2 minutes with… Gwen WilkinsonPublished 24/10/2023
When artist, photographer and author Gwen Wilkinson embarked on a journey along Ireland’s waterways in a self–built canoe, the book that followed was not only a meditation on her connection with the nature she passed, but also a reflection on the histories of the people and wildlife whose places and spaces she passed along her way; all complemented and enriched by beautiful illustrations (lino and woodcut prints) to capture a sense of what she had experienced. As Gwen prepares to lead a walking and sketching tour next month by the water as part of Dublin Book Festival 2023, we caught up with her to find out more.
What inspired the journey you undertook in your book?
I grew up around boats. My parents owned a big old Guinness barge and childhood holidays were spent exploring Ireland’s rivers and canals. Later on I travelled the World’s oceans working on racing yachts. A day trip in a hired canoe on the River Barrow was the inspiration for my recent adventure. I was so enthralled by the experience and started researching other rivers to explore. When I discovered that a vessel could travel the length of Ireland on a network of waterways, rivers and canals, I decided to give it go!
The book contains beautiful illustrations and your walking tour with us in November will also involve sketching. How does drawing the world around you allow you to better connect with it?
For me drawing ‘plein air’ is a very meditative experience. Sitting still with a sketch pad and pen allows you to become more present in the moment. The eye homes in on finer details – shapes, textures, qualities of light. You start to notice much more about your surroundings.
Your walking tour starts at a point in our city where three waterways meet. Can you give us a taster ahead of November and tell us something about one of the many interesting points you will be taking your audience to on your walk? I remember when I was walking around Grand Canal Square earlier in the year coming across a street sign for Misery Hill. When I looked into the origin of the name I was amazed with its history. At one time the bodies of convicts were hung along the street on public display! There are so many stories and interesting histories associated with the area that I’m looking forward to sharing and discussing on my tour.
Your book illuminates a number of Ireland’s pioneering women across fields including science, photography and activism. Can you tell us about one?
While I was paddling along the Barrow Line Canal I stopped off at Rathangan and stumbled across a memorial to Maura Laverty. Maura was born in Rathangan in 1907. Multi-talented, she was a novelist, playwright, celebrity chef, journalist and agony aunt. She was the author of Ireland’s first TV soap, Tolka Row. Her cookbooks, Flour Economy, Kind Cooking and Full and Plenty are valuable collectors’ items even today. Her novels are critically acclaimed and award winning. As a writer, she delighted in tongue-in-cheek humour. I’ve really enjoyed discovering her novels, Never No More, Alone We Embark, and Lift Up Your Gates.
Is there another event you are looking forward to attending at #DBF23?
Tackling the Climate and Ecological Crisis with Joanna Donnelly, Lorna Gold and Éanna Ní Lamhna in conversation with John Gibbons, From Ten till Dusk – RHA from 1823 to 2023 with Cristín Leach in conversation with Dr. Abigail O’Brien PRHA, and one of the Literary Walks with Pat Liddy.
Book your tickets HERE to join Gwen on Thursday November 9th at 1pm for what promises to be a completely new way of experiencing the Ringsend and Grand Canal area. This event is in partnership with Waterways Ireland.