Belfast IrelandIrelandNorthern IrelandPortstewart and the Causeway Coast Northern Ireland with Emma Thorpe jewellery designer

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Jackie De Burca Today’s guest is Emma Thorpe. Emma makes stunning silver jewellery inspired by the outstanding natural beauty of the magnificent Causeway Coast of Northern Ireland. Other important influences are Emma’s late grandmother, Rose, her 10-year career in archaeology, and her Belfast roots. Thank you so much for joining us today, Emma.

Emma Thorpe Thanks for asking me.

Discover Portstewart and the Causeway Coast Northern Ireland with Emma Thorpe jewellery designer

Northern ireland creatives sea oak necklace by Emma thorpe Atlantic Rose
Sea oak necklace
All photos are by Emma Thorpe – to see her jewellery head over to – Atlantic Rose

Jackie De Burca You’re very welcome. Now, so far in this first series of Creative Places and Faces, your story is actually unique, Emma, in so far as you’ve been lucky enough to grow up in Portstewart. You said as a child you were only 10 minutes away from the Strand, which is a gorgeous beach that has been voted – not any kind of a surprise – voted as one of the 40 Most Beautiful Beaches in Britain, and that’s where you live. You’re living there now with your own children today. For our audience, Emma, who haven’t been to your neck of the woods, to that gorgeous area. Can you describe Portstewart and what it was like to grow up there?

Emma Thorpe Well, Portstewart, for anyone who hasn’t been here. Well, whenever I was growing up, it was very small. We would have lived, I suppose, at that stage, what would have been one of the last streets of houses on the edge of the town. My parents still live there. It’s now more or less in the middle of the town because the place is expanded so much. But growing up in Portstewart, it was – It was quite quiet.

You know, a lot of people would have said there wasn’t very much to do here for young people. But I mean, as kids, I don’t ever remember being bored living here because you were always outside playing. You had – Where we were, we had – obviously, we were 10 minutes from the beach. So, there was always the opportunity to go down there. There is also a fantastic walk along the back of the sand dunes on Portstewart Strand and along the banks of the River Bann.

Portstewart Strand III Causeway Coast Emma Thorpe
Portstewart Strand III Causeway Coast Emma Thorpe

You know, we had – We have a sort of an area called Cromore, which was a sort of a- I suppose the closest we would had to a stiffy home, in Portstewart, in the edge of the town. And they have a sort of a forested area, wooded area, where there are plenty of walks through that when we were kids. I remember we did that an awful lot with my mother and father on a Sunday afternoon after Sunday dinner. And I mean, it was just a lovely place to grow up. As I said, we were always out and about. There was never any fear of the traffic or, you know, getting lost. It was somewhere that you could sort of feel you could go out and explore. We had fields around us where we lived on the edge of the town.

And I always just remember with my brothers and sisters, we would ride down to the end of our street, which is a- there was like a dirt track or gravel track at the end of the street with a white fence that led into fields. And there was a river down there. And I remember as kids, we would go up to what we thought was what we called the race track, and we would go up to the race track over the fields, over the fence, and down into the fields and we would go frog picking, collecting frog spawn.

And the days when you were allowed to do that, we would go blackberry picking because there were wild blackberry bushes that grew in the hedgerow and usually just went off on an adventure. You know, some crazy game that we would come up with just to have an absolute riot. I mean, we went out in the morning and then you were sort of being called in by your mother for your dinner later on. Without having been into the house in between. Obviously, this is during the summer because, you know, during the rest of the year you were going to school. So, but it was – it was pretty idyllic, really, when I think about it.

I mean, my husband and I am – my husband’s actually, he’s from Coleraine, which is not too far away from Portstewart. And when we first married, we were living in Belfast. And when we had our two children, we kind of made a conscious decision that we were going to come back up to the north coast because we want our two to be able to experience something of what we all had access to when we were growing up, which you didn’t feel they were gonna get in Belfast, where we were living in Belfast anyway. And just sort of having that access to the wide, wild open doors, you know, on your doorstep. It was just, you know, it’s just something that you can’t – you can’t buy it. You really can’t.

Jackie De Burca No, you certainly can’t.

Emma Thorpe It is just – I mean to be honest with you, it was just a fabulous place to grow up as kids. I could – I could witter on about it all day.

Jackie De Burca I know it sounds like sort of the perfect adventure in an idyllic setting. Was there any need – I mean, in such an amazing area. Was there any need for you to go on day trips or holidays as a child? Did you ever get away with your parents?

Emma Thorpe Oh, we did. I mean, but to be honest with you, when we did start going off on holidays, it would have been still in Ireland.

We would have gone off on holidays. We would have gone off to Donegal on a regular basis. One of our favourite places that we used to go to actually was down in Dingle, down in County Kerry. I mean, that’s – that was it. That was a huge family trip. We just absolutely loved going down there year after year. So much so that my youngest, one of my younger sisters actually got married down there a few years ago.

Jackie De Burca Oh, really?

