Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

Pottering around in the old Priory

Several weeks ago in Spacecraft in Belfast I'd picked up an interesting-looking leaflet about Benburb, so last week, on my way to Monaghan, I thought I'd pop down to have a look for myself.

Benburb itself it a fairly unremarkable village with one main attraction, the Servite Priory which, although built in the 1880s, has only been used by the order since 1947.

What I came to see, however, was the row of Priory Cottages renovated by Father Raymond and potter Stephen Farnan.

After qualifying from the University of Ulster and later, the Royal College, Stephen did the student thing and went travelling.

In New Zealand, struck by a sudden moment of clarity, he knew for certain that he wanted to come back to Northern Ireland and make his living as a potter.

Within two weeks he was home, had found premises and started to create his ceramic works.

That was almost six years ago now and since then he has established his studio in the cottages, encouraged a number of other artists to move into the rest of the row and persuaded his brother and sister-in-law to take over the on-site restaurant several months ago.

Pretty good going, but then he is full of enthusiasm and has the drive to keep things moving.

Other artists include Alison Fitzgerald who makes wonderful willow creations and painter Frances McKenna, who has just moved in and will shortly be starting painting classes.

There is also another potter, a web designer and a small gallery space in which he hopes to hold four openings a year.

As well as this he has an Art School running classes in the various aspects of ceramics, from fun for children's parties to more serious throwing, glazing and firing.

It's a great venture which I hope will get the support it deserves.

During the summer the studios should be open every day from 10am until 5pm but it is best to phone first just to make sure.

Stephen's number is 07833 974444.

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