WHAT started as an art project from humble beginnings along a sea wall in North Clare has been washed on the crest of a huge wave to become a new visitor attraction with the wow factor.
Clahane artist, Ann Vaughan had no idea she would be the brainchild for a concept that has been embraced by hundreds of artists, children as young as two years of age, adults and holidaymakers when she placed the first stone on a sea wall a short distance from her art gallery.
“I thought I would just paint a few stones, put them down and see what happens. Then I noticed that kids were putting stuff up. It just started from there. People started adding to it,” explained Ann.
Ann came up with this innovative idea during the early stages of lockdown to give people some hope and encouragement in the midst of all the doom and gloom about new Covid-19 restrictions.
In recent months, it has grown daily to become a free open art gallery that is still drawing gasps of awe and wonderment from visitors and passers-by.
It has proved to be so successful, Ann is determined that it will continue over the winter months.
The Shore Wall Art Project, which stretches to more than 100 metres, includes messages of hope, wit, humour and random thoughts that are uplifting for even the most hardened cynic.
Visitors to the wall can view a painted stone with “Dundalk 360 km”, “Liscannor school” a painted “school bus for Clahane Shore” and a “family tree with the first names of family members”.
Front line health workers are acknowledged with a painting entitled “not all superheroes wear capes”, while one quirky offering painted in red has a small chunk taken off to depict an M and M sweet.
Cryptic messages such as “happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light”, “courage is being yourself everyday in a world that tells you to be someone else”, “enjoy the little things in life, one day you may look back and realise they were the big things”, “The sky is falling, the wing is calling, stand for something or die in the morning”.
People can also take inspiration from the following -”Don’t compare yourself to others, There is no comparison between the moon and the sun. They both shine when it is their time.”
A lot of contributors have a sense of humour with messages like “You don’t stop dancing because you grow old, you grow old because you stop dancing”.
While some painted stones are somewhat faded due to the crashing waves, people are still adding to the wall.
When some stones are removed, Ann tries to replace anything that was taken that she had placed previously.
“It just needs some little thing to inspire people and they will take it on, particularly children. It is not the finesse of art that is involved, it is the thought, it is a message that someone can read or look at.
“You don’t have to be a wonderful artist to participate. There is some lovely stuff, which is spontaneous. It is a joy to look at. You come across some painted stones and can ‘wow look at that’.
There is a bit of talent, fun and wit thrown in there.
“I have met people who I have never met before. I met one of my neighbours who is a grandmother, who lives about a mile away who said: ‘Ann, I come down about four times a day to look at the wall, it is incredible.
“People are now going for a walk and are taking in the wall to see what is there.
“On a fine day, visitors park all along the sea wall before they inspect the latest additions.
“I look down and say the gallery is open again. It is still a visitor attraction. It is like a free open air art gallery.
Following extensive coverage of this project in the local media and on RTE, the sea wall at Clahanes continues to be a magnet for visitors.
“When the lockdown was removed everyone seemed to know about the art project in Clahane. It became very busy and everyone who was on holidays in the area found it.
“Kids really took it on board and it was something that really grabbed their attention. Every time I went down there, there was kids taking stones and bringing them back.
“It was a very local project first with ‘Up Clare’ and “Up Moher Celtic’ but then people started bringing their own county team colours into it.
“Families started bringing messages for their grandparents and grandparents were bringing messages to their grandchildren. It became very personal and a forum to say something,” she said.
She said there were a lot of quotes from Cinderella, Harry Potter, Clare songs and other topics including messages of hope.
Acknowledging the painted stones have proven to be a beacon of hope for some people, she said some people started crying when they saw it as they felt it was a great source of encouragement to them.
“I kept putting up messages like ‘fear not’ ‘choose life’ and ‘be anxious for nothing” because we all need something like this.
At the start of the project, Ann didn’t have any major expectations and just wanted to give people hope and encouragement during the Covid-19 restrictions.
“I decided to do something to offer hope. I didn’t know it would take off. I am a Christian and I want to share the hope I have and let people know there is hope beyond what we see around us.
She recalled there was a sense of fear and apprehension of the unknown at the start of lockdown, which wasn’t good for people.
She felt the project was a way for people to offer hope and strength to one another.
A native of St Brigid’s Well, Liscannor, Ann opened an art studio in Clahane in 2013 after graduating from art college in Galway in 2010.
She also used to serve coffee to customers in her studio during the summer months, apart from this year due to Covid-19.