West Coast


The Burren, County Clare, on the west coast of Ireland, near Galway Bay: rumoured to be inclement and cold yet today is the third day of bright sunshine and clear skies. The Burren hills are vast bald mounds of limestone rock that change hue from grey to purple as the light shifts, creating a sense of impermanence in the Neolithic environment.

I look from my studio towards a round tower-house settled on a square buttress: the 16th century Newton Castle. It’s designed so that if rocks were dropped from above they would bounce off the flat walls: a defence strategy contingent on getting rocks up a steep flight of stairs in the first place. Along the staircase are “murder holes” for dropping hot metal onto intruders below. The tower has four “rooms”, stacked one above the other, each of them round with small windows looking north, south, east and west and with low timber doorways that can catch you unawares as you enter.  The ceilings of the rooms are rough: wattle and daub, whitewashed with limestone, except for the top room which has a ceiling that’s a majestic wooden cone re-built twenty years ago from architectural guesswork. It’s a magnificent piece of engineering. The beams soar towards a central point that from the outside looks like a teetering ball and inside, a delicate web.

I’m improvising in each room, beginning with the ground floor. It’s cold in there so I wear an extra coat. Sometimes a swallow or martin chatters at the doorway.