A Life on the Beara: Clare Aylett (01.09.25 – 02.06.21)

Clare&SunhatA retrospective of Clare Aylett’s paintings, Landscapes of the Beara, was held at the Carnegie in July. It launched with a screening of The English Woman, a documentary on her life in Ireland made by her daughter, Holly Aylett.
In the mid-seventies, after raising a family in London, Clare Aylett came to paint in the townships of Tuosist and Lauragh where she restored and lived in five ruins. She had heritage in Ireland through her mother, Winifred Scarratt, who was related to the Skerritts, one of the Seven Tribes of Galway. These ancestors eventually settled in Finvara, in north Clare overlooking the Straits of Galway. Her father, Herbert Clare grew up in Liverpool, a talented water colourist who spent regular holidays with friends in Carrick-on-Suir. He was determined his daughter should not be swept into the Second World War without first getting an education, and so she was lucky to study Economic History at London School of Economics.
When she arrived in Ireland she was one of the only solo women ‘blow ins’ and documented her experiences in two small volumes of stories, My Affair with the Tailor and Nothing to Declare. The first was based on her life in Kilmackilloge where she restored the Tailor’s House and became known as ‘the English woman’. The tailor’s claim to fame was that he had once made a suit for Bernard Shaw but the house had long been abandoned. There was no electricity on the lane and drinking water had to be brought from the well nearby. However, she was warmly welcomed into the community which revolved around Joan and Teddy O’Sullivan’s pub (now Helen’s Bar).
In England almost nothing was taught in schools about the colonial relationship between England and Ireland and its history of exploitation, so she bought every book that she could to understand the past in the present she was now part of, and joined the Kerry Historical and Archaeological Society to which she contributed some articles as well as to the annual Tuosist parish magazine.
As a painter her main interest was documenting light, and the way light filters everything in landscape, constantly shifting, rapidly changing the tones and colours, reshaping the forms of the hills in each moment of the day, and the turn of each tide. She never worked from photographs. Instead she would capture effects in watercolour and return to her studio to work up her studies in oil on canvas. Many of her oils werea gifted to neighbours and friends, who kindly loaned the work for the retrospective; others she sold. She took part in several exhibitions including at the Crawford Gallery in Cork, Mill Cove Gallery in Castletownbere and the Carnegie in Kenmare.
Holly Aylett