Emma Thorpe A few years ago, yeah- well actually, when I say a few, actually, it’s about 13 years ago. They got married down in Dingle, which was lovely because we all had such a connection to it growing up. But for them, you know, for if we weren’t going down to Dingle or going over to Donegal, we had staycations. I remember back in the day, I always think, oh, the early 70s – the late 70s and early 80s, the summer. The summers were always beautiful.

Jackie De Burca They were. I remember.

Multi-Textured Stacking Rings

From Atlantic Rose

Emma Thorpe They were always really hot. And I remember – It sounds a bit strange, but I remember my Dad when we were really young, my dad would take us all down to the beach, obviously with my mother, drive us right to the very end of Portstewart Strand over to the Barmouth. And he would leave us there, obviously, with food and provisions and games. And he would leave us there in the morning as he went off to work up in Coleraine at the time. And then he’d come back and get us, you know, in the evenings, just before the tide washed us away.

And we would’ve spent the entire day there having fun. And it was just absolutely beautiful. And I could remember thinking to myself, I would love to have been able to do that with our kids.

But obviously the summers seem to have gotten wetter and wetter as the years have gone by. But we did actually manage to do it once. There was one summer we had, it was absolutely- an absolute scorcher and it was whenever my eldest had just finished his first year at nursery. And the summer was absolutely stunning. And myself and a friend of mine took our four children down to the beach and for an entire week we were down there, every single day. From the sort of the early morning, right the way through to the late evenings. And it was absolute bliss- that really, really was. I was like this – this part of the neck- this part of the world really is, it’s just so beautiful. The only thing that we are missing is the beautiful weather.

Jackie De Burca Is the weather. It is. It is.

Emma Thorpe You’d never go anywhere.

Jackie De Burca No. No.

Emma Thorpe You wouldn’t really need- But it was- Yeah, it’s a pretty idyllic case, I have to say.

Jackie De Burca It is. It absolutely is. So, going back to your own childhood, Emma. Do you have any sort of strong memories of when you started to, you know, to make art and crafts? I mean, most children obviously play around with artistic things but do you have any particularly strong memories about- like, any particular piece of art that you made, that was significant for you as a child?

Emma Thorpe I think the first thing I remember doing that I absolutely loved more than anything else was knitting.

Jackie De Burca Okay.

Emma Thorpe My Mum taught me how to knit, when I was about four, I think? I was very young because I can remember when I went into school and it was back in the late 70s, early 80s, they were still doing crafts. A lot of art and crafts in primary schools. It’s kind of done away with not in the – they still obviously do arts and other things, but not to the same level that we were doing crafts in school back then. And I could remember feeling, ‘I can do this already. My mom already taught me how to do all this’. And I just remember I was obsessed with knitting. Absolutely obsessed with it to the point where my mom actually – sounds pretty hideous, but my mother used to nickname me Madame Defarge because I never was without a pair of knitting needles in my hand. I was always knitting. You know, it didn’t matter. It was just little things like, you know, I would knit maybe scarves for my dolls or I would knit little sort of stuffed toys.

And then I sort of, when I was probably about 13 or 14, I started knitting jumpers and, you know, got a little bit more adventurous with what I was knitting and upsized and started knitting stuff for myself and other people. But yeah, knitting would have been the first big thing. I mean, I don’t ever remember not being involved in arts and crafts at any point. I think it was just the one that I can remember being obsessed with. But it was an obsession.

But I mean, I would have had times where my grandmother, she was an artist in her own right, but she was also an art teacher. And I could remember spending summer holidays up with my nan in Belfast. And it would be a week long. It was like a summer school. So in the morning, my grandfather, who was a swimmer, would take us off to the swimming pool. We would be trained. It wasn’t to have fun. You were being trained. And then when we got back in the afternoon, I would get like art classes from my grandmother. That would be everything from sketching through to oil painting through to – I can remember her getting me to design a – to draw a nasturtium flower.

Jackie De Burca Aha. Yeah.

Whiterocks sunset
Whiterocks sunset

Emma Thorpe And then- I band it up into a great big version of that and cut it out in paper and used that as a template to cut open white tile and put it on like a tiling dress and then applique it on. So this is my grandmother who’s getting me to do all this kind of stuff. And she used to do lots of stuff like that. She was – I mean, she was- she was really unbelievable as far as all that stuff was concerned.

Jackie De Burca So, she obviously played a really big role, you know, in your formative years.

