In this week’s Third Degree column, Paul Bradley catches up with Ramelton friends, Laura Buchanan and Hannah Gallagher, authors of the book ‘Wild Things’.
Hi Laura, Hannah, thank you for doing this interview. Could you tell us a little about yourselves please.
H: Hi Paul! I grew up just outside Ramelton in a beautiful small community known as the Big Ards, a few kilometres from Laura. I left Donegal then after school for studies in the UK and studied for a BMus and MA in classical piano.
I have travelled mostly through living away for my work in music and spent four years living in beautiful Palestine. Most recently, I went on a trip to Japan which was just incredible! I have been back living in Donegal for the past three years where I run a small business Folklor and continue teaching music.
L: I’m from Ramelton and I have a BA in fine art printmaking and MA in surface pattern and textile design. My prints have been exhibited at venues across Ireland, most notably the Royal Ulster Academy exhibition in Belfast.
Internationally, my pattern designs have been exhibited at the Indigo Textile Show in New York, where they were purchased by US retail giant Target for their homewares department. I had my first solo exhibition at the Regional Cultural Centre a few years ago based on my great-grandparents’ grocery and hardware shop. I set up my design business in 2019, creating prints and homewares.
You’ve recently released a book called Wild Things, celebrating some of the life to be found in Irish hedgerows. What was the inspiration for that?
H: I suppose we both have that creative instinct and urge to share what inspires us through our work. During recent years, we rediscovered the joy of being immersed in the nature that surrounds us and felt very inspired by it. We really felt the value of it and wanted to create something that captured that.
L: The inspiration came from catching up with Hannah on the phone during lockdown in 2020. We were both exploring our 5km radius and enjoying being out in nature. It felt good to slow down, take a step back from our busy lives and reconnect with the natural world. Hannah suggested that we work on a book together and I immediately said yes!
It’s the first book I’ve seen covering the plant itself, some of the art and folklore around it, and offering some crafts and recipes involving that plant. I presume there are other plants you could have included too – could this be volume one of a series?
H: So many beautiful plants and stories! It felt very natural to have that format in the book, to share in the learning through being creative and a sense of fun and playfulness. We’d love to explore that more!
L: Yes, it was such a fun experience working on this book, especially collaborating with Hannah. I would welcome any opportunity to work with her again.
So could you see yourselves perhaps doing a similar book on, for example, Donegal birds? They’re cute, but are they “craftable”?
H: It was such a learning curve putting a book together, and we had so much fun working on it as a team. It would be amazing to delve into another project together!
L: Haha! I’m sure we could find some fun activities to link up birds and crafts. That’s what makes these projects exciting – playing around with ideas and not knowing where they will lead us.
What kind of response have you had so far?
H: Amazing and overwhelming!
L: It’s been amazing! Every day we are getting orders and enquiries about the book. We have it stocked in six shops so far, from Donegal all the way to Cork! We couldn’t have imagined the success we’ve had with it and we’re excited to see what other opportunities will come from it in the next few months.
Is it aimed at children, or families with children, or at people with an interest in crafts and nature? Or does that matter – is your intention to try to reconnect people with nature, whoever they are?
H: Yes I think all of the above – the intention is to reconnect or nurture a connection that exists already, a reminder to do so and create simple ways in which that can be shared together. I think there’s a directness to the stories and the activities that allow each and every one of us to feel like, “yes, I can understand this beautiful wild plant more now and even more through experiencing its beauty or power or nourishment for myself”.
L: It’s aimed at all of the above. It’s a book to reconnect people with nature in a fun and familiar way.
Have we in fact lost touch with the world – not just being out in it, but knowing how to use it (for example, for recipes or dyes) the way previous generations did?
H: I think a lot of people are really making a great effort to connect to our traditions and heritage. You don’t have to go far back to find that knowledge, our own parents had so much of it. It is surprising how quickly certain crafts or traditions are lost due to globalisation and modernisation, the ways in which we consume things. It feels like an act of defiance to make things by hand now, to work at a small production level.
L: I think we have lost touch with the world in terms of old traditions and skills that the previous generation once had but there is still a demand to learn these old skills through various workshops, which are held all across the country. I travelled to Dublin recently for a paper marbling workshop and it was lovely to craft something by hand again – it felt very natural to me.
Laura, you have your art and design business, and Hannah, you have Folklor candles – both craft businesses, but both with strong natural elements. Is it the art or the nature that draws you most?
H: For me, it’s definitely working with a natural product. When I’m designing or working on new candles, I’m always putting the beeswax first, and figuring out the best way to use it as it is so precious. I want the candles to be aesthetically beautiful but first and foremost I want the candles to burn beautifully and to use the wax well and wisely.
L: For me, it’s the art of designing and making and also the vision of how my customers will use the products that draws me the most. One of my popular products has been The Donegal Bucket List Calendar, as it encourages people to go out and experience something fun in our beautiful county every month. I love creating joyful memories for people through my products.
Nature is hard to avoid in Donegal, thankfully. Is that a source of inspiration (and material) for your work?
H: We are so lucky to have nature all around us in Donegal and in Ireland. For my work with beeswax, I draw inspiration from nature, from working with a natural material and all the learning that comes with that. It also means getting to know beekeepers and their work, and those connections and conversations are always inspiring and thought-provoking.
L: I think being in nature is a source of inspiration for my work. Walking through a forest or on a beautiful beach is a good place to be at peace, and often new ideas come to mind when I’m not trying to force them.
Are there any local issues you would like to draw attention to? (Anything at all…the floor is yours.)
H: I would like to remind everyone to check out the All Ireland Pollinator Plan which is an amazing campaign – so many people are paying attention to that now, it’s very visible everywhere you look – un-mown lawns and wildflower patches. I think if we could also encourage friends and family to put away the weed killer, these are all steps in the right direction.
L: Since moving to the countryside recently, I’ve noticed how much litter is thrown out of car windows or bags of rubbish that are abandoned along the roadside. It’s such an eyesore, bad for the local wildlife and it takes away from the beauty spots that surround us. We need to do more to fix this problem.
The book or the film?
L: The film
Your perfect night?
H: I love finishing the day with a walk on the beach, then coming home to light some candles and enjoy a cuppa to wind down.
L: Having a cosy night in, the fire is lit, a good film on and plenty of sweet treats!
H: I love the old classic 12 Angry Men
L: Bohemian Rhapsody
Your nickname at school?
H: Hannah Banana!
What do you look for most in a friend?
H: I think in friendship it’s lovely to share an openness with one another. We all need people we can trust and talk to about everything and anything.
What angers, frightens, or disappoints you?
H: I feel a mix of those feelings about social media and the bubbles it creates in our lives.
L: Not a lot. I try to see the positives in everything.
Do you have a particular motto/belief that you try to live by?
H: To ask questions. I try to be curious, challenge myself and learn as I go.
L: Be the creator of my life.
If anyone else would like to take part in this interview, to raise a profile or an issue, or just for fun, please contact Paul at Dnthirddegree@gmail.com