Finding Ballagh and Browne in Connemara

Just back from a four-day holiday with Alison in Connemara.

A good friend of Alison’s lives in a cottage near Rossaveel, in the Connemara region in the west of Ireland, and generously allowed us to stay in a small cottage beside her own house. This allowed us a marvellous break in what turned out to be the best weather experienced in Ireland in many years. Having the place to ourselves we were able to come and go as we pleased, cook or visit local restaurants and to completely relax.

For me one of the highlights was discovering that the former home of the late Doctor Noël Browne was located nearby, at the end of a boreen just a few minutes from where we were staying. Dr. Browne was a medical doctor and Irish politician who, as Minister for Health, made significant advances in the treatment of tuberculosis in Ireland and whose ‘Mother and Child Scheme’ was the source of considerable controversy in the late 1940s. I should explain that my interest in Dr. Browne’s cottage arose primarily from a book on the artwork of Robert Ballagh I had read at least twenty years earlier while in college. One image that had remained with me was Ballagh’s cruciform portrait of Dr. Browne showing the subject framed by his West of Ireland home. We found the thatched cottage at the end of our narrow winding stone-walled road on a stony height overlooking Galway Bay and the Aran Islands in the distance. It was only when we returned from our break that I could confirm for myself that this was the same cottage portrayed by Ballagh.




Browne was something of a hero to Ballagh and after initial reluctance on the part of the sitter, Browne consented to be painted and invited the artist to visit him in Connemara, where both spent time strolling together by the sea discussing politics and the vicissitudes of life. The result was, I think, one of my favourite portraits.

It was also only on our return from Connemara that I learned that Browne, who died in 1997 and his wife Phyllis had been buried in the little graveyard of Cloghmore South by the trá or beach at the end of the road that we passed every day on our evening walks.



The peace and tranquillity we experienced for those few days beside the sea, with little external contact, was a revelation. The light in the evenings and the sun setting over the stone walls reminded me of one other artist, the painter Paul Henry. The photograph below doesn’t do justice to the evening twilight nor to Henry’s work but I was struck by the colours I had previously assumed to have been part artistic licence.


I’ll sign off from this post with a small selection of photographs of our time about Rossaveel and Connemara.





The pub across the fields where we enjoyed a quiet drink and a chat with the locals one night, all of whom spoke Irish as their mother tongue.


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