Emma Thorpe Huge. Absolutely huge. I mean, I remember I have a photograph and I think I popped this up on my blog, on my website. I have a photograph of me when I was about – I must have been six or seven and in Portstewart every summer, we would have had a community week and it was always topped off by a fancy dress period. And I remember my grandmother for two years in a row, she made me these absolutely magical – I mean, they really were magical fancy dress costumes. The first year, she did me up as the Snow Queen and she made me this dress and it was out of – She was very – She was, I suppose, of all women from her era, she was very thrifty. She knew that. She had this very heavy duty plastic sheeting. And she made me this stunning dress out of this plastic sheeting, which she had cut up into this almost like a ball gown skirt and top and sprayed it with silver and had put whites – sort of painted snowflakes all over it. And she’d made me a wire crown with icicles coming off it. And a wand – you name it. And she made my younger sister, who was annoyed at the time – she didn’t get something – She got – She was made into a snowflake fairy. And she made the wings, and she did the crown for her. And the following year, she made me a little mermaid to photo – a costume, which is a photograph on my blog. And she made the wig. She made the head piece. She made the skirt, which was like a big fish tail, with scales all over it. I mean, honestly, it was really amazing. I mean, we never won. We never won anything because it was very obvious- it was really because it was very obvious that it wasn’t a child that made the costume. But I mean, I just remember she was so – she was so creative like that. I mean, she- you know, she really encouraged all of that sort of, you know, being creative, taking something, looking out and thinking, OK, what can I use this for? Or I need to make – I need to make a costume from the- the fancy dress party I’m going to. What can it be and what have I got? Two hands that I can use to create a fantastic costume. And, you know, that’s what she did. And she kind of passed that on to all of us. Like such as myself. You know, my sisters are a pretty dab hand and my brothers as well, pretty dab hand at costume making- when required. But I mean, it was just – it was great fun to grow up in a house with that kind of inspiration. I mean, my mom was exactly the same. Obviously, it’s her mother that was this – a lot of this is coming from and my mom was exactly the same, you know. Let’s have a look and see what we’ve got. Let’s put this up, pull something together with a little bit of spray paint. And I say, I’m sticking that and use it to make something. So yeah, it was like a Blue Peter household.

Jackie De Burca Definitely. Yeah. So it’s – moving on, Emma, to when you were obviously at the stage to go to university, you’d almost think from all of that creativity and useful imagination that you were going to go into something artistic but originally you were planning to study medicine and then you went on to study archaeology instead. Tell me about that decision and then where you went to study.

Dunluce Castle Northern Ireland with Emma Thorpe
Dunluce Castle Northern Ireland with Emma Thorpe

Emma Thorpe So, it was one of those things- I had done even though I loved art and craft, I suppose I was more of a crafter. I always saw myself more as a crafter rather than an artist. And I suppose you were always brought up in the way I did. “There’s no – There’s no money to be made in craft. There’s no jobs there.” And I suppose I ended up sort of – I was never pushed in that direction. I followed myself- throwing that idea of doing medicine. And I think I went away to stay with family. I have a family on my dad’s side who live in Mexico. And I went over there and spent a summer thing with family in Canada and then went on stayed with that family in Mexico. And at that point, I just kind of – everything, I don’t know – It was like, a switch flipped somewhere. And Mexico as well, obviously, has a very, you know, very strong cultural history there. Its influences, everything, you see it everywhere. In the art –

Jackie De Burca Where might in Mexico were you?

Emma Thorpe We were in Baja, California.

Jackie De Burca OK.

Emma Thorpe The lower arm of California. And it is a beautiful place. And in a lot of ways, it kind of reminded me of a dustier version of Donegal with descript big hills that swept down to the sea. And it was, you know, with lots of palm trees. Donegal with palm trees and lots of sand.

It was lovely. And just to be somewhere where all that sort of heritage was just literally lying around you. You could see it everywhere. And I always had an interest in it and had loved history and archaeology. And we’ve been, you know, obviously with my grandmother would be we were brought up with arts. We were always also brought to the museum in Belfast, the Ulster Museum, which had a really great and still does have a fantastic art collection there. But also, you’ve all the natural history stuff, all the archaeology, all the dinosaurs and the big skeletons. And I just loved all of that. And there’s – you know, that – And I just switched from medicine. I decided I was better off exploring people who were already dead than trying to stop people from dying. I thought maybe it might for some people, I don’t know if that’s true. Maybe it was. So yeah, I switched. And I honestly have never regretted it. I really have genuinely – I mean, there’s been – every now and again, you get a family emergency and like, “Oh, if only I’d done medicine, I could have done something to help.” But, possibly not. But the other time- the other side of the coin now is genuinely, I never really regretted changing and doing archaeology because I always sort of feel archaeology. But there’s a lot of – I suppose, as I said, you know, my grandmother always said, you look at something and think, okay, right. How would I make that? And, you know, whenever you’re digging in a site and you come across a piece of pottery and you look at it, you think, okay, well, where would that fit into a piece? And you’re sort of building it in your head. Same kind of process. How would I make this? You build the item in your head and sort of work out in a logical progress. You know, the steps you have to take to make that piece. Where it’s the same with the archaeology, I would look at a piece and think, okay, where does that – where does that – Where does that shard fit in a pot? Is it a pot or is it a bowl? Let’s have a look and sort of profile and you kind of work out in your head how that all – Well, at least that’s what I did anyway. How that all together–

Jackie De Burca It’s very interesting. Just going back, Emma, to what you said about the visit to the family in Baja, California. That was really a massive trigger – It’s a massive turning point for the direction you took in your life, which is actually interesting, the environment that did that for you, isn’t it?

