ARTIST AT HOME IN THE HILLS AT CLARA

RE­PORTER DAVID MED­CALF DRANK TEA WITH HOUSE-HUS­BAND AND PAINTER PA­TRICK WAL­SHE, WHO DE­RIVES IN­SPI­RA­TION FROM THE WOODS AND HILLS AROUND HIM IN HIS SPLEN­DID CLARA HOME – NOW OPEN TO VIS­I­TORS TO STAY IN HIS CON­VERTED SHED

Wicklow People - - INTERVIEW -

THIS in­ter­view was prob­a­bly sup­posed to be about Pa­trick Wal­she’s award win­ning ac­com­mo­da­tion which has be­come pop­u­lar on Airbnb – but there were just too many side-tracks. The im­mac­u­lately con­verted farm build­ing is a model of how to turn an un­con­sid­ered struc­ture into a worth­while tourism ven­ture – small won­der that it at­tracted an award. Yet be­fore he showed the vis­it­ing re­porter around, first we had to dis­cuss his back­ground as a chef and as an en­tre­pre­neur, not to men­tion his ca­reer as a painter.

There was also the lit­tle mat­ter of his fam­ily back­ground, his love af­fair with Wick­low, his time in Cal­i­for­nia, his fond­ness for travel. So by the time he opened the door of the ac­com­mo­da­tion, it was clear that Airbnb would be no more than a foot­note in a piece with more trains (of thought) than Con­nolly Sta­tion.

Pa­trick Wal­she was born in 1952 – ‘so I get the pen­sion this year!’ – in Clare where the sur­name was most likely to be pro­nounced Welsh. His fa­ther was State So­lic­i­tor for the county, while his mother was an English­women from Leeds in York­shire. The cou­ple first met each other half way, in the Isle of Man. They brought up their fam­ily in well-to-do cir­cum­stances, though Pa­trick still re­sents the beat­ings ad­min­is­tered by the Chris­tian Broth­ers who dinned the Ir­ish lan­guage into his un­will­ing head. Sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion proved a more con­ge­nial ex­pe­ri­ence, as a boarder at Glen­stal Abbey, first step on the road away from his na­tive county.

‘I have cousins in Clare,’ he de­clares vaguely, be­fore con­fess­ing that Gal­way is the more likely des­ti­na­tion when­ever he trav­els west, the links with En­nis now ten­u­ous. Hav­ing drawn from the day he could first hold a pen­cil, he found that Glen­stal con­firmed in his mind a de­sire to be­come an artist. He was one of a clique of stu­dents who de­rived in­spi­ra­tion from a charis­matic (‘mad’ de­clares Pa­trick ad­mir­ingly) art teacher.

How­ever, there was no ar­gu­ment young Wal­she could find to per­suade the State So­lic­i­tor he should go to art col­lege: ‘Fa­ther could not get his head around it and I sup­pose he was right when he said you will not make a liv­ing out of art. Art meant dy­ing in penury as a bit­ter al­co­holic.’ Pa­trick found him­self in­stead at­tend­ing the lec­ture halls of the busi­ness school at Trin­ity Col­lege in Dublin, a fate which he bore with­out any great re­sent­ment. Those were the hip­pie days in the univer­sity, so he just grew his hair and went with the flow.

Pa­trick found the sum­mer va­ca­tions as ben­e­fi­cial as term time, since he needed to make money. One break was spent in Switzerland tending to wealthy pa­trons in a Zurich ho­tel. And then he found his niche on Cape Cod in Mas­sachusetts cook­ing for the film crews who made movies and ad­ver­tise­ments. He took the Amer­i­can spirit of free en­ter­prise to heart, ac­quir­ing a van to set up his own mo­bile ca­ter­ing unit. And all the time, whether study­ing or cook­ing or par­ty­ing, he con­tin­ued to paint – it is sim­ply what he does.

He had also dis­cov­ered that he had a knack for cook­ing, adopt­ing the mo­bile dining model for an Ir­ish mar­ket. When the Rolling Stones played Slane in 1982, he was there to serve them lob­ster while the com­pe­ti­tion, mav­er­ick broad­caster Ge­orge Hook, dished up din­ner for oth­ers nearby. The busi­ness also fed the likes of Van Mor­ri­son and Wal­she’s grub so tick­led the palate of gui­tarist Ry Cooder that Pa­trick was hired to pro­vide the meals dur­ing a 10-day stint at the Ham­mer­smith Odeon in Lon­don.

In 1983, after suc­cess­fully show­ing paint­ings at an ex­hi­bi­tion in Bos­ton, he de­cided to move with his wife-to-be Ros back across to the USA, set­tling in New York. He laughs as he re­calls the neigh­bour­hood in Brook­lyn where they found a place big enough to al­low him paint. One night a body – re­cently de­ceased – was left out­side the house and after dark it was nor­mal to see junkies shoot­ing up with their sy­ringes in the street. From this shady base, Ros emerged by day to work with the likes of Glo­ria Van­der­bilt or Calvin Klein in the fash­ion in­dus­try.

The pair mar­ried in 1984 and Pa­trick too found him­self rub­bing shoul­ders in the Big Ap­ple with some in­flu­en­tial high rollers. He sailed aboard the Wa­ter Club, an up-mar­ket float­ing restau­rant with a rep­u­ta­tion for co­caine-fu­elled ex­cess.

