“I’ve been here before but I had to come back to see these paintings.” Pointing to a double portrait of a couple half emerged in water, fashion artist Mary Martin London continues, “This picture is like being born again, like being baptised and emerging out of the water.” The artist Sol (short for Solomon) Golden Sato explains, “When I was a child I went to about four or five churches to get baptised. I loved the whole thing. So when I saw the photograph of this couple coming from church I was listening to Kanye West’s Sunday Service and he’s got a song called Water and it just got me thinking.”
Sol paints from photographs but rather than simply reproducing them on canvas, he combines several to form one complete picture telling a new story. He says, “I’m inspired by interesting journalism… stories from tenements in Harlem and the Deep South. I play around with history in my paintings. I enjoy reading Toni Morrison and Edna O’Brien.” The artist creates domestic scenes with universal messages. Originally from Malawi, Sol has spent the last six years painting in London. He’s self taught.
The artist came to the public’s attention when he painted a vast mural on the blank street front of King’s Road Fire Station. His latest community art project was a 38 metre long tarpaulin canvas laid out on a street in Portobello. “The idea was to bring joy to the community,” Sol comments. “Leyland sponsored the paint and I guided local children to use their hands and feet as brushes to create a large painting.”
It’s the only village in Ireland where the Main Street is in County Donegal (Ireland’s most northwesterly county) and the High Street is in County Fermanagh (the United Kingdom’s most westerly county). The 1925 Boundary Commission carelessly used the three metre wide River Termon as the border, forever splitting the village between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland or at least up until today. The River Termon, all 16 kilometres of it, rises from Scraghy near Omagh and flows into Lough Erne at The Waterfoot, a demesne three kilometres southwest of Pettigo. Its water meadows are home to brown trout, dippers, grey wagtails, heron, mallard, mink, otters and white clawed crayfish. In ancient times the river formed the boundary, or “Terminus”, of the Monastic Lands of Lough Derg.
Elevated and isolated, Pettigo has a long and distinguished history. In Celtic times it was known as the Place of the Blacksmith. By the medieval period, it had emerged to become the gateway to St Patrick’s Purgatory on nearby Lough Derg. “The church at St Patrick’s Purgatory is a wonderful basilica, like something from Ravenna,” observes heritage architect John O’Connell. Pettigo prospered as a market place in the 17th and 18th centuries. One of the oldest reminders of this notable heritage is Termon Castle, southwest of the village and close to Lough Erne. Its ruins are located in the Republic, just 256 metres from the border. Built by the Gaelic Clan McGrath in the late 16th century, an indelible mark on the landscape, it bears all the scars of Cromwellian bombardment. Some architectural elements such as gun loops and window mullions are still intact.
The Church of Ireland, Templecarne Parish Church, and the former courthouse cum market house (a common combination in Ireland – see Kinsale), set at perpendicular angles to one another, form the focal point of the village centre along with the group of three storey houses opposite. The church dates from 1836 and is typical William Farrell: austere elegance. John O’Connell says, “Farrell was a very solid architect.” The building has a timeless quality – like Mr F’s Colebrooke Park and Ashbrooke House, both in County Fermanagh – derived from his restrained application of decoration. The tall gothic arched windows contain an unusual detail. Mr O’C explains, “The angled glazed inset is, in fact, a device for ventilation. Thus from the inside the hinged flap could be opened, usually with the assistance of a cord.” Samuel Lewis wrote in his 1837 Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, “The church, situated at Pettigoe, is a small, old, and dilapidated structure, towards the rebuilding of which Mrs Leslie (the proprietor of the estate), the Rector, and the Protestant parishioners have contributed a large subscription.”
The Reverend Charles Eames is the current Rector. “My vision for this church,” he states, “is to make an impact for God, here in Pettigo, by helping people understand the enriching messages of eternal hope given to us by Jesus Christ.” Sadly the grand Templecarne Rectory lies in ruins in fields next to Termon Castle. This long low two storey house is asymmetrically arranged with a single storey porch tucked between blocks set at right angles to one another. The original roughcast rendered finish, where not covered in ivy, has mostly given way to reveal the red brick construction material. Samuel Lewis notes, “The living is a rectory and vicarage, in the diocese of Clogher, and in the patronage of the Bishop: the tithes amount to £300. The glebe-house was built in 1813, at an expense of £978.9.2¾ of which £623.1.6½ was a loan from the late Board of First Fruits, and the remainder was defrayed by the then incumbent: the glebe comprises 141 acres of good land, valued at £176.16.8 per annum.”
