‘It takes nine months to make a baby, and nine months to recover’

In conversation: James Earley, artist, and Nollaig Healy, festival director

When were you closest to death?

Nollaig: Childbirth, I think. And being exhausted afterwards, thinking 'can people die from tiredness?'

James: Speaking as an observer, it must hit your body so hard.

Nollaig: Someone said to me that it takes nine months to make a baby, and nine months to recover. I definitely believe that.

James: I have huge, huge admiration for any woman who goes through that. For me, a closeness to death is more experiencing the passing of other people.


What book do you keep returning to?

Nollaig: I go back to Michael Harding a lot. I'm from the Westmeath-Cavan border, so that turn of phrase just gets me every time. His observations, his dry humour. I'm a big fan. And The Gruffalo, which I used to read to my boys when they were little.

James: Daily Rituals, so good. It covers painters, writers, all different artists.

Nollaig: You're very into process, aren't you?

James: Big time. It's really insightful and great to dip in and out of, a pretty non-committal read.

What was the first and last film you saw in the cinema?

Nollaig: E.T. We travelled to Navan to see it. My sister got up to try and turn down the volume because she thought it was too loud. We still tease her about it. The last one I saw was the Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

James: That was the last one I saw as well. Myself and my brother and my dad go together to see each Star Wars film that comes out. The first film I remember seeing was Raiders of the Lost Ark. It was for my seventh birthday. Epic. One of the kids at the party got sick in the cinema.

Can you play a musical instrument?

James: I cannot.

Nollaig: I play piano. I have a really out-of-tune piano at home.

What is your go-to dessert?

James: Banoffi. Gimme that!

Nollaig: Anything with lemon curd, or a good old-fashioned bread and butter pudding. I hate when people try to make that fancy. Keep it simple.

What is the best lesson you’ve learned from a parent?

Nollaig: If you want something, go for it.

James: I got a very strong work ethic from my parents. The other thing is that nothing is ever too bad that you can't tell them. We have a very open relationship. I could always talk to them.

What is your favourite destination to visit?

Nollaig: The States. There's such a great variety of things to do. I ran a marathon last year in Cape Cod, and the whole way around people were shouting "you got this!" That's my new catchphrase.

James: Cape Cod is amazing. I'm a sucker for Amsterdam. I lived there for a short stint at one stage. It's very manageable as a city, there's a really good gallery scene, there's so much great food, I really love it.

Is there any artist you feel particularly connected to right now?

James: Mainie Jellett. I love her stuff. She has a few pieces in the National Gallery. One is called

Decoration. She's an abstract Irish artist who would have been over in Paris around the time of Picasso. She was very progressive and her stuff is still extraordinarily fresh. When she left Paris and came back to Ireland to quite a conservative art scene, she decided she was going to stick with it and educate the Irish arts scene, and that abstract art can be something to embrace. She was an visionary.

Nollaig: Genuinely, I'm a massive fan of yours and your work. The mural you did in Clonmel, every time I drive pass it, it cheers me up. Another artist I admire is Michael Keegan-Dolan. When I saw Giselle I couldn't actually stand up afterwards. You're always chasing that experience.

What’s your favourite street?

James: I love Meath Street. It's one of the only streets in Dublin that has kept its character. How long that will last for is a different thing altogether. One end of it has NCAD, which is where I was in college, so I have fond memories. It has genuine character.


Anne Street in Clonmel. It’s an amazing Georgian


When did you last cry?

Nollaig: Reading the In Her Shoes stories during the referendum. It was very upsetting to read all those stories.

James: The last time I cried was just before the opening of my recent show. The show is dedicated to my brother's wife who passed away last year. I was just thinking about the two of them and had a good old private cry on my own, then went in and acted like I was all dandy and grand. That was tough.

What was the last gift you bought?

Nollaig: Giant leopard-print mugs for my aunt.

James: A really, really late birthday present for my brother.

Nollaig: Your twin?

James: Yeah, I'm digging a hole here. I got him a voucher for Clanbrassil House.

What was your favourite item of clothing as a teenager?

James: Petro Motion jeans, absolutely loved those. Crazy, crazy, baggy jeans. They looked ridiculous, but I thought I was cool!

Nollaig: I had tie-dyed bicycle shorts.

James: Nice!

Nollaig: I was the bee's knees.

James: No doubt about it.

Nollaig: Mortifying.

Nollaig Healy is the Festival director of Clonmel Junction Festival, July 2nd -8th, junctionfestival.com. James Earley is an artist known for his large format outdoor murals and has a residency at this year's Junction Festival