Viewing Sligo from the outside in…

Like most visitors to Ireland, I had no connections with the land what-so-ever. No Irish ancestry that I know of, no Mac surname to research… I hail from Malta and apart from both being two Catholic islands with echoes from the British era, I can find extremely scares commonality to build upon. But who really cares about formal twinning, I love beer, the big open landscapes, friendly people and a less hectic-paced society. Suddenly I discovered that Ireland looked very familiar.

This summer I toured good chunks of the Emerald Isle, spending a considerable portion in County Sligo. To the hurried visitor coached along Sligo’s carriageways just below the speed limit, Sligo is another pretty blurry place. I fought the notion and resisted the tourist honeypots to the best of my ability. With varying degrees of success. I let myself fall for the spell of the Irish Landscape that Sligo can comfortably bank upon. I must admit, my visit was barely surface scratching and saying that I explored Sligo would be untruthful. But I had a secret weapon that I unleashed with urgency upon the place – my trusted sketchbook. As a landscape artist, Sligo felt to me like a kid locked up in a candy store. Where do I start? In this post I want to, through my art, relay the impression that County Sligo left on me.

We came into County Sligo from the south. Leaving Galway behind we drove on a road that meandered through numerous towns and villages. Our basecamp was not Sligo town itself, but a farmhouse at the foot of the towering Benbulben. On the way there we passed right through the town on the dissecting N4 heading north. With our luck, we managed to scoop all the red light waits giving us plenty of time for us to scrutinize whatever one can entertain with the view of busy junctions. People walking dogs, a group of school children in uniforms walking back home, road crews in high-viz jackets.

One junction in Sligo, however, did ignite interest, the house with a large mural about a surfer in a barrel wave. It clicked to me that the huge wave was an icon of Ireland’s furious sea. The exciting sun-splashed wave juxtaposed against a drab city house in gunmetal colored skies – what a contrast, I had to bag this one in a painting. … Suddenly the lights turned green and we sped off to our farmhouse destination further north. But I made a note to return the following day, a combination of pictures from my camera, a quick sketch, and my fresh memory would suffice to enable me to capture it on canvas as soon as we want back home

Next on the explorers warrant was a deserted beach, common in Ireland but unheard of in crowded Malta. Beaches attract people for a multitude of reasons – mine was the search for space and the wonderful type of loneliness. We drove north through Grange. We could smell the ocean spray before we could see the sea.

The dunes at Streedah Beach swallow walkers aimlessly exploring the open stretches, rocks, sands and fragile vegetation. On my visit I paced the length of the beach, the sky was massive and powerful and turned quickly into an ominous steely grey as if practicing for the return of a second Armada. The sea darkened and the waves shot higher up the sandy slopes. It was time for me to retire to the safety of a nearby pub.

The existential experience on Streedagh was not the only one. The next stop was equally sobering. We made our way to Mullagmore harbour, me being keen on history, I was well aware of its events. I was determined to give the place a well deserving tranquil view. The weather was not helping. Sombre clouds hung low and a cold wind blew in from the north. I had to do a painting with minimal sky and a family friendly setup. My two cents contribution perhaps to this place…

We looped round the coast road to come in view of the castle. I could not bear the skies any more. The sky Gods seem to be offended that they were left out earlier, they squeezed my heart till I could bear no more. So I had to please them in all their pensive glory. The big heavy sky had it their way. They dwarfed the lonely cottage near the castle, hopefully humbling the viewer.

We spent more days combing through County Sligo. Strandhill with its beach certain deserved to be framed in canvas as well as countless other spots. Throughout the county I lost count of paintable views of fields with cattle, derelict farmhouses, commanding cliffs, foaming waves, waterfalls, wayside chapels, moored boats, pub interiors. An endless list of inspiration which dearly missed a key ingredient!

I was waiting for a break in the grey weather as it greatly affects my creative outlook. Ireland in sunshine sings. I have to paint what I see and sadly the greys never lifted and days slipped by. I enjoyed quality family time visiting places like sheepdog demonstrations and hearty dining. Soon it was time for that mad dash to the airport and back home. But make no mistake, I’ll be back and will be making offerings to the blue skies. I’ll come prepared.

Henry Falzon is an artist based in Malta. He travels and paints landscapes of wherever he goes. Sligo left a marked impression. 

The Sligo collection will be expanded in the near future. These paintings are available as very affordable limited edition prints. Please do get in contact – email: henfalz@gmail.com  Facebook: HENRY FALZON – FINE ART,  website  www.henryfalzon.com

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