Emma Thorpe Oh, yeah. Yeah, definitely. I mean, I think it’s sort of – I think whenever- over here in a way, to a certain degree in the 70s, 80s, this is the culture- you know, difference of culture on places was stifled a bit because of obviously what was going on. So there was huge turmoil.

Jackie De Burca Of course. Yeah, yeah.

Rosetta Knot Pendant
Rosetta Knot Pendant

From Atlantic Rose

Emma Thorpe Problems left, right, and centre. And I think you were never – culture was a very, I suppose, contentious issue. You know, art, culture aare very closely linked. There was always a bit of contention with them and they could be quite confrontational in places. Whereas, you know, some over in Mexico, it’s just part and parcel of the environment that you’re in. You know, it’s everything from, you know, the layout of the streets and the times to the food you’re eating. To the music you’re listening to.

Jackie De Burca Absolutely. Yeah.

Emma Thorpe It’s just everywhere. And it was lovely to be in somewhere that felt like that. And I know okay, you say, well, why didn’t you go into art? You went into archaeology. But it was also the link with history. And you know, the sense of this has been something that’s been here for, you know, centuries. You know, this is a culture that’s taken influences from you know, Europe, and you know, the native cultures that were there already and sort of fused them together into this beautiful, colourful explosion. And it was, I suppose, that was the thing that really kind of hooked me. And I think being an archaeologist allowed me to explore our history and our culture- you know, in Ireland. And how it relates and connects to the rest of Europe, because there is an incredibly strong connection. And, you know, sort of seeing – As you’re looking at the way the different cultures in Ireland- that came into Ireland, left Ireland, and you know, the little bits of themselves that they left behind and how they’ve been sort of absorbed into our art and our literature and our buildings. And even just the way that we behave on a social basis is really quite fascinating. So I never – I have never regretted once ever going down the line of archaeology. If that makes any sense.

Jackie De Burca No, it makes loads of sense to the woman who studied history, of course, it does. So you- you’ve almost answered what was my next question in a way, because I was going to ask you how your studies impacted you and you pretty much answered that. You still did it in Queens, didn’t you? You were in Queens. But during – during that time, Emma, one of the things you haven’t mentioned because you were giving a brilliant explanation as to why archaeology was the right path for you, but you did encounter metalworking during your time in university. Can you tell us a little bit more about that piece of it?

Emma Thorpe Yeah. You see, I think it was because it was making. It was something that was making. It was like – And it was still something that, you know, you would look at – Remember, we did a lecture on Practical Archaeology, they called it. And it was specifically looking at the manufacturing of metal objects. And so, we were looking at socketed axes, Bronze Age socketed axe heads. And I just remember being fascinated by, you know, finding out about- through the casting processes and, you know, how they – how they did it with the limited technology that they had at the time. And that led on to, you know, obviously sword making, although I never obviously went down the line of sword making, but that brings in all of that sort of side of things. And then you sort of- aspect of chainmail, which then to me, sort of linked in and sort of that tangental thinking, linked in with knitting. Yeah, it was to me, it was the same kind of process. You’re making a sheet of material by weaving things together, whether it’s metal or wool. It’s still – In my head, it was still the same- ultimately same process. So I just find it really fascinating. And you know, as you – as you sort of looked at – looked at it closer – the closer I looked at it, the more fascinated I find it because it’s just – it’s a beautiful material and it is a material, chainmail. It really is a material. And it is just beautiful the way it sort of moves. The idea behind it, which was the key to what has to be this particular type of weave, the one that we would all think of as knights in shining armour would be, what they call European 4 in 1. And the reason it was developed that way is because it gets around all the awkward bends and angles in the body, like your elbows and your knees and your neck and things like that. And I just find it absolutely fascinating and appeal to the geeky science side of me as well, because I would say doing medicine, I did the physics, chemistry, and biology at A level. And so, you know, the other thing I’m fascinated by it, with me, with chainmail was, you know, you change one aspect of the metal- whether it’s the metal you’re using or the size of the rings. And it totally changes how the material behaves. It sort of – It behaves in a completely different fashion. And I just find it’s just a really intriguing subject. I mean, at the time, I can remember, I didn’t – we would sort of practise and undo a few bits and pieces. In our practical archaeology, we never made chainmail, unfortunately. But that was – you kind of were allowed to go off and do your own thing. And I kind of sneakily got, you know, practised a few bits and pieces here and there. Nothing particularly spectacular. Nothing that would have done anybody any good. But they tried to put it on. But it was just actually the act of doing something you knew a couple of hundred, you know, several hundred years ago, maybe even a thousand years ago. Somebody was doing pretty much exactly what you’re doing right now, almost exactly the same way. And it was- it was that also that sort of connection with an ancient technique that has not changed. Just hasn’t. Because there’s no need to change it. That also- That also just was something that really caught my imagination as well.

