This was the response I gave to a question a couple of months ago, when I launched my new eco-friendly giftware range. To me my answer made total sense, but not to those who don't know me or my background. They wanted to know more.......Why Donkeys???
This is how it all began, well, some of the story anyway, it's hard to write a short story about the launch of a product with a lifetime of experiences behind it's coming to fruition.
When it comes to animals I have what some may describe as ‘a serious addiction to any kind,' no matter what the species, I love them all! I cannot say I truly know where that passion comes from, only that I was born with it and it is imbedded deep in
my heart and soul. This love was intensified by my upbringing in the heart of Connemara in the West of Ireland, which serves as a constant source of inspiration for my pieces.
My artworks are reflections of love, of passion, of respect, it is about the animals I portray, how their short lives here affect us so profoundly and without whom we would not have accomplished so much in history. I see my work as a tribute to them and a reminder for us, where would we be without them?
I cannot explain the how's and why's, when I see something I just know it's going to be an artwork, it just flows. That is another of life's mysteries not everything has an explanation, it just happens.
So, now onto the Why Donkeys?
The West of Ireland is my home; I grew up and worked in the countryside and Hills of Connemara. The boreen’s, landscape and especially the animals are the source of my artistic inspiration; the West is a place that lives in my heart and soul.
I know how harsh and how gentle the West can be, with her bog lands, uneven terrain and quick changing weather; you are embraced warmly on a fine day and whipped to shreds when the weather turns. Ever changing and rewardingly beautiful, our landscape is always dotted by animals, mostly sheep, cows and of course, donkeys. That’s not to say there aren’t horses, there are, and that is story for another day, The Connemara Ponies of Western Ireland.
As a child I grew up on a farm where the only horse, a beautiful Connemara pony was strictly used for working, she pulled a cart, ploughed the fields and carried loads, but was never ridden, much to my disappointment. All I wanted to do as a child was to ride horses and to care for animals.
One of my friend's from a well to do family had two fat ponies grazing in her field, a show pony she had outgrown and the "new" pony to replace him. No one else was really allowed to ride them only her, that didn't stop me gazing longingly at them from over the garden wall, dreaming! Our parents and grandparents were pretty strict when we growing up and you were punished if you disobeyed rules, so we never did sneak off to ride the ponies, besides the fact you would have to tell the priest in confession! Which terrified us more than a good hiding!
Anyway, another friend in the village had a donkey called Dottie, occasionally we would get to sit on her if she wasn’t working on the bog or let loose down the field with the cows. A beautiful brown shaggy haired donkey, Dottie was small in stature in comparison to a Connemara Pony or the Irish Draughts that lived in the next field, but she was still considered huge in the eyes of a child, and to me she was the next best thing to a horse.
I remember fondly how she would bray loudly with delight when she heard us chattering walking up the laneway, our arms laden with freshly pulled carrots (plucked from my grandfathers veggie patch). She eagerly awaited our arrival at the gate, her long hairy ears twitching back and forth and her soft grey muzzle rested over the top of the gate, keenly nuzzling for treats.
Her huge brown eyes peeking out under a heavy fringe of tousled hair. I was besotted with her eyes and eyelashes and how she lit up at the sight of carrots coming towards her eagerly awaiting muzzle. Standing patiently as we climbed the gate and clambered up onto her back, the she would amble slowly around the field while being enticed by the reward of a juicy carrot.
Dottie never went faster than a walk, only once did we manage to get her to break into a brief jog throwing carrots ahead of her down the field. She jogged off with me on her back and came to a sudden unexpected halt, at that point somersaulted over her head and crashed into a rock, it was a good lesson for us all. We never did try that again!
As long as the supply of tasty treats lasted Dottie was happy to entertain us, once she finished them all she would lower her head as if to say, that’s it I’m done, off you go now. It was here the seed of love for donkeys was planted and grew, my fascination with these humble, gentle eyed creatures could only grow, she was no noble steed, but she looked after us and made us smile.
When she wasn’t in the mood to entertain us she would head off up the field head down ignoring our calls. She taught us patience and respect. Even while she ignored us her long ears flopped back and forth listening to everything we said.
So there in a nutshell is a little bit of the influence of animals in my work. Dottie was the first donkey I fell in love with, who also taught me some valuable life lessons. She was a huge influence along with all the other animals that have been in my life.
Donkeys are reminders of our heritage and our past, their place has evolved throughout history from lowly agricultural animal to a symbol of peace, currently our beloved donkeys can often be forgotten and end up neglected. Which is why I have created a range of sustainable giftware that gives back a portion of my profits to support the Donkey Sanctuary of Ireland.