A living link from Athens to Corlough

Story by Sean McMahon

Friday, 29th January, 2010 3:00pm

A living link from Athens to Corlough

Maria Gkinala in the stand in Corlough where the paintings of Gaelic players in action are now a focal point.

It's a long way from Athens to painting pictures of the legendary Kerry footballer Mick O'Connell on the new stand at the Corlough GAA grounds.

But that's exactly what has happened to talented artist Maria Gkinala, who has been living at Garvary, Corlough for a number of years. A noted track and field athlete in her youth, Maria was instantly taken by athleticism and sheer endurance of Gaelic footballers. She is impressed by the balance between tremendous physicality and skill.

"I really got great satisfaction from painting footballers in action for the Corlough club, so that they could put them up on the back wall of the new stand. They create a talking point for people in the stand while they're waiting for the match to commence," said Maria.

Maria wishes to thank the chairman of Corlough for affording her the opportunity to show her talents in this unique manner. "I'm overwhelmed by the tremendous community spirit of the Corlough people. They've done wonderful work on the new playing facilities and dressing rooms," she said.

Maria added with a smile as she pointed up towards the painting of Mick O'Connell in full flight that she loves Corlough and her football. Now the entire wall at the rear of the stand is covered with her paintings, all brilliantly capturing the essence of the various games at crucial moments.

Maria has been living in Corlough for five years with her partner Micheal O'Raghaill and her daughter Bridget, who has picked up the local accent!

Maria lived in England in the 1980 and for a period in the 1990s and then returned to Greece for number of years at the end of that decade.

While back in Greece she published and edited a monthly magazine about dogs. She still breeds great Danes as a bobby and says they are lovely dogs. "They instinctively like people who like animals, because they're down to earth and they instantly connect with people in a more natural way."

Maria explained that she'd had a great interest in Ireland from when she was a teenager - there may be a little bit of Irish blood there somewhere said Maria!

It is amazing that there is only one family in Greece with the surname Gkinala and there was always the story in the family that a fair-haired and green-eyed woman from abroad had married one of the ancestors. The legend pertains in Maria's family to this day that the fair-haired lady may have come from Ireland, Donegal in particular... and Maria is supposed to have identical green eyes.

"It used to cross my mind even in my pre-teens that my destiny was waiting for me in Ireland. I really felt at home the first time I visited the country and since I moved here, I have been really happy," said Maria.

When she first encountered her partner Micheal Raghaill, they had to make a decision whether to live in Greece or move to Ireland. Ireland won hands down. Her first husband was English and they lived there for a time, while she worked as an artist.

While in art college in Greece Maria studied painting, sculpture and marble carving. They use the same tools for marble carving and stone masonry in Greece today as they did 2,000 years ago. A blacksmith measures the hand of those engaged in this work so that a hammer of the right weight can be manufactured, as essentially a comfortable extension of their arm.

Maria also studied traditional Byzantine painting in the late 1970s early 80s. Even though it involved severe and austere techniques, Maria took it on as a challenge and set about mastering her craft. "All these disciplines stand me in good stead today. I can now paint in any style I like, but the craftsmanship is always there."

Maria has gleaned a great knowledge and insight into the legends and stories of west Cavan, like the White Horses of Benaughlin. She is proud of her painting of these legendary white horses on the mountain, which straddles the Border at Swanlinbar. She says that white horse figure on the mountain is the only hill figure in all of Ireland. According to Maria it is an archeological treasure and should be unveiled as it would a superb tourist attraction.

Maria explained that it seems that there were games taking place in Ireland in pagan times and there is a possibility that people from ancient Greece visited Ireland and the Swanlinbar area in particular to have a look at the various disciplines.

The gregarious Maria says that a language is important to people and how they think and she is of the opinion that the Irish language is vital to Ireland.

The ancient Greek language and the Irish language are unique and have a way of enriching your concept of things. Maria is determined to learn the Irish language and firmly believes that one is what they makes themselves to be.

"I am now a great Irish person and this is where I will be buried. Everything here in the Corlough area inspires me," she says.

Apart from painting famous Greek icons, Maria also put her numerous artistic talents to good use on such Irish icons as Cuchulainn. "My art is a fusion of ancient Greek art, including Byzantine art and Greek and Irish mythology and also nature."

Maria also loves to paint wildlife and horses and has beautiful pictures of Brackley lake hanging in her study. She is also a fan of Rory Gallagher, loves his music and has an exquisite painting of him adorning her wall.

Another impressive work Maria painted recently is now adorning Cardinal Sean Brady's residence in Armagh. The painting depicts St. Bridget of Laragh, the parish Cardinal Sean is from.

Maria also enjoyed painting St. Bridget because her daughter is called Bridget. When it was presented to Cardinal Brady he loved the painting and Maria was given a signed photographic copy to keep.

They talk about the Ring of Kerry and the Gap of Dungloe but there is nothing to touch the beauty of west Cavan and the hospitality of the people. I was always acutely aware of that reality but it takes on a special meaning when a lady from Greece comes among the natives and confirms it with a joyful smile on her face. As I walked down the lane after bidding farewell to Maria, her words kept dancing in my brain: "I'm a Corlough woman - I love Corlough." And so say all of us.

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