Éireannach – Celebrating Native Plants of Ireland
The short history of the Irish Society of Botanical Artists (established in 2014) is one of boundless ambition and super achievement and their latest project has topped everything to date.
Their first undertaking was “Aibítir – The Irish Alphabet in Botanical Art”, an exhibition portraying a selection of Irish wildflowers which after an initial stay at the National Botanic Gardens toured several venues around the country. They also produced a very attractive exhibition catalogue on that occasion which was very warmly and enthusiastically received and encouraged an ambitious expansion along these lines in the next project. This was “Heritage Irish Plants – Plandaí Oidhreachta”, in co-operation with the Irish Garden Plant Society, which featured garden plants of Irish origin and breeding and again lead to a very successful exhibition, an even more extensive and attractive exhibition catalogue and a substantial publication, a book featuring the artists’ work accompanied by a range of articles on Irish garden plants.
Given this record I had every faith and expectation that “Éireannach – Celebrating Native Plants of Ireland” would be an excellent publication and I was most certainly was not disappointed. It is a work which reflects great credit on all involved – artists, editors, book designer and printers. It is, very appropriately given its material, a very beautiful book.
We have approximately 980 vascular plants native to Ireland. This book presents a selection of sixty of our wildflowers and, interestingly, the selection of plants was made by the artist themselves something which will make them all the more appealing to the reader as, I feel, they have been chosen for their intrinsic beauty and special interest and, certainly, I found that most of the plants were ones I would find particularly attractive also. Everybody would warm to Elaine Moore Mackey’s Foxglove, Anne Burn’s Wood Anemone or Jane Stark’s Lord’s and Ladies – these are familiar, common and loved plants. Susan Sex’s Marsh Helleborine, Holly Somervilles’s Large-flowered Butterwort or Noeleen Frain’s Pyramidal Orchid are all less common and open the eye of the reader to what treasures grow in our countryside if we but looked more closely. There are knapweed and clover and wild carrot; Elder, crabapple and hawthorn and many, many more – a wonderful representation of our native flora.
For this publication it is the artists who wrote the text to accompany each illustration, a change from normal arrangements and it makes for interesting reading for it gives an insight into the thoughts, interests and approaches of the various artists. It might seem odd but some are not particularly knowledgeable botanists and their interest in plants are purely for their intrinsic beauty and this shines through not only in their art but in their words, which were often personal and homely. Others gave more detailed botanical descriptions which added to the illustrations in a different way for I found they directed my attention to look more closely at the paintings and appreciate the finer details. There were notes of plants use in folk medicine and in folklore, some astonishing facts, recollections of older names for plants and mention of forensic botany; there were personal notes and experiences and I loved that one contributor listed “My Granny” as her reference. Each plant had a full page in the book – illustration and text and, occasionally, with an accompanying photograph though I felt these photographs did not contribute significantly to the entries. Some plants had a two-page spread, to better display the work of the artist, and this brought variety and interest to the experience of reading the book.
The opening of the exhibition at the National Botanic Gardens and the launch of this book was timed to coincide with International Botanical Art Day and this book gives a page to each of the twenty four participating countries where a plant representing that country is illustrated and accompanied by an explanatory text about botanical art there. Many of the plants will be familiar to us – Japan’s camellia, Italy’s Milk Thistle, Mexico’s Poinsettia, Rowan from Ukraine, Gorse from Scotland but I would dearly love to see the Indonesian illustration of Amorphophallus titanium, the Titan Arum, which was painted life-size and so stands at over two metres tall.
There are contributions to the rear of the book from the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland, the National Biodiversity Data Centre, the Irish Peatland Conservation Council and the Irish Wildlife Trust along with a piece from Wild Irish Foragers. The purpose of these was, no doubt, to raise awareness of the critical importance of the conservation of our native flora and to direct the reader to where s/he might further their interest or become involved in a practical (or financial) manner. I hope their inclusion in the book helps promote their purpose but feel the preceding entries from the artists achieve the same result in a far more subtle and effective manner. When we see the beauty which is ours, which is of our countryside, displayed to us here in such a wonderful manner how can we not but appreciate it and make every effort to preserve it for coming generations.
I offer my admiration and congratulations to the Irish Society of Botanical Artists and all who contributed to this project and I recommend the book highly to those with an interest in beauty, nature, our wildflowers and the work of our wonderful Irish botanical artists.
Now, what will they do next?
To purchase a copy: http://www.irishbotanicalartists.ie/shop/