Textured Silver Stacking Rings
Textured Silver Stacking Rings

From Atlantic Rose

Jackie De Burca Mm hmm. So, when you – when you have the sort of massive connection, obviously with chainmail at that time, did you ever have the feeling that you would do anything with metalworking in the future? Or was it just a phase in university that you thought was particularly fascinating?

Emma Thorpe I mean at that time, it was definitely a phase that I find fascinating because, you know, again, it was just like, it was like I’m going to be an archaeologist, I’m going to work in excavation and research and I’m going to be doing this and will be writing papers. And I’m going to be having, you know, a career that will take me all over the world. Took me as far as- the north of England. And all right, Ireland.

Jackie De Burca Okay.

Emma Thorpe That was- That was actually quite exotic. But yeah, at the time, I never really thought of- I mean, really, what would you have done with it at that stage? I was never really- I never really considered it as being something that would be a career changer. To be honest, it was just a bit of fun. It was like knitting, you know, in my head. Exactly what is was. Knitting, but with metal rings.

Simple Causeway Charm Bracelet
Simple Causeway Charm Bracelet

From Atlantic Rose

Jackie De Burca Yeah, yeah. Of course, yeah. So listen, 10 years on. You had obviously 10 years of a career in archaeology and then you ended up back in the environment you’re in now or you went somewhere in between?

Emma Thorpe No, I was – I – basically, I had started working- during my ten years of being an archaeologist, I actually was over in America for a couple of years and I actually got into working in museums. And I did a postgraduate in museum studies, really as far away from chainmail, working with chainmaill, as you possibly can go. When I got back, I was back in archaeology for a little while. And I was then luckily enough- lucky enough to actually get a job with Northern Ireland Screen as a film archivist and I loved it. It was just – It was fabulous. It was – you probably guessed. I love talking. So, I was like the people. I keep on saying we- and I haven’t been at Northern Ireland Screen now for going on a year and a half. We still say “we had” – the Northern Ireland Screen have a fantastic resource called the Digital Film Archive. And so I was when I first started to go out and deliver presentations using the film archives for interested groups. And for me, I just loved it because it was using- I mean, I love film anyway and always have, always have done. And obviously it had that real heritage connection as well. And I just love to connect with their view of their surroundings. And it was – I just loved it. It’s brilliant. And I – 10 years? I do everything in 10-year gaps. I think now- would probably be something completely different. But I was- I was there for ten, eleven years and I learnt an awful lot about a lot of things that I’ve actually applied to what I do now. And it’s– I think that’s the thing, you know, I think when you have, I have what I suppose you would call a patchwork career path. And that’s why I think they’re all linked together and people will sort of go, “But you went from this to that. What’s the connection?” And to me, I think for an awful lot of- a lot of it, heritage has always been the connection, whether it or standing up with and talking to people, about the trams that used to roam down through the centre of Belfast in 1896, to you know, the jewellery that uses ancient techniques. To me, it’s all, it’s all- the heritage is the link. It’s the connection.

Jackie De Burca And creativity. And creativity. I mean, look.

Elegant Opera Necklace
Elegant Opera Necklace

From Atlantic Rose

Emma Thorpe And then, you know, you also- Well yeah, exactly. And it’s, it’s all linked together. And you know, I always sort of feel that, you know, there’s no experience that’s a wasted experience. You can always take something from what you’ve done in the past and apply it to what you’re doing either right now in the present or to something that you’re gonna do in the future. It’s all- It all has value. And you just have to think about it creatively and apply it in a way that’s- that works. But it’s –

Jackie De Burca I was gonna say, Emma, I think that there’s- there’s our link- There are links through exactly what you’ve described through all of these various phases and stages of lives. Well, I think what stops many people from perceiving it in that way is modern society is very setup to calculate people’s achievements rather than seeing it’s like a continuous line of this person’s life as they’re following their own path, and that might- you know, that might have some very big turns.

Emma Thorpe Oh, absolutely. I mean, I think- I think for an awful lot of us, it – I mean, I’m quite sure you knew this as well as like, you know, we were all sort of – in our day, you were always brought up to think about your job for life. You left school. You did. You went to school. You did your exams. You came out the other end. You got yourself a job, you went to university or you got yourself a job, and then you stayed in that job. For life. And I think now, you have made it very clear over the last 10, 15 years, there is no such thing anymore as a job for life. And I think, whereas some people would say that’s terrible, I actually think it’s really quite wonderful because it allows people to approach – approach things differently. And that’s always a good thing because it inspires you to start looking at rather than what – “What will I do?” as it well “What can I do?” And so, you know- What skills do I have that I know I can use to help me do this? Or what skills have I learnt from what I used to do that will allow me to apply it and solve it. Transferable skills. Sounds like – I may sound like- I sound like I’m still working in Northern Ireland Screen. We always talked about transferable skills. But I mean, it is all about transferable skills and being creative with, you know, I don’t – and when I mean creative I don’t mean making it up, but I mean being creative in the way that you approach everything, you know? And so –

Jackie De Burca Yeah, definitely.

