Charles Lamb in Galway

Historic paintings of Galway are scarce enough so it is always good to come across them. Our image today is one of the Claddagh painted by Charles Lamb in the 1930s. It is hardly surprising that visitors, painters, poets, and novelists were attracted to this fishing village that was in Galway, but not of it. They were all fascinated by the odd assortment of thatched cottages, built at haphazard angles, with intersecting streets and lanes in which one could lose one’s way within a couple of acres. Sometimes they were built in irregular squares or circles around little greens where the young children played. The houses were very small, and while some showed signs of poverty, most were very clean and neat. The back doors of many of the houses looked into the front door of their neighbours, and though the buildings were quaint, picturesque, and romantic, modern sanitation was unknown there.

This picture was painted near the top of Dogfish Lane. The house we see on the right was occupied by the Cubbard family, and among those who lived in the row on the left were the Currans, the King family, Noones, Murphys, and the Jones and Fallon families. The houses in the distance were at the top of Fairhill. Notice the absence of electricity poles.

Lamb was from Portadown, he went to the Belfast College of Art and to the Dublin Metropolitan School. He became very friendly with Pádraic Ó Conaire who suggested he go to the west and experience the ‘big skies’ there. He made many trips and eventually built a house in Carraroe where he ran a painting workshop.

He travelled into Galway occasionally for supplies. He drove his pony and trap into Spiddal where he changed horses before travelling on to Galway. He always stayed with the Flynn family in ‘Norbros’ in Lower Salthill. They had a stable out the back where he could leave his horse. He would then spend a couple of days wandering about with his easel and canvas under his arm, looking for subjects to paint. He always visited the library to exchange books and became friendly with Hal McDermott, the librarian. Indeed, he often painted images of the river from McDermott’s garden.

His favourite place in town was Delia Lydon’s pub (now The Quays ) where he enjoyed the company and a drink. While he was there, the Carraroe bus often stopped at the top of High Street. Either Nick Lally or Johnny Geoghegan would walk down to Lydon’s to say they had the bus ready in case he wanted any shopping sent home.

Lamb painted many pictures of Conamara people in their traditional forms of dress, so one would have expected him to be attracted by the red petticoats and blue cloaks of the Claddagh women, or the navy blue jerseys and trousers and peaked caps of their men, but it seems to have been the layout of the cottages there that intrigued him.

This painting is one of many images by Charles Lamb currently on exhibition in the Galway City Museum. It is a fascinating collection of works by this important Irish artist, well worth a visit, and it will be made even more interesting at 7pm tomorrow (Friday ) evening when the artist’s daughter Laillí will give a talk on ‘Lamb in Conamara’. It should give us an insight into the man, how he worked, why and where he painted. There is no admission charge and all are welcome. Highly recommended.

Tom Kenny [email protected]

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