Trying to remember…

Carrowkeel megalithic tomb in Sligo. photo by Eoin Mac Lochlainn

Why do I do it?  Why do I paint those dusty old fireplaces when this stunning landscape is all around?  It’s a good question alright, and one I never properly addressed – until now.

I was up in the hills above Lough Arrow in County Sligo recently.  It was a place called Carrowkeel, an eerie assembly of cairns and passage graves from the Neolithic period, with fourteen hilltop tombs dating back to about 3400 BC.

(That’s about 800 years older than the Pyramids in Egypt).

It was an extraordinary experience to walk those hills and to visit the tombs.  The day we were there, magnificent clouds were galumphing across the sky, adorning the heavens with glorious vistas (and occasionally showering their splendour on unwary wanderers). I could see stone cairns to the east and to the west, and northwards to Knocknarea in the distance. The scene was changing continually as shafts of sunlight darted across the landscape.

And as I looked on, entranced by the scene, I think I answered: “Why do I do it? – To try to remember…”

photograph by Eoin Mac Lochlainn of Passage tomb at Carrowkeel, Co.Sligo

“Diaspora” – an exhibition at the Hamilton Gallery

We were up in Sligo for the opening of “Diaspora”, an exhibition of my paintings at the Hamilton Gallery for the month of October. The paintings  are from a series of empty fireplaces in derelict houses in the West of Ireland.

Well, I had been thinking about how the old people used to keep fires going throughout the night and throughout the year, and how the fireplace was ‘the heart of a home’. I had been thinking about the fireplace in my mother’s kitchen long ago. The empty fireplaces seemed so sad, so poignant.  I think the paintings are a sort of ‘requiem’ for those who have passed on.

photo by Eoin Mac Lochlainn of detail of painting of empty fireplace

“To try to remember”, I had answered. I seem to be continually trying to recapture something, or to rediscover some place, or to reach back in time and to find something that is all but lost… In Carrowkeel, I felt that I was almost there, I could almost reach it.  I wonder though, what is the connection between the empty fireplaces and the empty tombs?

If you get a chance in the next month, drop into the Hamilton Gallery in Sligo and see what you think. And as usual, your comments are always welcome.




  1. Like yourself, I’ve spent quite a bit of time visiting the old tombs and empty houses. I got a similar feeling from both. It’s an interesting question you pose. Are we drawn to these places out of some sort of ancestral memory? That may sound unscientific to some, but science hasn’t explained everything yet. In any case, Sligo is a good place to investigate those sorts of feelings. Excellent post, really enjoyed.


  2. Eoin, this idea of remembering is an interesting one. Ireland is an old country. When in the countryside, I can’t help but experience these long gone eras seeping through from the landscape.

    Remembering is about memory and, through its link to the big questions ‘where are we from?’, ‘where are we going?’, to identity …

    When looking at your fireplaces paintings, I first feel melancholy and think about the homesteads dotting the land in the wild west of Ireland.

    From a distance, they look alike. Simple. Rectangular-shaped. Ghost-like.

    But then you chose to go in and paint what’s left of the hearth.

    Each one is different. With carefully placed brush marks and colour, you showed care and attention to what is essentially the centre of life at home.

    Each hearth is no longer abandoned.

    On the contrary, each hearth in your hands has lost its anonymity and regained a personality, an identity, like a portrait. It’s life affirming.


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