Portstewart Northern Ireland with Emma Thorpe
Portstewart Northern Ireland with Emma Thorpe

Emma Thorpe It raises, I think- you know, it opens an awful lot more doors for people than it closes. Which I never take –

Jackie De Burca I think so. I would – Yeah, I would definitely agree with that. Emma, going to your environment. So you’ve painted obviously a picture of your life, lived through your experiences. Somehow, they’re all linked together, basically. And now you’re in this amazing environment. We talked about Portstewart itself earlier on. But can you talk a little bit more about the rest of the Causeway Coast, again, for the audience who wouldn’t have been there so far?

Emma Thorpe Oh, it’s just – It’s just stunning. I mean, Causeway Coast is just – if you ever come to Ireland, it is one of the places you must go to. I mean, there are many beautiful places in Northern Ireland. And a lot of places I’ve been to but I mean, obviously, I have a very strong connection to this this area. But I mean, there’s just – it’s – it has a real sort of sense of wildness about it, but not in the way that it’s – not a terrifying wildness. It’s a wildness that when you come, you just feel free. You know, there’s a certain freedom of being, you know, walking along sort of there’s a- Ulster Way takes you these stunning sort of clifftop walks between (inaudible – 00:33:22) and- and Quarry, which is where they actually used to film, where they filmed the wall part of the wall scenes in Game of Thrones then takes you along the top of the cliff path walks there through round to Ballintoy Harbour, which was also used in Game of Thrones. So there’s an awful lot of Game of Thrones being filmed up here. And, you know, it’s just breathtaking, just the beauty of the place. I mean, I have to say- wherever you grow up somewhere and you’re very close to it, you sometimes don’t really appreciate what you have. And I know that I went away and came back and I had a new appreciation for just well, actually Ireland and Northern Ireland in general whenever I came back from America. But I remember my brother in law – he is now my brother in law – has come over with my sister, and he was London born and bred. And my sister said she had difficulty getting him to go south of the river in London, never mind getting him to even think about moving over to Ireland. We were taking that particular walk between (inaudible – 00:34:25) and Ballintoy Harbour, and it was a nice day. It was a beautiful day, in fact. And he was just gob smacked. He just could not get over how beautiful this place was. And I said, well, you haven’t been here whenever the rain’s coming off the sea a hundred and eighty degree angle and you’re walking at a 90 degree angle yourself or – sorry, a 45 degree angle leaning into the wind. So you’ll not think it’s so beautiful at that stage. And he goes, “No, no, no. It is. This is – This place would be beautiful no matter what.” It’s just – He was just, you know, sold. And they now live over here. They moved from London.

Jackie De Burca Over. Yeah.

Simple Chain Bracelet
Simple Chain Bracelet

From Atlantic Rose

Emma Thorpe But it’s a place, I think, that whenever people come up to, they just fall in love with it. And I know people who have never been up here before and they come up and then they come back. They keep coming back every year, upon year. Or they have a– They buy a holiday home or something, come up every weekend that they can. I mean, there is a real – It’s so hard to describe it. There’s a real sort of – I think it’s being beside the sea. There’s that sort of spiritual – Oh, what’s the word I’m looking for? I’m really tongue-tied with it, come to it, there’s just this sort of real strong sort of spiritual connection that I think this place sort of, you know, creates with people.

Jackie De Burca So, when you’re when you’re out and about, I mean that was gonna be one of my questions, Emma, because it sounds – because it’s a natural part of Northern Ireland that I know in person – But it sounds, from your amazing descriptions, it actually sounds like Northern Irelands’s answer to the Costa Brava. And I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Costa Brava, but that’s where Salvador Dali produced his most impressive work.

Emma Thorpe Yeah, I mean, it’s definitely – this space up here definitely has an effect on people. I mean, I – the number of people I know up here who are creatives, not only just in a very – you know, they actually are working artists or musicians. But you are actually, you know, people who have, you know, you each have- Everyday, you know, their normal jobs as like they maybe work in the- teacher or maybe they work in the post office or, you know, they’re a solicitor- but they have a creative artistic outlet. You know, it’s amazing. I always find that – I think for this little corner of the world, it’s very, very small. But I know so many artists who live in this space, and that’s what we call the triangle area. And it’s quite phenomenal. A lot of them are just, you know, it’s the environments that inspire some youth, they’re photographers or painters or, you know, mixed media artists. They all draw from what we have here. And you sort of put it into their work. And it’s something that my friends and I have talked about- gosh, many, many, many times over the year. There is definitely something special about this corner of the world to sort of have such a creative hive of activity going on in it. It’s like a- it’s like a very good- it’s like a very well-kept secret. But when you come up here, and you sort of, you go around I mean, even just the number of people, I mean, growing up, the number of friends I had or friends I knew of who had bands or- you know, was quite phenomenal. And the music is a big thing as well, and it has a real effect, I think, up here on people most definitely.

