For centuries, Ireland’s Dingle Peninsula has attracted pilgrims and explorers, mystics and visionaries, farmers and writers. They’re drawn by the stonewall- bordered emerald hillsides, the soulful gray water of the Atlantic, Mt. Brandon’s lofty peak and the shadowy silhouette of Great Blasket Island. Among craggy cliffs and ancient ruins, the sunshine casts an almost holy glow on the land- and seascape. It’s what has shaped the lives and inspired the crafts of potter Louis Mulcahy and his wife Lisbeth, a weaver.
The Mulcahys maintain separate identities, studios and showrooms, yet they have found a way to combine their lives and their individual works in perfect harmony. Lisbeth’s weavings provide stunning backdrops in Louis’s showroom in the village of Ballyferriter, near the peninsula’s tip. His pottery accents the displays in her shop in the seaport town of Dingle.
When the couple met more than 40 years ago at a charity auction, Lisbeth, then working as a Danish au pair, was the potter. “We got married, I brought my wheel over to Ireland, Louis took it over, and that was the end of my potting days,” she recalls.
While Lisbeth never fully dedicated herself to the pottery process “I hated the feeling of clay drying on my hands,” she says. Louis took to it with passion. When he won the National Crafts Competition in 1975, the Mulcahys moved from Dublin to Dingle, drawn equally by the rich storytelling, music and folk traditions, and the dramatic vistas, to launch Louis’s full-time pottery studio.
The distinctively Irish setting comes to life in Louis’s wheel thrown tableware. “It reflects the colors of the sea and the landscape, dark browns and greens and blues,” he explains. Every piece is handcrafted in his Dingle workshop, and most incorporate an inward curve replete with decoration. In 2004, he became the first Irish craftsman to receive an honorary degree from the National University of Ireland for his artistry and his support of the local culture, including the Irish language, which both he and Lisbeth have learned.
Lisbeth explores her evolutionary side through weaving, which she began when Louis launched his line of pottery. She studied the craft for several years before opening her current shop in 1986. “I needed something for myself,” she explains. Weaving allowed her to act on her artistic vision, indulge her love of textiles and color, and explore her childhood fascination with her great aunt’s looms. At first she made throws, blankets, floor rugs and scarves. Now she makes “pictures” with her weaving. “I take reality and play with it,” she says.
While functional weavings supply her daily bread, the tapestries are where Lisbeth finds fulfillment. “When I look at a landscape, I see the shapes, angles, outlines and color more than anything else. These are what inspire me,” she says.
While weaving, she plays with color and shape, usually juxtaposing a dominant image against softer colors. “A range of subtle colors all over is uninteresting, but if you put in a couple of strong colors in a particular spot, it will bring the whole thing out.”
That playfulness and desire to color outside the landscape’s lines is leading her in a new direction. “I want to learn how to make fine art prints to complement the weaving,” she says. “I’d like a bit more freedom than what’s given by the medium of weaving, and to be able to express what I see in a more spontaneous way.”
Perhaps Lisbeth and Louis don’t collaborate artistically, but as Lisbeth notes, “we complement each other quite well.”
IF YOU GO
Dingle is just under a three-hour drive southwest from Shannon Airport and about an hour drive west from Kerry Airport. Both are serviced by bus and car. Note that Dingle is often listed by its Irish name, An Daingean.
For more information, visit these websites:
Louis Mulcahy Workshop and Shop
Lisbeth Mulcahy Weavers Shop
Dingle Peninsula Travel Information