Ireland’s age-old love affair with art is now delivering a handsome economic and tourism dividend.
In the Cork fishing port of Kinsale, Tipperary-born artist Louise McKeon runs the successful Castlecove House Gallery beside the ruins of an old de Courcey castle and River Bandon.
Demand for art tips and advice reached such a peak that Louise, who has always taught art for adults, was last year prompted to launch her own children’s art school, the Kinsale Art Academy. It has proved an outstanding success story.
Several of her students have gone on to win prizes in the prestigious Texaco Art Competition.
Hardly surprising, since Louise took such great pride in helping her own three children, Caoilfhinn, Meadhbh and Laoise, with their artwork.
Kinsale itself has been slowly witnessing the emergence of a niche but valuable art tourism industry. People travel from all over the world to paint and sketch amidst the wonders of the Cork coast, from the Old Head of Kinsale to the Mizen Peninsula.
“I think there has always been a great appreciation and love of art in Ireland,” Louise said. “A deep love of art is definitely part and parcel of what we are about.
“But, over recent years, there has also definitely been a growing awareness of the importance of art and a growing number of people who love painting, drawing or sketching and want to develop those skills.
“I think there has also been a bit of a reawakening about the natural beauty of the place we live in.”
Louise has been based in Kinsale for over 30 years and admitted she couldn’t imagine a more perfect place.
Famed as Ireland’s gourmet food capital, Kinsale has also developed its own proud cultural network.
“I love my work and I especially love that it can be so varied,” Louise explained.
“There is the gallery itself and then I have my art classes for both adults and children. But I suppose the core is my commissioned artwork.”
Louise ranks as one of Ireland’s most acclaimed portrait artists. One of her most acclaimed pieces was a portrait of Joyce scholar, Senator David Norris.
Her latest work is entitled ‘Human Chain’ and features three members of the sports-mad Bennett family – Sam, Michael and Liam Bennett – who have starred in cycling, football and hurling.
She was particularly pleased to have been commissioned to undertake paintings for Ballinacurra House, outside Kinsale.
Ballinacurra prides itself as being one of Ireland’s most exclusive venues. It was the wedding venue for 2fm star, Louise McSharry, who married long-time boyfriend, Gordon Spierin, last month.
Since deciding to set up Castlecove, Louise has received commissions from RTÉ, the Food Writers Guild and large corporations.