That was Blair Paul’s first trip to Ireland, and he fell in love with the country. Paul returned there three more times to continue his adventures; teach, paint, and explore, each time becoming more comfortable with the Irish lifestyle, which, he said, he fit into nicely.
Paul is a painter, author, adventurer and arts professor in Algonquin’s Introduction to Fine Art program, which he designed and introduced. After writing his first book, On the edge of Discovery: Contemporary Paintings in a Personal Context in 2008, Paul realized there was so much more that he wanted to write. Specifically, more about his adventures in the beautiful Celtic country he had fallen in love with.
“There’s a lot of surprises,” he said. “Every county is different from the one beside it, you drive along the coast and everything looks different, even the plants. They’ve even got palm trees in northern Ireland, in people’s front yards.” A fact he said most, including himself, would find very surprising.
“It’s about profound experiences and a list of places I’d never forget,” he said of the book. “I wanted to write about each trip.There’s this mile of beach that I’d walk each day, morning and night. The sea is amazing,” he said. “It’s really inspiring. It makes you feel pretty small.”
The draft for this second book, which has been in the works for two years and as of now, consists of 200 hand-written pages, is still waiting to be published. Paul’s second book will take readers into the heart of Ireland, quashing stereotypes, and exciting readers with strong visuals and insight into the country’s past and present.
“They have such an amazing culture for such a small country,” he said. “Their cultural history is huge, their history of art and education.” Paul said he learned that the universities in Dublin and Belfast were active long before other places in Western Europe. The University of Dublin was originally founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I, and Belfast in the mid 1800s.
The idea of Ireland as a country of conflict, and the people as angry brawlers, is a huge exaggeration, he said.
“They want peace,” he said. “One woman told me that they don’t care who runs the country, the British, the IRA, as long as there’s peace. And [the people] are all happy with what they have. I mean money is great, but it’s not the be all and end all. They spend more time with their families and they love music and art. Even the smallest counties still had art galleries. One of the gallery owners said that you’d be hard pressed to find even a farmer without one piece of original art on their walls.”
While this is his second foray into writing, Paul says that it only created and even larger appreciation for writers.
“Writing a book is a very difficult enterprise,” he said. “I have every admiration for writers. There’s a whole team involved. Every great author has great editors.”
In order to create this second book, Paul said he needed to put himself back in Ireland. Back on the beaches during sunset, back on the windy cliffs and back in the tiny pubs with 13 musicians improvising every chord.
“Memory is a big part of the creative process when writing,” he said. “When I was writing this draft I had pictures all around me and a map in front of me. Then I just went on autopilot. I make a list of key things and then expand on them. And the more I wrote the more came out. It’s amazing how much is stored in your memory.”
On his journeys in Ireland, Paul not only discovered the heart and history of a country, but also of himself. He said he believes it’s important that we all keep track of our own stories and family histories.
“It’s amazing how much we all have to write about,” he said. “We all have stories to tell. Everyone has a story and every story is a drama.”
And his advice for anyone ready to tell their story?
“If I can do it, anybody can do it.”