This post is also available in: polski (Polish)
Low lie the fields of Athenry
Where once we watched the small free birds fly
Our love was on the wing we had dreams and songs to singFrom song Fields of Athenry
When after a long time I dared on a solo trip outside Galway, I met an adventure that I had never dreamed about. On Sunday morning, I packed my blue bike onto the train and went to Athenry, only two stops. Next, I headed by Tuam Road to Castle Ellen House, for the exhibition ‘Town and Country.
Route 347 meandered between the ‘Fields of Athenry’. I stopped for a moment at the stone wall, because there was a ginger cat sitting there. A message from Hugh was ringing in my head – You’ll find something you’re unexpected. After 20 minutes of pedaling, I finally saw a red sign with a painted portrait of Castle Ellen House, and behind it was a wide-open gate with two flags on the sides: Irish and Indian. The tree-lined avenue beyond the entrance reminded me of the one running to the Paul Cézanne house in Aix-em-Provance in France.
Meanwhile, I was still in Ireland. Beautiful branches of trees towered over my head, and green pastures flashed beside me. When cows saw me, they approached the fence and started making puzzled expressions, or maybe they were making welcoming smiles. A gray and brown detached house emerged from the grass. And in the red door on the porch under the Ionic columns, a woman wearing a sunny sweater had stood. It was artist Yvonne Devine who grew up here. I did not know that this place was also visited by the poet Oscar Wilde years ago.
‘Town and Country‘ exhibition
Right next to the manor house, I noticed a glass cottage resembling an old greenhouse. The glass in the front door was cracked, but it seemed as if the scratches had been carved by an artist of the time. Inside the room, there was a lot of lumber, but it blended in nicely and cozy with the paintings, drawings, and multimedia works of art. I felt like I explore a mysterious attic that I loved to search as a child. My attention was drawn to fish painted on can lids stuck on small pieces of wood.
Yvonne Devine – the exhibition coordinator told me that these are salmons jumping up from the Corrib River that runs through Galway. And now, one of those pictures stays on my table.
At the exhibition, I discovered a lot of fragments from my city. In the paintings, Shop Street was dressed in purple and navy blue light, and I could feel the calmness passing between the buildings. The art presented at the exhibition was created during Yvonne’s two-month stay in County Galway. She lives in London on a daily basis. Most works were made from recycling, from materials that she found in the residence.
A warm-hearted host
I walked slowly, hugged very old trees. I was looking for a Two-Acre Walled Garden. When I finally found a large courtyard surrounded by interesting buildings and I was looking at very old stone figurines. Then suddenly I heard someone calling me. I turned and saw a nice elderly man in an awesome vest with a pattern of colorful squares. He invited me to an old house and it turned out that he is the owner of this residence.
Civil engineer Michael Keaney bought Castle Ellen House in 1974 and thus saved it from oblivion. He tries to restore it step by step but also wants to keep its old atmosphere. The interiors look very natural and you can feel like in a 19th-century movie. Michael makes his amazing house and beautiful grounds available to the public from 12.00 to 16.00. He is a host with a great heart and treats each visitor extraordinary. He also regularly invites local artists to his place.
Michael, John – his best friend, and I sat down at the table. Flames sizzled in a fireplace in the red-walled room with many big windows. Over it was large pheasants towered and piles of photographs. The shadow of the old days was reflected in the very old mirror and blinked an eye to the present. I found next to me a book about the history of the Anglo-Irish Lambert family, who built this manor in 1810 and lived there for generations, moving from a castle built in 1679, the ruins of which lie near the entrance to today’s manor house.
Meanwhile, I heard that Indian friends are coming soon to celebrate India’s Independence Day. Michael put on his navy blue jacket and stood in the doorway to warmly welcome them. John, on the other hand, took me to a mysterious garden. In the corridor of a huge hedge, I felt like in a jungle. John showed me little wild apple trees, and everything around. There was also a pear tree that grew on the wall, and a tree from California that has interesting leaves I have never seen.
After a walk in the garden, John took me to a mysterious cottage that was out of the way from the mansion. There was also a red door leading to it. Inside, I discovered various vehicles, incl. beautifully painted gypsy car. My head was spinning from the impressions. And indeed I found something here that I did not expect. And I met very cheerful people. So, I am planning another visit to Michael and chat about the history of this place.
I strongly recommend you, go there, because I’m sure that the atmosphere of Castle Ellen House and the heartiness of Michael Keaney will make you have a beautiful adventure. Or if you want, book one of 20 rooms on Airbnb, and maybe then you could try the wine from the manor basement.
*‘Fields of Athenry” – this is a song written by Pete’s St. Johna in 1979.