writer Felicity Hayes-McCoy a question. What is it about the Dingle peninsula that draws so many creatives to it? The area has been a magnet for writers, painters, poets and craftspeople for over a century. And those are just the incomers. Local people here have been craftspeople and artists for thousands of years.
This is what she told us:
Now I’ve only got about five hundred words here, but bear with me because I need to begin at the beginning. In the Irish language the peninsula’s name is . It’s pronounced something like Curk-uh-gwee-nuh, and it means ‘the territory of the people of the goddess Danú’. Danú’s people were Iron Age Celts who came to Ireland from mainland Europe and Britain, probably moving ahead of the advancing Roman Empire. They were a subtle, creative race who rated poets and craftsmen with kings. They loved detail, repeated patterns, dynamic contrasts and unexpected turning points. And they revelled in words shaped and strung together to make music out of imagery.
There are living echoes of that ancient inheritance in the stories and songs that can still be heard here in the pubs back west of Dingle. In the early twentieth century it inspired writers like the English poet and academic Robin Flower, whose book The Western Island, about life on the peninsula’s offshore , is a wonderful introduction to the area. And the same influence is present in the wealth of books, poems and works of art that have been crafted here since, by other incomers.
I think it has something to do with colour and light. Celtic craftsmen and women loved colour. They decorated bronze and gold with red enamel, and combined silver and jet with crystal beads and polished bone. Gold was curved and hammered to reflect light, and discs of glass and precious stones were outlined in woven copper. Here in the pure air of Corca Dhuibhne you can see what inspired them. This place is still full of craftsmen and women. And whether they’re builders, stonemasons, weavers, potters or painters, they still respond to the vibrant colours of the landscape and the endlessly changing play of light on the wide ocean that surrounds them.
Drop into Tigh Áine in Ballyferriter and you’ll see what I mean. Áine’s a painter whose beautifully-observed landscapes and seascapes are displayed for sale on the walls of her café/restaurant with its stunning views of the Atlantic. Get talking to her, and you’ll find she’s a weaver as well, the widow of a remarkable writer, whose books are also for sale there, and a woman with her own fund of stories about the area. (Try asking about the standing stone in her field which mustn’t be moved because it’s the meeting place for fairies from two neighbouring parishes.)
Or visit Louis Mulcahy’s pottery in Cloghar, or Lisbeth Mulcahy’s Weaver’s Shop in town. Admire Carol Cronin’s powerful paintings, or discover Maria Simonds-Gooding’s wonderful abstract artworks distilled from images of the peninsula’s field patterns and boundaries. Like Áine – and like so many others – they’ve all been drawn to interpret and share their response to this glorious place by living and working where they’ve found their inspiration.
As for me, the beauty of Corca Dhuibhne, its language and culture has inspired my own work as a writer. I first came here from Dublin when I was seventeen, on a scholarship to learn Irish.
From the moment I crossed the mountain to Dingle I fell in love. With the beauty of the place, the kindness of the people and with a way of looking at life that was deeper, richer and wiser than any I’d ever known. I’m often reflecting on the contrasts and similarities between this place and inner-city London, where I built my career. It took years for my husband and me to decide to live and work in both places and experience those dynamic differences for real. My new book, The House on an Irish Hillside, explores how that decision came to be made, and how living and working in a stone house here has utterly changed my life.
Par for the course in Dingle I suppose.
Felicity’s new memoir on establishing her life in Dingle is released today. If you’re craving more Dingle inspiration then have a look at this video Felicity made based on the book, or chat to her on Facebook.