An artist disguised as a postman

Let it be said plainly and simply so that future historians are left in no doubt. The summer of 2012, my first summer on the Peninsula, was a complete washout.

It rained, and rained, and then when the sun came out from behind the rain clouds for what seemed like a full ten minutes, it rained again.

Don’t get me wrong; I have no regrets. My summer was filled with other delights, one of which, once again, proved that the people on the Peninsula are, without a doubt, a very creative bunch. Growing up, we’re told never to judge a book by its cover because you never know what’s inside. Well, our postman, here in Kilcrohane is leading a double life.

You know, of course, of our resident world-renowned artist, Alex Chamberlain who lives just outside the village. Back in November 2011 (wow, it’s almost a year since we first came to Kilcrohane) as I was getting to know Alex, he mentioned that our postman Danny Smith loves to paint.

Danny Smith at his very first art show in Kilcrohane

While opening the door to Danny most mornings as he delivers our mail, I never considered that under the polyester gunmetal grey uniform there beats the heart of a true artist. ‘I want Danny to show his work,’ Alex had said to me back in November. I said that I would love to help, promotion wise, and perhaps I could write a piece for the newspaper.

The months rolled on and, as Danny delivered the mail, I found myself wondering if we would ever get to see his work. ‘Danny is very shy about his work; I have been encouraging him to have a show, he needs to let the world see what he has done and how talented he is,’ Alex continued. High praise indeed, now I really wanted to see what our artist postman could do.

Alex Chamberlain and Danny Smith

In Kilcrohane, there are two pubs, a guesthouse, a village shop/post office and a restaurant/wine bar called the Grain Store. Only opened for two months of the year, the Grain Store is within walking distance of our house and serves some of the best food and wine on the Peninsula. There will be more about the Grain Store and the wonderful Marie in another blog. It was here, at the Grain Store, that Danny would show his work to the people of the Sheep’s Head.

As Danny stood at the door of the Grain Store, no longer dressed in his polyester uniform, he looked every inch the artist. There was a large crowd already viewing his work when we arrived and, after a quick hello and a word of congratulations, we joined the queue that was filing slowing around the room.

Enjoying the art at the Grain Store in Kilcrohane

Pablo Picasso once said, ‘The purpose of art is to wash the dust of daily lives off our souls’. Well, as I took in the paintings hanging on the walls of the Grain Store on that July evening, all thoughts of bad weather, cold breezes, and never-ending rain were quickly forgotten. My soul was now dust free, thanks to Danny Smith.

One of the locals that supplied inspiration for Danny

I’m not an art critic but I know what I like and for me Danny’s work hits all the right notes on my visual keyboard. Big bold brush strokes, lots of colour and light, Danny’s work draws you in until you see not just the subject of the painting but also movement and light. I don’t like watercolours. For me a painting should have texture and depth. I know you’re not suppose to but I love paintings that say, ‘go on touch me, feel the contours of the paint on the canvas’. I love the almost 3D effect of heavy oils and acrylics. Danny’s work makes you want to touch it, the use of colour and light almost inviting you to get closer, and the closer you get the more alive the painting seems.

I know that there are people reading this who are aghast at my troglodyte efforts at describing Danny’s work but it really is that good.

Since Danny’s first showcase at the Grain Store in Kilcrohane, I am confident that there will be more in the future and not just on the Sheep’s Head, I find myself wondering just what other talents are the people of the Peninsula hiding?

The locals and visitors arrive at the Grain Store to see just what our postman artist can do

I think it’s time to explore not only the food, landscape and angling prospects that the Peninsula has to offer. It’s time to highlight the wonderful community that is so vibrant, creative and thriving on the Sheep’s Head peninsula.

This is the village on a wonderful summers day. Blue sky and warm breezes


Duck and cover

The man with the gun came calling again.

At first I thought he was just wishing us all a Merry Christmas but then he produced a freshly-shot duck and I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand up in pure terror.

He obviously doesn’t read my blog.

As he handed me the duck (still warm by the way), I was transported back to the greenhouse and I swear I could smell (and taste) the pheasants as we got them ready for the pot only a few weeks ago. When I say we, most of you will know that I should say ‘the women’ as they did most (all) of the dirty work.

I was once again faced with the prospect of plucking and cleaning out a game bird. It’s amazing how quickly you can react when faced with an unpleasant task. ‘Wow’, I said trying not to throw up. ‘I love duck, thank you so much. Come in and have some tea’. All the time my mind was racing. ‘Oh God, I can’t go through all that again. Where am I going to put it?’, I thought as I filled the kettle.

‘Shot him a couple of minutes ago just down by Farranamanagh Lake,’ our friendly gunman said as he took a seat at the kitchen table. ‘Boil him up for a while before you roast him because he’s been feeding in salt water and there may be a “fishy” taste off him’, he warned.

Farranamanagh Lake where our duck was shot

‘I don’t care how “fishy” he tastes’, I thought, ‘at the moment I don’t think I’m going to make it as far as cooking the bloody duck never mind tasting it. Maybe I could just get rid of it when no one is looking? But no I can’t do that; if you shoot game you must eat it, that’s my philosophy.’

I decided to man-up and do what I should have done all those weeks ago with the pheasants. After all, am I not a real man now that I live on a Peninsula in West Cork? Taking a deep breath, I took the duck in both hands and… I blamed my daughter and in-laws for the fact that I would be unable to deal with the duck at that moment.

‘My daughter is a very picky eater and we have my mother- and father-in-law staying with us and I wouldn’t like to put them off their food. You see, I have nowhere that I can pluck and clean out the duck without them being aware of it, and my back is playing up a bit, and I think I’m coming down with flu, and our freezer is full too, so if you would like to keep the duck, and a lovely specimen he is, please do and I hope you enjoy it. You’re very good to think of me, maybe next time when everybody is out and my back is a bit better…?’, I pleaded as my gunman gave me a knowing smile.

‘I’ll clean him out for you no problem’, he said as he poured himself some more tea. ‘Have him back to you later today and you can cook him tomorrow’, he continued as I felt the dizziness subsiding.

Farranamanagh Lake from the little stone jetty

So later that day, I was presented with an oven-ready duck and I am not ashamed to say that I felt no less a ‘real man’ when I dropped it in the pot with celery, garlic, onion and bay leaves. I decided to boil the bird for at least ten minutes before finishing it off in the oven. Now, the first thing to note is that a wild duck is a lot smaller than your typical farmyard fowl. There was, I reckoned, just enough meat on our duck to feed one person. While boiling the duck, I noticed a strange smell; it was a sweet cloying odour somewhere between a seashore when the tide has gone out and burning plastic or rubber.

I continued with my plan to boil and roast the bird; when I removed it from the oven the smell seemed to have gotten stronger. I decided to put all this to one side; after all, I love duck and as there wasn’t very much to go around I thought I would make some duck burritos using floury tortillas filled with lettuce and tomatoes. However, as I cut into the breast of the duck the odour of salty stones and seaweed got stronger. I tasted a piece.

Bacon, in floury tortillas filled with lettuce and tomatoes and a dollop of mayo is probably the tastiest suppertime treat you can have with a nice strong cup of tea … and all the windows open letting in lots of fresh West Cork air on a cold December night.

As for the duck, let’s just say that Leo our cat didn’t seem to like it either.

After a stormy night over Dunmanus bay