“Sheep Country”, oil on canvas, 12″ x 16″
Up here is sheep country, and a few days ago I saw the best-looking sheep I’ve ever seen. Turning into a new track in search of a painting spot, a field rose to our right, and there stood a farmer, statuesque against the bright sky, his flock glinting in the sunlight. Passing him we rounded the corner and there was a view inviting us to stop, so we did, and when taking out our easels didn’t himself come to us with, “Sure it’s a long while since such a good-looking lass has been up these parts.” A broad smile on his face, he introduced himself as Pat Molloy with a warm handshake. Around him flocked the sheep, herded down the lane to the barn below by the slinking sheepdog to have their breakfast. They were beautiful sheep, and I complimented Pat, who told me they were film stars. They’d featured in The Vikings, a TV show, and American ads, and in televised sheep herding trials. Their coats were long and flouncy, sparkly white with a little wave, and there were even two black sheep amongst them, and a greyish two-tone sheep. They all had curled horns that framed their heads like a 20’s flapper hat, and they were smart, coming up to me and my easel to inquire until the sheepdog, obeying a series of strange noises uttered from the mouth of Pat, skillfully redirected them and kept them on the right track.
Pat is a real live seannachie, a storyteller, a man who’d you’d be happy to listen to from dawn ’til dusk, ‘though the scene before us beckoned to be painted…He pointed at the purple heather-clad hill beyond and told us about a plane crash that happened there in 1945, on a day when the sky touched the ground, so misty that the hills couldn’t be seen, and the plane and it’s 25 passengers went into one of them. The passengers were French students, and one of the girls took off over the hills to look for help. There are few houses up this way, and back then even fewer, and in mist you’d not have found one. So she walked very far, over the Waterfall river and all the way to Glencree, where she found some dwellings but couldn’t be understood, speaking French as she did. A doctor was called and with his rudimentary French the necessary was communicated and a special Search and Rescue team headed back to the crash site. It must have been many hours before they reached the stranded students, but the rescue team was not a local group, so they didn’t know that a road was nearby and, not having consulted with any of the locals, led the group over hill and yonder over the Sally Gap way. That’s very far indeed. I didn’t ask Pat what time of year it was, but summer or winter it would have been a grueling ordeal.
Pat was very proud of his creative endeavors, and told us that he’s a songwriter, and showed us a CD that had been made of one of his songs, Someone as Lovely as You, and told us the whole story of how he’d written it. It’s all set in the land of my childhood, and his, from the Waterfall valley and up to where we stood, the same land where his father courted his mother by walking through the wilderness to meet up with her, back when there was no transport. He told us of the girl who works in a local pub and who starred in the video, which he said we could find ‘on the computer’, and was filmed around these parts, and he told us of some Americans who were visiting Ireland, and after hearing the song declared that Hollywood would never be the same after his song made it there, which as yet it hasn’t….and we spoke of the nature of inspiration, and of the mare he bought for his grandchildren who went and had a foal not long after the sale, the ‘bonus’, and now they keep each other company, and he’ll someday break them for the children to ride, and of his artistic son, and of my Aunt Gemma, who was a politician and was known to Pat back in the day, and of the local families who were our neighbors and his, and much more besides. He respectfully left us to paint, ‘though I missed him as soon as he left us, taking his sheep back to the bright green field.