Hillary Cunningham – From the hockey pitch to the canvas

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HILLARY Cunningham once took to the field to represent Ireland against Wales in hockey, the sport that played a big part in her early years. She now takes a brush to the canvas, and enjoys Sam’s company – her twelve-year-old dog who can be seen lounging on top of her agreeable armchair.

Ms Cunningham reflects on a time she played her part on the Munster team that beat Ulster after 36 years in Belfast.

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“There were tears in everybody’s eyes, we had not beaten them in 36 years and I had the great pleasure of being on that team. We were lost for a week, we did not come home,” Ms Cunningham said.

She has a great love of sports and the arts, a quality that was instilled in her by her family growing up.

After her time as a hockey player, she began to teach art and painting in a gallery in Limerick city to make ends meet.

Ms Cunningham said that artists often find it very hard to make money because there is not a great market for painting.

“I had a good friend called Róisín who encouraged me and found me a studio in town. So that is how I started teaching and I borrowed everybody’s garden furniture because I had no money starting out. And that was 28 years ago and I have not looked back ever since,” Ms Cunningham added.

She said that she was a great advocate for finding the beauty in things, a quality she wanted to instil in the people she was teaching.

“I called my studio the ‘Art for Pleasure Centre’. I gave it that title because I did not want people to be put off going to art classes. A lot of people feel like they cannot paint or draw, and I am a great believer that there is an artist in everybody,” Ms Cunningham said.

Hillary loves the colour red and said that it represents a feeling of homeliness and comfort. She enjoys the works of Vincent van Gogh, especially ‘Starry Night’ and has often spent time painting flowers due to her love of nature.

Ms Cunningham said that there is a notion out there that painting should be judged by the amount of time it takes to physically complete it.

“Jack Yeats painted the Liffey Swim in a half an hour, but he had been walking around Dublin observing before he actually put it on canvas,” Ms Cunningham added.

She said that her studio and her art was not about teaching someone how to paint, but rather the innate emotions that art was able to bring out in people.

Hillary Cunningham moved to Limerick in 1953 and initially worked as an architect early on.

She has spent all of her life in the city that she loves, has four children and spends her time looking out her blinds-less window at the sweeping, blue sky.