The landmark Flannerys’s Bar in Athlone, painted by Moate-based artist Carmel Rooney

Moate’s Carmel believes in art’s healing power

Trying to find time and space to create stunning works of art can often be difficult, but for Moate-based artist, Carmel Rooney, the arrival of Covid proved to be “the perfect opportunity” as she found herself with lots of spare time on her hands during our prolonged lockdowns.

“I turned to painting in a big way during lockdown and by the end of it every room in the house was full of my paintings,” she recalls, “so I suppose in a way it was the catalyst that forced me into introducing my art to the wider public.”

Although she is a native of Navan, Carmel has spent more than 40 years living in Moate, having originally come to the county to study graphic design in what was then Athlone Institute of Technology.

She settled in Moate having married a local man and had two children, Jordan, who is now 28, and her only daughter Jasmine, who was born with cystic fibrosis. Jasmine tragically passed away in 2002 at the tender age of 10 years old having developed a bad infection at the end of the previous year.

It was a life-changing experience for Carmel Rooney and the rest of her family, and one which “nevers leave you,” she admits. Having been the full-time carer for Jasmine from the time she was born, her mother says she “didn’t know what to do” after her adored daughter passed away and she had to find “a new way to live”.

Jasmine Rooney loved to travel during her short life and passed away “on the same day as her passport expired,” says her mother, leaving a very deep void behind for her loved ones.

Four years later, Carmel Rooney returned to education as a means of coping with the loss of her precious daughter, and completed a BA in Fine Arts at Galway Mayo Institute of Technology. She began working with Westmeath County Council on their active age programmes and started teaching art classes to various groups of older people in Athlone and Mullingar, and also in local nursing homes.

As a strong believer in the healing power of the creative arts, Carmel says she finds “great satisfaction, both personally and professionally” from working with different age groups and says it is “a very enriching experience for me, as the tutor, and also for the students”.

The Moate artist has been a registered art teacher with the Teaching Council of Ireland for many years so, as well as working with active age groups, she was also teaching private art classes to younger groups at her home on Church Lane in Moate, which she still does today, with another set of classes due to start in September.

Doing so much work in the community helped to bring Carmel Rooney’s art to a wider audience, but it was only when Covid hit that she began really applying herself to producing a portfolio of work, drawing her inspiration from luminaries like Jack B. Yeats, Vincent Van Gogh and Rembrandt.

Having experimented with a number of painting techniques over the years, Carmel is best known for the raised painting technique known as ‘impasto.’ The Italian word, which translates as ‘mixture’, is used to describe a layered painting technique where paint is thickly laid on a surface, so that brushstrokes or palette knife marks are clearly visible.

Carmel uses a palette knife to paint thick strokes on canvas, which gives her finished paintings “a 3D effect” and her artistic creations are proving very popular with customers both at home and abroad.

Having ended up with so many paintings in her home after lockdown, she decided to rent a small unit in The Village at Burgess to see if she could sell a few of her works, and it proved to be such a success that she had to consider moving to a bigger premises within a year of opening!

“It was a bit of a learning curve for me to rent a unit, to be honest,” she admits. “It was trial and error at the start, but bit by bit I began to build up a good customer base, so I moved to what used to be a religious goods shop on Castle Street on the west side of the town and opened my shop and gallery in April with a working studio to the rear.”

The busy artist is delighted to be close to the Shannon river, from where she draws a lot of inspiration for her work, and she has also produced a range of 16 different postcards which are based on her original paintings of various Athlone landmark buildings, pubs and historical scenes.

All her artwork is scanned and printed at the Copper House in Dublin, and her limited edition signed and stamped Giclee prints are available online and in her Castle Street gallery.

Having worked hard to establish her own unique style, Carmel Rooney gets a lot of commissioned work, and many of her paintings now hang in homes and businesses across Europe, the United States, South Africa and South America, as well as much closer to home.

She sells a lot of her work through her online shop and website, while other customers prefer to come into her shop and interact with her on a personal level. “It depends on the person, or the occasion, and coming into the shop gives people a chance to see me at work also,” she says.

In five years time, the talented Moate-based artist would like to see herself doing her own printing of her art works, but for now she is happy to “just paint” and to keep showcasing her work to an ever-expanding audience of appreciative customers.