In my Grandmother’s footprints

Rutland Island, a small island off the north west coast of County Donegal. I am of this island. Grandparents, great-grandparents, my line stretching back generations walked where I am now walking. It is now emptied of its once full-time inhabitants, the last two, a brother and sister, took the boat to the mainland some time in the 1970s.

A handful of houses have been fixed up by descendants over the years. People come and go. At the moment, I am here by myself. I came to paint.

I was walking around the island to what is called the back strand and I stopped suddenly. At that spot, I remembered I once had a dream. Where now stands one remaining gable end of a once live in house, in my dream, I now remembered, there was a cluster of houses made of island stone. In my dream, I could smell the smoke from some of the fires. There was a young woman in an apron about to visit one of the houses. Yesterday, I saw the spot where that young woman stood. I walked right over to it. I looked at the grassy dune, and remembered, from my dream, what these houses looked like.

I stood at that spot yesterday and had goosebumps. I actually said out loud; ‘have I an ancestor trying to call me?’ I did laugh. It felt appropriate. I have re-connected with a place I always loved spending time in as a child. Does she approve? I met this woman in a forgotten dream, and felt her yesterday.

I paint seascapes and live in a seaside village, but have long harboured the idea of spending months on the island painting. It’s bleak, beautiful, isolated, inspiring, stirring. I decided to try it for a few days first so brought small canvases and a selection of materials; oil paint, white spirits, palette knives, brushes, cloths, paper plates, plastic cups. I didn’t bring an easel across on the boat. Normally I paint quite large scale, so I brought three small canvasses with me to just get a feel for how it would all work out. I tried propping them against the rocks and had brought some tape along. Too windy. Mixing colours on a paper plate failed for the same reason. I prepped and partially finished two canvasses and will finish them when I get off the island. Sand blew on to one of them, which I am leaving for effect.

It was a very good few practice days, and I know how to better prepare next time for the conditions. And of course, there will be a next time – very soon. I am of the island, and she has welcomed me back.