Our Wine Correspondent Jakob Ligvine Creek found himself transported by Galway Hooker at the opening of “From Galway to Leenane: Perceptions of Landscape” at the National Gallery of Ireland.
A seagull wailed in the distance, high above in the clear blue of the summer evening, filling the heart with a great yearning and hunger for the sea far, far to the west. You could taste the salty waters in every breath. You could hear the wind billowing in the sails of a Galway Hooker like the blood pumping its rhythms in the inner ear. There was a heightened awareness as if you could sense every droplet of the sea as it was broken before the keel of the boat, like those precious seconds of life that we recall as we look for the site of our grave in the ancestral hills of our spiritual home. This was where I stood on the evening of July 17th 2013 listening to the hauntingly beautiful Sean-nós singing of Ceára Conway in the atrium of the National Gallery. She was singing Amhrán Mhuighinse, a lament in which a woman on the edge of death sings of her wish to be taken west to the place of her burial among the sand dunes on the island of her people:
“Bring me west to Muighinis, where I will be mourned loudly;
The lights will be on the dunes, and I won’t be lonely there.”
In my desire to find a cool reprieve from the sun-baked street, just like the mournful soul of the lament, I had accidently wandered into the opening of the exhibition of watercolours of West of Ireland scenes painted by the English topographical artist William Evans of Eton (1798-1877) and the contemporary artist Wendy Judge. Judge’s work is a response to Evans’ masterful collection of watercolours that are a window onto the pre-famine world of the west; a juxtaposition which results in an exhibition of strangely familiar images of both the mid-19th century and the 21st century. I had not expected to be so transported, but strange things can happen to the savage heart when unexpectedly exposed to those raw emotions our heritage can evoke. Not to mention to the delicious Galway Hooker Pale Ale on tap, a real complement to this great homage to the west of Ireland and the artists that it has inspired, old and new. Galway Hooker Pale Ale is itself quite a new creation having been borne into the world only as recently as 2006; but it has a taste of something much, much older – noble and ancient.
It was a very different day from the last time I had attended an opening in the National Gallery: a rainy winter’s evening in January (see Wine Soak no.7: Ligvine Strikes Again). On this occasion the heat was unbearable; all previous records of summer temperatures and heat-wave duration were on the cusp of being broken. Not since the 26th of June in 1887 at Kilkenny Castle, just ten years after the death of William Evans, had temperatures been so high. Truly the sponsorship of this event by the brewers of the crisp, cool, refreshing Galway Hooker Pale Ale was inspired.
All the week the weather had been transporting me back in memory to the ancestral home of the Ligvine family; to those languishing summers of feckless youth and endless hot lethargic days spent in the west of Ireland lounging upon the lawn of the house in which I grew up. So it was fitting to find myself once again in the National Gallery at an exhibition that accelerated my descent into a reverie of the past. Slipping past a century and a half of history, the sight of the Galway Hooker and the Spanish Arch in Evans’ watercolour is a distant view over a long temporal gap that still feels utterly recognizable. Conversely, the contemporary works of Wendy Judge manage to perceptually place us at a distance by providing binoculars that work in reverse, creating the perspective of the far away that evokes how we view the landscape as a distant place of romanticised dreams and imagination. It was an exceptional stroke of genius to invite the cousins Aidan Murphy and Ronan Brennan, the owners and inventors of the Galway Hooker Pale Ale, to sponsor this evening of time travel and temporal slippage that, rather than destabilise, made this old hack feel more at home and more comfortable in his own skin than usual. (Ronan Brennan was there himself to release the magic brew from the taps at the temporary bar).
However, the evening was not without its intellectual rigour and challenging new ideas; there were vibrant conversations about our identity, the impact of the cultural tourism of the pre-famine topographic painter and the ideas surrounding armchair tourism as explored in the work of Wendy Judge. The opening was prefaced by fine speeches from the curator Anne Hodge and the Gallery Director Sean Rainbird, who spoke of the priceless cultural value of these exceptional watercolours. The evening was going so well that the Gallery Director couldn’t even dampen our spirits (excuse the pun) by bringing us back to the national obsession with the weather as he made reference to the evidence of raindrops in some of the works that would have been painted ‘en plein-air’. Historian and archaeologist Michael Gibbons was a brilliant addition as the guest speaker – his own grandfather having sailed a Galway Hooker into the quays of Galway as represented in the paintings. He spoke of the valuable information that we can glean from the images painted by Evans and, in the course of the evening, he was a fount of knowledge concerning the places and the traditions of the west. Some native tongue was even spoken during the course of a conversation that sprang up around Dinnseanchas, a form of oral song and storytelling that comes to us from pre-literary times and is a mnemonic device to aid the retention of the ancient lore of places.
The Galway Hooker Pale Ale was itself exuding properties of the Dinnseanchas, as the taste of the crisp, citric and caramel ale danced a sensual song of its own upon my palate. It was also having the effect of pushing my consciousness back into the past: I had my first taste of this exceptional beer in Neachtain’s pub, at the corner of Cross Street and Quay Street right in the middle of Galway city, a few years ago when I brought a Spanish lady-friend to the west in the hope that, if she fell in love with the west, she might look more fondly upon Ligvine. But, alas, the constant driving rain and tales of her fellow countrymen being massacred at Spanish Point quenched the flame of the romantic adventure. Nonetheless, I’ll never forget my first taste of the Galway Hooker. Nor will I easily forget that haunting song and the melancholy gull crying on the day I went to see the watercolours of William Evans of Eton and the inspired works of Wendy Judge in the Print Gallery of the National Gallery.
From Galway to Leenane: Perceptions of Landscape will run from the 15th of June to the 29th of September 2013 in the Print Gallery of the National gallery of Ireland.