A brush in hand again, teacher turned artist is re-born - at 70 years of age

Former art teacher at Regina Mundi for 30 years, Eddie Quinn put down his paint brushes as his wife battled cancer. Now his love for art has been renewed thanks to encouragement from his family, writes Chris Dunne
A brush in hand again, teacher turned artist is re-born - at 70 years of age
Retired art teacher Eddie Quinn at work in his garden studio, oil-painting landscapes.Pic; Larry Cummins

BEFORE Eddie Quinn discovered the many great loves in his life, art was always his first one.

“From childhood, I loved drawing,” says Eddie who was born in Belfast and who now lives in Kildorrery.

His son, Brian, recalls being surrounded by the things his father loved as a youngster.

“I remember dad’s pictures and his paintings,” says Brian who is a brother to Gerard, Michael, Ciarán and Claire.

“There were a lot of tools and brushes at home when he was in art college.”

Brian is his father’s biggest fan.

“I would like to see dad’s work in every gallery in the country,” he says. “It will happen.”

Eddie had a wealth of inspiration to call on to pursue his passion. He lives among the majestic beauty of the glens and valleys of the Ballyhoura hills.

“Brian is wonderfully encouraging and I’m lucky to call him my son,” says Eddie.

“My wife, Annie, helped me express myself through my art in a way I hadn’t done before.

“I started with the forests and I started to love the landscapes. My heart is in them.”

Eddie cannot remember a time in his childhood when art and creativity were not close to his heart.

“It was just there always,” he says.

When he married his first love, Lil, a career in the world of art seemed like a faraway dream. But dreams often become reality and Eddie’s talent was to shine through.

“I left school after my O levels,” says Eddie. “As a teenager I continued to paint and draw. I met Lil at a dance, the local hop, we were 19 and 17. Lil was a hairdresser and I worked various jobs including a bus conductor, a shop assistant in a men’s boutique, driving vans and bar-tending in the evenings For extra income, I ran a taxi at weekends.”

The young couple looked forward to a long, bright future together with their children. Good fortune smiled upon them before life took another road.

“At age 24, I applied for a place in the Ulster College of Art and Design,” says Eddie.

“I was delighted to be accepted. In 1971, I entered their Foundation Course in Fine Art. My work during the ’70s and ’80s was drawn from experiencing the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland.”

Eddie was happy doing what he loved, despite the sadness and pain associated with the strife in the North.

“I decided that I had found my place in the world and that I had come home,” he says.

But home was becoming a dangerous place to be.

“The Troubles were escalating in Northern Ireland,” says Eddie.

“Times were tough. Lil and I made the decision to move down south with our young family to a safer, more peaceful place. Lil had a sister in Cork that we could stay with for the time being.”

By then, 1976, Eddie had achieved an art degree and had a teaching diploma under his belt.

“I wrote about 40 letters to different schools in Cork seeking a post to teach art,” he recalls.

“Many of them didn’t do art. The six replies I got were all negative.”

It seemed he was destined to go back behind a counter until another stroke of luck came his way.

“I was working in The White Horse in Ballincollig,” says Eddie. “I remember I’d applied for a job in the Verolme Dockyard in the clerical department. My brother-in-law, Bobby, worked there.

“I came home one night and everyone was sitting around, laughing.”

A visitor had called.

“A lady by the name of Daisy Corrigan called to introduce herself. She was the owner and the manger of a private school that became public, Regina Mundi in Cork. Daisy was an academic and appreciative of art herself. There was a job going at the school in Douglas and she wanted me to call and discuss the job with her.”

Eddie loved every day of his 30- year tenure with Regina Mundi. He put his heart and soul into teaching his favourite subject. The response over the years was fantastic.

“I loved it,” says Eddie. “Teaching seemed to come naturally to me. I believe everyone can be taught to draw with suitable guidance and tuition if they like it.

“Helping pupils with their port-folios for college was very rewarding.”

Eddie Quinn artist, and wife Annie.
Eddie Quinn artist, and wife Annie.

