Tom O’Donoghue’s wonderful opening Speech - many words and each one worth reading!

“After two days march, without anything remarkable but bad quarters, we entered into the barony of Burren, of which it is said, that it is a country where there is not water enough to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury him.”

Such was the bleak view of the Burren of one Edmund Ludlow, a Cromwellian soldier in 1651. Wexford in its turn would even to this day, in the folk memory, hold a bleak view of Mr. Cromwell and his soldiers. No such bleakness in the heart or brush of Wexford man Paddy Darigan in his exquisite studies of the Burren which are central to this evening’s exhibition Rocky Place.

A national treasure, a national park, the Burren is the only karst region in these islands. It has fascinated me since childhood. I cannot describe the feeling of awe, yet tranquility, which comes over me when I return to the Burren each year for my annual spiritual top-up. Imagine, then, my delight when Paddy invited me to introduce his new Burren works to you. We talked at length about the contradictory nature of the place, its barrenness yet its warmth, its isolation yet its traces of human habitation from Neolithic times, its almost monochrome vistas, yet its profusion of colour in its small, close-up detail. We share a passion for this unique place, where alpine plants flourish but a few miles from the sea, where nature is the perfect bonsai artist, where the light is radiant and changing with each passing cloud and where the rockscape can change from shimmering white to grey and blue with each passing shower.

And now Paddy shares some of this unique place with you in this exhibition. Choosing hand-made French paper and watercolour as his media, he captures the place for you. Tastefully framed \with generous mounts, the work divides very naturally into flora and non flora. On the flora side, he presents studies of clints and grykes, typical Burren pavements, lit up with such beauties as Bloody Cranesbill, Devil’s Bit, Sloe Berries and the merry and gay Tutsan, a hypericum also known as St John’s Wort, always guaranteed to give you a lift, one way or another! The tones and tints are beautifully captured.

Four studies on Erosion have a surreal moonscape quality capturing in tone and texture the Burren pavements and a sense of timelessness. Yet suspend your knowledge for a moment that these are small scale studies, view these studies as broad landscapes. Every time you look you will discover something new. Hang one of them in your living space and get used to being surprised by new interpretations and grow to love it.

Two other pieces in acrylic capture the true spirit of the Burren, a diptych of majestic Mullaghmore and a triptych, Burren Coastline, with granite erratic boulders, simply known in neighbouring Iniseer as stráinséirí, strangers. They are stark reminders of the effect of the last Ice Age on the landscape and connecting us with 10,000 years of history.

Before I leave the Burren theme can I urge you, Paddy, to go back and capture the orchids and maidenhairs and worts, the Irish Eyebrights, the Mountain Avens and most especially, the Spring Gentian. Now there’s a blue that will challenge you.

I have spent a good deal of my leisure time by the Sow River, walking in Eden Vale, and fishing its upper reaches. I understand too that some of Paddy’s best schooldays were spent in Eden Vale and to great profit as you can see from his two excellent portrayals of the inner waterfall and the glide just above Lennon’s Bridge. In mood and atmosphere he evokes the movement and mystery of that special place in autumn. These are paintings to gladden your heart at any time of year.

In keeping with the theme of Rocky Place, Paddy presents us with views of Muckross Woods which grow on old red sandstone. There is a predominance of sessile oak with an abundance of holly and of mosses, caught hauntingly here by Paddy’s pallet. These are tree studies are of Kerry not Narnia but equally affective. The wildness of other Kerry landscapes is brought to with his view of the Magillicuddy Reeks and the Gap of Dunloe.

Paddy shows us his recently acquired skill in three lithographic studies of Burren landscape and frog. The lithographic process is of itself fascinating. Aptly, for the theme of this exhibition, a very fine-grained flat limestone is prepared, and any memories of previous images are excised. Paddy tells me that it is possible to find a lithographic stone last used maybe fifty years ago and, having inked it, to pull an image from it.

In the case of the three images for this exhibition, the stone used has been prepared in the traditional manner, first patented in Germany in 1798.

When satisfied with the image, six copies only have been printed and the stone cleared of its memory ready for its next image. I can think of no more appropriate subject for this process than Burren pavements.

I would like to compliment Tony Robinson and Spectrum for the tasteful mounts and frames which show the Burren studies in all their glory and to note the complementary moulded frames for the oils.

In opening and maintaining the Art Upstairs Gallery, Denis Collins sustains his long involvement with the arts in Wexford and affords a fitting outlet for visual artists to showcase their work on Wexford’s Main Street. He also curates a sister gallery in Rosslare Strand where can be found a wide collection of prestigious Irish artists.

I have known Paddy Darigan as boy and man and have watched with admiration and pride his development as a visual artist. He had his first solo exhibition at twenty, and each subsequent showing of his works has charted the maturing of his painterly thought and technique.

His mission statement, or at least his explanation of how he approaches the making of his visual art, goes a long way to make us understand why he has succeeded in giving us the collection of landscapes, of places which we are viewing this evening:

‘I believe that an artist should express their whole self in their work, not just one aspect of their self, the work must be honest and there is no place for pretentiousness or false projections to try to accommodate the latest trend, only work that is done with empathy and understanding for the subject and real feeling for the work can be of any value.... My paintings vary in theme.. some landscapes which are more about movement expression and light than the physicality of the place, what I am trying to say is that this is the way this place makes me feel rather than what is in my eyes’

I suggest to you that, in terms of honesty, movement and expression, Paddy Darigan has surpassed even his own very high standards with this exhibition.

Realistically priced, you are afforded an opportunity to own a piece of this established artists work. I warmly commend this collection of works to you.

Tom O’Donoghue