One day, Billy told me that he had been invited to come to see his brother who was living in Derry City in Northern Ireland. It is located right next to the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Billy was my friend who I met in Cork City.
We took a bus from Cork City, where I was living, to Derry. It was raining heavily while we were heading for Derry. I was getting car sick so badly that I had to lie on the seat for the end of the trip. Billy and I stopped at Donegal first and then we arrived in Derry. Billy’s brother and his wife welcomed us at the front door. We chatted in the afternoon and spent the day together.
The next day, I wanted to explore the town by myself. And Billy, his brother and his wife all seemed to have their own plan outside the house. I said to Billy’s brother that it would be better if he could give me the key to the house so I could come back to the house when I was finished seeing the town. He gave the key to me and his wife said, ”Don’t trust anybody!” I thought she was too serious but now I understand that she was trying to give me some good advice. Billy’s brother was a very gentleman.
I walked into the city of Derry on my own and the first thing that caught my eye was a large cathedral. I walked in. Soon after, I noticed there were beautiful oval-shaped stained-glass windows above me. I was captivated by them so I spent some time looking at each of the windows. I came out of the cathedral, and I sat in a small park-like area with grass that was across from the cathedral. And I started making a sketch of this cathedral looking at it from outside. After I made a sketch of the cathedral, I made a sketch of other buildings behind it that had interesting shapes. That architecture was very attractive and fascinating to me as the structure of the buildings was very different and they were something I had never seen in Japan.
People in Derry City sounded more sophisticated than in Cork City. I thought that was because of what a man I saw on the street had said to me. When he found out that I was Japanese, he said, “You are responsible for Japan because there are not many Japanese people in Ireland.” I thought that was an interesting comment. Actually, I used to think the same thing. When I just arrived in Cork in 1998, I was very conscious of being Japanese as there were few Japanese people in Cork and I felt I had to act well enough so that I didn’t give Irish people a bad impression of Japan. But I stopped thinking about that after a while because I realized I had to live my life for myself, not for other Japanese people. I had intentionally chosen Cork City to live in because of the few Japanese people there. From the comment of this passerby, I thought people in Derry City seemed to be more familiar with Japan than Cork City because I felt a lot of people who lived in Cork didn’t even know where Japan was. But I still loved Cork.
The Behan’s Bar
Walking further in Derry City, I found a large pub called “Behan’s Bar”. It looked a very traditional Irish pub with a dimly lit interior. I really liked the interior of the pub and the atmosphere, so I asked one of the staff if I could sit there and make a sketch of the pub. She said, “Yes, go ahead”. I was always attracted to the bar area of Irish pubs. I used to go to Irish pubs in Cork as I liked the atmosphere and Irish bartenders. It was because, at the bar, I found the containers of draft beer with colourful labels and handles to be very interesting and unique. And empty glasses and bottles of drinks on the shelves reflected the strikingly bright light above the counter and made the whole area luminous. On the other hand, the seating areas in bars were dimly lit, which created a sharp contrast with the bright bar area. In addition, Irish bartenders were often dressed in spotless white shirts and black pants and they had shortly-cut hair. And they looked very dignified. It appeared to me that they considered working in bars as a profession. From being inside and looking at those aspects of Irish bars, I felt Irish people considered Irish bars as a symbol of their culture and one of the most important parts of their lives. Just like I was fascinated by the architectural structures I had never seen before, I was often captivated by furniture and interiors in Ireland as they had different colours and shapes from Japanese ones. Moreover, I was even charmed by the features of Irish and western people in general. So, those were the subjects, besides landscapes, that I chose in my paintings while I was in Ireland.
I made a sketch of the bar area of Behan’s Bar, the back of a male customer sitting at the bar and old wooden chairs that were at the table I was sitting at. A waitress at Behan’s Bar brought me tea while I was sketching. Later, she came back and asked me if I had finished sketching. I said I was finished. And then she asked me to let her see it. When I showed it to her, she looked very satisfied. I was also happy that I was able to make a well-detailed sketch of an Irish pub. I had been sketching there at least for a few hours.
Another Irish Pub
As I continued exploring the city, I found another Irish pub that looked interesting to me. It was a modern-looking pub with artistic interiors. It had a bohemian type of atmosphere. The pub was not open as it was still afternoon, but I asked the staff member who was inside the bar if I could sketch inside the bar. He said fine. I sat at one of the booths and started making a sketch of inside the bar. Later, he put on some music while I was sketching. I remember the song that played first was “As Long As You Love Me” by the Backstreet Boys. The Backstreet Boys was one of the very popular groups at that time. Irish people love music and also, I used to listen to radio music daily. So, there are still a number of songs that remind me of my stay in Ireland whenever I listen to them. After I finished making sketches, I thanked the staff and stepped outside again.
It was a beautiful afternoon and many people were walking on the streets and probably shopping. I walked into a store that sold paintings and crafts. It was at the corner of the streets that had many stores. I walked into this store because there were many people inside despite the size of the store, which was quite small. So, I wanted to see what was inside. I introduced myself to the man sitting at the cash beside the entrance and told him that I had just made some sketches of an Irish pub. Then he gave me his business card to contact him when I finished painting them.
It was sunny on the day we were going back to Cork City. I sat on the very front seat of the bus so that I wouldn’t get car sick again. I enjoyed the trip to Northern Ireland, but when I came back to Cork City, I felt relieved and it felt good to be back in Cork City. I really loved being in Cork City.
Featured image: Painting of Cathedrals in Derry City by Chiho Yoshikawa, 1998