Sublimely talented artist Billy Austin’s favourite subjects for his brushes and watercolours are the traditional thatched cottages that once peppered the island of Ireland, but are vanishing at an alarming rate.
“They still exist here and there,” said Billy. “My favoured spot is Achill Island off the coast County Mayo. Artists from all over the world, including myself, flock to the island to capture the cottages which are set among the most glorious scenery imaginable.”
My favoured spot is Achill Island off the coast County MayoBilly Austin
But sometimes Billy – former advertising manager of the Portadown Times – remains within the warmth of his own home to translate beautiful cottage onto canvas. He often trawls the international websites and Facebook to download pictures of idyllic cottages. “It means I don’t have to endure the Atlantic gales that often sweep across Achill!” he laughed.
And so it was with his latest picture of an old Irish cottage which he discovered at the weekend on the American website ‘TUMBLR’ – “which I raid from time to time”. It showed three sisters outside the picturesque homestead. The picture, which Billy could have sworn was snapped in some remote West of Ireland spot, was in fact pictured – at Derrykeevan Crossroads 0n the Dungannon Road!
His wife Averil, who was brought up at nearby Clonmacate, Birches, recognised it right away. So Billy’s background in newspapers sparked off the investigation. He rang prominent Birches man Sandy Murphy, sent the picture to his email address, and Sandy knew that the Forbes family lived in the long-demolished cottage some six decades ago.
Sandy put Billy onto Eddie Forbes, who unravelled the mystery. The picture, it seems, was taken all those years ago by another Birches man – “I just can’t recall his name, but he emigrated to America and came home from time to time, and he took that picture. I believe he died recently.”
And the three girls? They are Eddie sisters – Mary (Cassells, Portadown), Iris (Pickering, Waringstown) and Eileen (Hewitt, also Portadown). There were seven in the Forbes family (mum and dad were David and Margaret).
So Billy started on Monday to commit the picture onto a colourful canvas and it will be completed in a few weeks – it will appear on his brilliant website which includes a wide range of cottages, scenes from Europe, and great character studies.
And if you want to view his canvas cottages within the next few days in stunning reality, he has two on show at Portadown library in Church Street where Portadown Visual Arts Group is showing off the work of 12 of its members –currently running until Saturday April 11.