Jackie De Burca So when you talk about the – but earlier on, just a few moments ago, Emma, when you were a little bit trying to find a word that connected with the spiritual feeling that the environment gives, would you say when you’re out and about in the area, is there a feeling that there’s angels or nature spirits or some type of special energy around you that, you know, if you go down 20 miles or 30 miles, I don’t want to name places, but if you go to a different area, you just don’t have that same type of special energy.

Coast by Dunseverick Northern Ireland with Emma Thorpe
Coast by Dunseverick Northern Ireland with Emma Thorpe

Emma Thorpe Yeah, I mean, I do think that there is definitely an energy on this stretch of the coast that, you know, really gets to people. I think, you know, there’s just, like I said, you know, there’s that sort of – there’s like a wild beauty in the Causeway Coast. Not a dangerous one, but you know, obviously it can be, if you’re not careful like any place but there’s just – there’s just a sense of – you know, real freedom when you’re up here. And it’s – I think you have to be here. You have to come up to experience it. It is really – The only other place I’ve ever gone to which has the same kind of energy is Rathlin, which is just off the north coast by the Causeway Coast, nearby Ballycastle. And I always felt Rathlin is one of those places that has this really strange sort of energy that you can feel as soon as you get onto the islands. It has that sense of – this is – it’s very much its own space. And it has a real sort of influence on the visitors and the people who live there and the Causeway Coast is the sea. And you know, you come up here and you have a very strong – it has a very strong sense of being its own place. It’s- you know, it’s- there’s like a freedom when you come up. And I don’t know whether it’s because you sort of feel you’re on the edge of the world because, you know, you can look at the ends of the- you walk along the Causeway Coast and there’s – you can sometimes see Scotland over on to the right hand side. But if you look straight up, there’s nothing. You know, the next stop’s Iceland. There’s a huge expanse of water and there’s nothing between you and the polar bears. And it’s, you know, I think that’s part of it. You’re so far north. I mean, that’s the one thing I do in the summer here as well. And I love pointing this out to my children now this summer because they were old enough to be up that late. And we have some of the Northcoast reinstalling, I don’t know if you can hear that in the recording. But–

Jackie De Burca I can hear it, yeah.

Emma Thorpe You can actually hear it and interrupt if it’s – if it’s getting too loud, I’d have to move somewhere else. But we’re so far north, the sun never 100 percent sets in the summertime. And you can still see a band of bright lights along the horizon at night time, sort of between eleven and three o’clock in the morning. Eleven o’clock at night and three o’clock in the morning, there’s still a bright band of light along the horizon because that’s how far north we are. You can see the land at night some. So it adds to the, I think the magical nature of this space. It’s that sort of, you know, sense that it’s different from everywhere else.

Opera Bracelet
Opera Bracelet

From Atlantic Rose

Jackie De Burca Yeah, definitely so would you say then to sort of play with words, Emma, would you say it’s a question that your work and your art and how you feel when you’re out and about there – Is it a question of inspiration or connection? Do you feel that you’re connected with the space or inspired by it? Or how would you describe your bond with Portstewart and the Causeway Coast?

Emma Thorpe I think it’s both. It’s definitely – there’s a real – I have a real connection. And I think that it sort of works its way into the – into my work. And it’s you know, obviously, I draw inspiration from certain places and certain spaces in on the north coast along the way. And the things that you find, and the seaweed and the rock poles or the way the waves crash on the beaches and the rocks. You know, even if you go diving – I can remember diving once and coming down in the midst of a school of fish that were just spiralling like a vortex around you. And, you know, there’s so many of those things that I would say I draw inspiration from. But there’s a lot of it that’s just a connection as well. But it’s sort of, you know, you can sort of, you start making something and then you look at and go, gosh, yeah, that really just makes me think of – you know, the rainn that we get and how it makes patterns on the sand or how the – you know, the way that the tide washes up the beach or the way that we, you know, it’s this – there’s lots of different – you know, it’s hard to put a word on it. I don’t think I could ever say it was either inspired by or it’s the connection I have. I think it’s both, really.

Jackie De Burca Yeah, yeah. So in a way, it’s like because of the level of closeness under many different layers, if you like, the many different layers of inspiration, it’s almost like you’ve merged with that in mind.

Emma Thorpe Yes, I would say so, definitely. I mean, I can- I think that- I mean, I was just thinking the other day and they were talking about – We were talking about a collect – we were talking about collections, I mean, on a colleague. And I just suddenly realised that there will never not be a Causeway Coast Collection. I will never not have one. Because I can’t not have a Causeway Collection. It wouldn’t be right to not have the Causeway Coast Collection because it’s too much a part of who I am and where I come from, you know. So, it – Yeah, it’s both connection and inspiration most definitely.