‘That is where you re­ally learnt to be chef,’ he muses, look­ing back at his time as ban­quet­ing chef on the ship, ‘learn­ing on the go. That was a fan­tas­tic job at the height of the junk bond boom.’

The boom proved to be an un­sus­tain­able bub­ble and many of the Wa­ter Club din­ers

were among those who were blown away by the in­evitable crash.

In 1986, Ros was of­fered a sig­nif­i­cant pro­mo­tion, head hunted with an of­fer to come to Cal­i­for­nia, so it was time to say bye-bye to Brook­lyn and hello Los Angeles. A stu­dio was found on Skid Row for the painter to carry on at the easel but the pair resided in al­to­gether more salu­bri­ous sur­round­ings, first in Santa Mon­ica, then in the Hollywood Hills. The peo­ple of LA had to eat, of course, so Pa­trick was re­cruited to take charge of the kitchen at Yawks a new restau­rant where the menu of­fered ‘re­gional Amer­i­can food’ to its trendy cus­tomers.

He laughs as he con­firms that this good old-fash­ioned US cui­sine was con­cocted by a bunch of Gu­atemalan and Peru­vian mi­grants un­der the di­rec­tion of an Ir­ish in­ter­loper. The craic was good and Ros was earn­ing good money but, when the time came to have a fam­ily, they de­cided they did not want to bring up lit­tle Amer­i­cans. It was time in 1991 to come home and bring up lit­tle Ir­ish­men in­stead.

They re­turned slowly, tak­ing a mem­o­rable 13week road trip across the States, fol­lowed by a lin­ger­ing look around In­dia, Nepal, Thai­land and all points east – a to­tal of 18 months trav­el­ling.

In In­done­sia they made use­ful con­tacts for the en­ter­prise they went on to set up in Ire­land, im­port­ing gifts and fur­ni­ture, ev­ery­thing from can­dle­sticks to ta­bles from Bali. And as the busi­ness – styled Hemi­sphere – be­gan to take off, they came to live in Clara, deep in the Wick­low Hills.

There they con­verted an old gate lodge and the ad­join­ing barn to make the high ceilinged home where their two sons were brought up. From here, they also ran the Ros­alind Wal­she Col­lec­tion, sell­ing mugs which car­ried charm­ing il­lus­tra­tions of build­ings drawn by Ros’s fa­ther.

‘It was a very suc­cess­ful busi­ness,’ Pa­trick still in­sists to this day, drink­ing his tea from a mug left over from the col­lec­tion, dec­o­rated with fa­mously dream­ing spires of Oxford, ‘but it was un­der-cap­i­talised.’ Cus­tomers in the US placed vast or­ders but the cost of freight­ing their mugs and can­dles and soaps across the At­lantic proved crip­pling – the more busi­ness in Amer­ica, the big­ger the losses. This time it was the Wal­shes who went belly up. Pa­trick pulled down the shut­ters in Novem­ber of 2001 and said thank you to the 20 em­ploy­ees who had been on the pay­roll at the de­pot in Rath­drum.

Ros went full time into fash­ion de­sign and now works with Avoca Handweavers. Pa­trick was left to take charge on the home front, pri­mary carer for the two boys, then aged four and six.

‘It was a fan­tas­tic ex­pe­ri­ence and it is one that many fa­thers miss out,’ he speaks pos­i­tively of be­ing a house-hus­band, in charge of laun­dry, home­work and clean­ing. With him in the kitchen, the fam­ily en­joyed the lux­ury of be­ing fed by a man who once used to cook for Jew­ish wed­ding re­cep­tions in New York and for movie ex­ec­u­tives in Cal­i­for­nia.

And Pa­trick brought the lads to rugby in Rath­drum where young Liam laid the foun­da­tions for a ca­reer which has re­cently landed him a job as strength and con­di­tion­ing coach with the Worces­ter War­riors in Eng­land. Mean­while, his brother Mar­cus is carv­ing a niche for him­self as a TV/film props spe­cial­ist work­ing on pro­duc­tions such as ‘Vik­ings’ and ‘Bad­lands’.

‘I have been paint­ing all the time – it is a com­pul­sion. I can’t not do it,’ stresses their fa­ther. ‘But the art mar­ket at my level would make you very de­spon­dent.’ He has his own stu­dio – his man cave – across the yard from his front door, where he can lis­ten to jazz ra­dio on the in­ter­net and turn out his dis­tinc­tive land­scapes rich with Wick­low trees and Wick­low views.

He has sup­port­ers, not least long stand­ing ac­quain­tances in the States, who are more than happy to in­vest in his work but carv­ing a wider rep­u­ta­tion re­mains prob­lem­atic: ‘Ir­ish peo­ple are about words and mu­sic – they are not at­tuned to con­scious­ness of the vis­ual.’

So, though he con­tin­ues to paint, he must also throw his con­sid­er­able en­thu­si­asm into the Airbnb – ‘it’s been a great ex­pe­ri­ence’ – proud of the five-star re­views from guests who have ar­rived from around the world to hol­i­day in the hills be­tween Rath­drum and Laragh.

He shares with them not only the out­door pizza oven but also his rel­ish for the area with its al­lur­ing light and mag­nif­i­cent moun­tains: ‘I love Wick­low, al­ways have – vis­ually stun­ning and so in­ter­est­ing.’

ABOVE: ‘Field Notes’, ‘In Clara Wood’ and ‘Of A Morn­ing’ by Pa­trick. MAIN PIC­TURES: Pa­trick At work in his Clara stu­dio.

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