Eddie’s new lease of life and the new millennium saw his own work become more abstract, using the balance of shape and colour flowing in an almost surrealistic fashion from his sub-conscious, and his palette becoming brighter and more vibrant.

“I was thrilled to have an art exhibition in the Rochestown Park Hotel,” says Eddie.

“The hotel even purchased a few of my paintings!”

But another love of his life began to fade. In 2004, Lil became seriously ill.

“We had taken our grandchild on holidays to France. Lil had a bad cough and it was taking its toll on her.”

It was the start of a stressful time for the family when she underwent treatment and surgery for lung cancer.

“The cancer metastasised and Lil developed a brain tumour,” says Eddie.

“She had an operation and radium treatment, but her short-term memory was affected. Her walk and her balance were affected. She needed to use a wheel-chair.”

Through it all, Lil’s sunny disposition remained intact.

“She was still happy,” says Eddie. “I became her full-time carer when I took early retirement. We could still have conversations, even though Lil tended to repeat herself. It was a quiet, peaceful time.”

They discovered another love together.

“We moved to Kildorrery where I started work on renovating our cottage.

“When Lil passed away in 2010, I was left with my grief.”

It was a lonely time.

“Mum and dad had never been apart,” says Brian.

“So it was a huge loneliness for dad.”

Eddie lost heart after Lil passed away. He had choices to make.

“I could easily have just gone to the pub and stayed there,” he admits.

“After six months, I knew I had to do something; anything.”

He discovered a new love and a new way of life.

“I started to walk the forest at Glenanaar,” says Eddie. “I found solace looking at nature. I was very unfit. Little by little, I got fitter.

“When I got a bike, I used to cycle it up and down the country road, which was a mile long.

“I did it 20 times to reach 20 miles. People around used to laugh.”

The great outdoors beckoned Eddie and he got a new lease of life, a renewed vision.

He was seeing the beauty of his surroundings on foot and on his bicycle.

“I began to paint what I saw,” he says.

“The flowers in the garden, the forests, the harvest fields and the hills.”

When he met Annie his heart soared once more. A life-changing love affair with the hills and the mountains forged a special bond between the couple. He picked himself up and dusted himself down.

Eddie also picked up his dusty brushes with great delight, his art taking on a different focus.

“Through walks and nature, I started to paint where I lived. I adore it,” he says.

“When Lil was ill I a painted very little. I did do some night classes. When I met Annie on a walking trip, I was painting a little bit in the garden shed.”

The couple walked down the garden path together.

“We got married in our garden in August, 2013. I had built a waterfall. Everyone was really happy for me.”

Brian, always in his father’s corner, decided to get Eddie’s paintings out there. He called to gallery owners and invited friends to view and purchase Eddie’s beautiful paintings.

“I believe in his work,” says Brain. “He deserves the recognition.

“When we were growing up, people called to the door with their art portfolios. Dad always helped and encouraged them.”

Brian knows his stuff.

“I’ve visited so many galleries, I know what is good,” he says.

“If I didn’t believe dad’s work was good, I wouldn’t approach the gallery.”

With Brian’s help, Eddie’s work is in places such as Purcell Gallery, Kenmare, in Draiocht Gallery, Adare, and in ‘Gift Ireland’, Kinsale, as well as Chalk and Easel in Ballinspittle.

“For me, this is the beginning,” says Eddie.

“I really feel that. It’s like I can do anything. I’m selling a few here and there. Brian is helping me to get into more galleries. It feels good.”

Brian is proud of his dad.

“Lots of my friends bought dad’s paintings,” he says. “One in particular, Michael Tierney, has a collection! He loves his art and he is a real fan of dad’s work.”

Eddie’s heart and soul is in his art; his first love. Now he has come full circle with all that he loves.

“At 70 years of age, I feel that I have been reborn,” he says.

“Both personally and as an artist. I have come full circle, from the darkness of pain, conflict and sadness, out into the breathtaking light of the beauty that surrounds us. Once again, as I did on that first day as an art student, I have found my true place in the world.”


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