The Barton Family Memorial is located to the west of the church. Their estate is The Waterfoot. Samuel Lewis records, “Waterfoot, the residence of Lieutenant Colonel Barton, is pleasantly situated.” A quirky triple jelly mould headstone has an equally quirky inscription, “The Victory. 1 Corinthians XV, 54 to 57. A White Stone. Amen. Rev I 18. ‘Tell his disciples he is risen from the dead.’ Matt XXVIII 7. Barton Family Vault.” Andrew Barton Patterson (1864 to 1941), Australian poet and journalist grandson of Robert Barton, wrote Waltzing Matilda. In January, snowdrops grow over the vault.
The former courthouse cum market house, restored and converted into a family home in 2006, is more provincial in character. It dates from circa 1850. The terrace of three houses opposite, restored in 2016, is of a surprisingly grand scale for such a remote location. The houses rise a storey higher than most of the village buildings and display distinguishing delineated window surrounds and half columned doorcases. Called The Palisades, their grandeur is less surprising when it transpires they once formed the village home of the landowning Leslie family. Sir Winston Churchill, a relative of the Leslies, was a frequent visitor. The most famous recent scion, Sir Jack Leslie 4th Baronet of Glaslough and Pettigo, died at Castle Leslie in Glaslough, County Monaghan, in 2016.
He continues, “From the 1840s, the Leslies had become related through marriage to some of the most influential landed families in Ireland and Britain. Sir John II (1857 to 1914) married Leonie Jerome, the daughter of a wealthy American newspaper tycoon, in 1884. This marriage meant that the Leslies became related through marriage to the Dukes of Marlborough as Leonie’s sister was Lady Jennie Churchill, wife of Sir Randolph and mother of Sir Winston. Both marriages were frowned upon in landed circles.”
High Street is named not after its retail offer but rather its steep gradient. Pettigo may be the sort of place which novelist Edna O’Brien would describe as, “You have to get a bus to get a bus”, but it has community spirit(s). Ever since Brennan’s Lounge overlooking the River Termon on the Northern Irish closed last century, both sets of Pettigonian nationalities frequent the pubs on the southern side.
John Elliott has lived all his life in Pettigo: “In my young days I remember 20,000 to 30,000 people coming to Lough Derg each summer. It was a lovely sight to see the smoke of the trains from each side of the platform which was roofed for the pilgrims. In the 1960s there were a lot more shops on the High Street in Pettigo like George McCreagh’s grocery and hardware shop. In my young days it was a good business centre. Fair Day was the 20th of every month, and cattle and sheep would be sold then. The old market yard is beside the former railway station. Magee Donegal Tweed would buy woven tweed for their big pullovers. The Burtons who own The Waterfoot had a forge in front of the Methodist Church.”
Across from the Methodist church at the top of High Street stands a significant looking tree. A sign on the railings surrounding it reads, “The Crimean War Tree was planted by W F Barton Esq and J P Clonelly, Pettigo, in commemoration of the taking of Sebastopol in 1856. Edward Barton and many others from the Pettigo area served in the Crimean War. After the capture of Sebastopol the Crimean War was virtually at an end. On 21 September the little town of Pettigo presented a sense of unusual animation and excitement, that evening having been set apart for rejoicing in honour of the capture of Sebastopol. The preparations were on an extensive scale, as F W Barton Esq of Clonelly had procured a large supply of fireworks from Dublin.”
John Elliott continues, “I remember going on a Sunday School trip on the train to Bundoran. The railway station in Pettigo was closed in the 1950s. Pettigo used to be packed on Sunday nights. People drove from Omagh and as long as you could hold onto the steering wheel you got here and home again. This applied all round the border – lots of music and great craic like that. The empty three storey house backing onto the river was Brennan’s Guesthouse. I remember Sir Jack Leslie – he wore a hat and a white coat. The Leslies lived in The Palisades, the white house opposite the Church of Ireland.”
“The man’s the work. Something doesn’t come out of nothing.” Edward Hopper. Snow on snow on snow a frozen memory, the encasement of ice long melted, The Summer House is in season, so this season, never out of season. The beyondness of many things is brought to life in this photographic overload. It’s the pixilation of our lives, the exposition of our times. Carefully carving our cadences, breaking bad boundaries, our writing may be opaque – at times – but like a lucid camera, our keyboard never lies. We’re an atelier in transit, arbiters on the move, forever reordering hierarchies.
The Irish novelist Edna O’Brien believes “memory and language are the two best things a writer has”. We couldn’t agree more. Although we’d add camera too.
“Must the winter come so soon?
Night after night I hear the hungry deer
Wander weeping in the woods
And from his house of brittle bark hoots the frozen owl
Must the winter come so soon?
Here in this forest neither dawn nor sunset
Marks the passing of the days
It is a long winter here
Must the winter come so soon?” Vanessa by Samuel Barber