The Irish in America

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DAY 29: Michael Quirke

It’s been too many years since I’ve made it up to Sligo for a visit with my favorite butcher-turned-woodcarver, Michael Quirke. I have a couple of Michael Quirke’s gorgeous sculptures at home, so I am reminded of him so daily but I miss seeing him in his workshop and listening to him talk. When Michael Quirke describes his pieces and sets them within the mythology of Ireland, it is pure magic. I am transported to my childhood, when I considered folk tales to be true stories. The days before I got so “smart” and realized no one lived for thousands of years and no one could ever turn me into a swan.

MichaelQuirke_sculpturesRegan and I each have a couple Quirke creations. Pictured on the right are Amhairghin (mine) and Queen Maeve (Regan’s). I love it when you walk in to the shop, inevitably just as someone else walks out, and Mr. Quirke looks up and welcomes you. He might look a bit tired, but one comment on a sculpture in the window is all it takes. He was just catching his breath. With a twinkle in his eye, he launches into a wonderful story. And when you decide on a purchase, you get to hear the story all over again – always with a new details and instructions for care – when he pulls out a piece of paper and a pencil and writes it all down for you.

Regan and I visited Mr. Quirke for the first time in 1995 on instructions from our Aunt Eeny to buy a sculpture for her to add to her collection. She had visited him several years earlier. I don’t remember at the moment which one we picked out for Eeny, but Mr. Quirke told us the story, then told us again as he wrote it out, wrapped the treasure in brown paper, and tied it with twine.

Then he asked us for our favorite animals, scrounged up a couple of scraps of wood, and carved the images of our favorites on one side, with our name on the reverse. Of course, more stories about our animals followed. I treasure this little square as much as the larger-scale sculptures. Visiting Sligo is a priority for my next visit to Ireland, and I can’t wait to take the journey through Irish folklore with Michael Quirke.