I just returned from my first visit to Ireland, having been invited to teach a workshop at AITO – Art in the Open, now Europe’s largest plein air painting festival. The festival was centered in County Wexford, in Ireland’s “Sunny Southeast.” It was a great event – very enjoyable and eye-opening for me in many ways. I am an experienced traveler in Italy, but a novice when it comes to travel elsewhere. I immediately noticed some conspicuous differences. First, Ireland seemed totally familiar to me in spite of the fact that I knew almost nothing about the country prior to my visit. Our (USA) British/Irish roots are immediately apparent. I felt completely at home at once! Now I understand the strong linkage that Americans have always had with the British Isles. We (in the US) are indeed a country of immigrants and the US is a melting pot, but a good portion of that cultural pot is filled with British influence. There is also our common language. Everything is immediately decipherable to the first-time American visitor! I knew where I needed to go and what I needed to do as soon as I hit the ground. Asking directions to the Bus Eierann queue was as easy as asking for directions in Newark, New Jersey, although I completely botched the pronunciation of the name, I was politely corrected. The architecture was also familiar. Although various details were different, the vernacular shapes were those that I have been accustomed to since childhood. There were many places I saw that I thought could have been in America, other than the signage announcing unfamiliar brands and such.
One thing that I was not really prepared for was the weather, unlike anything I have experienced before. It rained every day of the nine days of my visit, but the variability was what was most striking. On one day we painted along the south east coast at Hook Head. It was raining torrentially on the drive down and I was thinking that taking the hour long drive was likely going to be a mistake for a group of plein air painters, but shortly after our arrival the sun popped out and the color of the sea changed from gray to a transparent blue green – a perfect day – at least until it was again not. More wind-driven rain and gray skies followed. It was impossible to predict what would happen from one minute to the next and that was the way of my entire visit. I felt as if I experienced the four seasons in a day on the bus ride back to Dublin. I enjoyed my walk around Dublin city very much, and the sun even broke through for about a half hour while I was in St. Stephen’s Green.
The one thing more than any other that I brought home with me are the memories of the warm and genuinely hospitable Irish people. Granted, I spent most of my time with like-minded painters, but everyone from the cab drivers to the breakfast servers showed an uncommon friendliness that seemed to spring from their good nature. I encountered a number of immigrants from eastern Europe in service positions and their demeanor was quite different. I could practically tell in an instant, even before they spoke, that they were not native born Irish. However I longed for one thing (besides the sun) that I missed about Italy – the mystery. For me, as a traveler, Ireland was almost too familiar. In spite of the fact that I have been traveling to Italy for almost twenty years and have at least a rudimentary working knowledge of the language and customs, Italy still seems foreign to me. It is just unfamiliar enough to be exotic.
Matthew Daub is a professional artist and university professor with works in major public and private collections throughout the United States and Europe. He has been leading plein air painting workshops in Italy since 1994. In 1999, Matthew and his wife Barbara formed Arts Sojourn as “a vacation for artists and their friends.” The program is designed to appeal to artists of all levels as well as non-artists who enjoy the company of creative people in a slow travel format.
Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.