Jackie De Burca OK, now you’re also working in a lovely setup in your studio, Emma. A very special place as well. And there’s other artists that are involved in that community there. So can you tell us a little bit about that place also, Emma?

Emma Thorpe Yes. So, I was lucky enough to get into what we call a space that we call Makers’ House. Sorry, I’m – I don’t know- Is that really – Getting really bad? Are you picking that up?

Jackie De Burca No, it’s okay.

Emma Thorpe Alright. I’ll start that again, no problem. So yeah, I was lucky enough to get into a space called Makers House, which is in a craft shop in Bushmills called The Designerie. The Designerie itself is actually really quite special because it’s a social – it’s what we call a social enterprise. And downstairs, they have a shop, an absolutely beautiful gift shop that represents about 60 artists and crafters from across Ireland and to Northern Ireland. And then upstairs, we have our Makers House and there are nine of us there. Each of us has a little – what we call a pod, which we rent. And we use that as our retail space. So it allows us to sell directly to the public, which is great. And it also can act as our workspace as well, so we get the opportunity to do bits and pieces there, as well as sell, which is lovely. And it allows people to sort of see the process that we go through to make the items that we’re selling. And we’re all local and we all are from a different background, so there’s never- there’s never an art or a craft type that’s duplicated with the Makers House. And the fabulous thing about it is that whereas we’re all from different backgrounds and different – have taken different paths to – into our craft, whether we’re self-taught or we went to art college. Everybody helps everybody else’s art. And we all work together. We have to be there as part of our rental agreement. We have to be there twelve hours a week. But if we’re not there and somebody comes in and wants to buy, say, I’m not there and somebody wants to come and buy a pair of my earrings, one of the other craft – one of the other makers will sell it for me and vice versa.

Jackie De Burca Oh, brilliant.

Cushendun Caves Northern Ireland with Emma Thorpe
Cushendun Caves Northern Ireland with Emma Thorpe

Emma Thorpe And then, you know, we’ve got some – we’ve got, you know, we’ve also got like an instant team of people that we can bounce ideas off if we’re having issues or problems with something or counsel. You know, counsel, we got a fresh pair of eyes to sort of maybe see your way through things or we’ve got you know, a place, to get additional inspiration. The number of times I’ve gone in there and I’ve come out thinking – had a chat with, you know, Fee McToal, who’s our milliner. And I’ve done – and she says, “Oh, why don’t you try this and make this into a necklace or that weave’s really lovely. That would make a beautiful pendant,” or something like that. And I go, “I never thought of that. I think I’ll give that a shot and see what happens”, you know? And we collaborate with each other as well and sort of pull maybe two crafts that you would never put together and come up with something amazing. So, it’s a fabulous space. It’s a fantastic team of creatives.

And it’s – it is like having extra people in your business to give you a hand in certain ways, which is fabulous. And it’s just also then- because obviously being a creative, you are usually working on your own. In isolation. You may not necessarily get that face to face contact with customers. So that’s, you know, having that space for that reason alone is great. But also then having this – it’s really a family – I say a team, but actually, it’s really a family of people that you can call on and chat to and run ideas past. It’s invaluable. It really is absolutely invaluable. So it’s – you know. Sorry, go ahead.

Jackie De Burca Sorry, Emma. Is that somewhere – obviously not right now with the CoViD situation – but is that somewhere that before maybe like two tourist buses might have popped in? You know –

Belfast Pendant
Belfast Pendant

From Atlantic Rose

Emma Thorpe We would have definitely had quite a lot. I mean, yes, we were really sort of – before, obviously, CoViD came along. We were really, during the sort of the peak summer months and the tourist months, we were really pushing The Designerie and Makers House as a place for groups to come, as well as like, obviously, to the members of the public. And I have to say that Makers House – The Designerie has been opened since 2015, but Makers House’s space has only been open two years past there in August. So we were still just finding our feet, really. We were kind of coming into a – we were coming up on a bit of an up curve as far as people knowing we were there and coming specifically to Makers House to see what we had on offer when CoViD hit. And I think the first couple of weeks, like everybody else, was a bit of shock.

Jackie De Burca Yes, of course.

Emma Thorpe And then there’s a bit of panic.

Jackie De Burca Yeah, also.

Emma Thorpe And then we also try to put our heads together to see how we could combat the difficulties we were obviously inevitably going to face. This is where having the team, the family – the Pod Family, as we call ourselves, as backup was invaluable because, you know, you’re there – it’s an instant support network. And so, we all made a very concerted effort to start working on our social media to sort of help encourage people to remember that we’re still here. We all have our own businesses. We’re all still very much open for business, online and et cetera, et cetera. And to encourage them to come back when everything comes back to as normal, as normal was going to be- that we were still there.

Jackie De Burca Yeah.

Emma Thorpe And it’s worked. It worked.

Jackie De Burca Good. I’m happy to hear it.

Emma Thorpe So since we opened at the end of June, we have been so busy. It has been phenomenal. The support has been amazing from local communities. And then obviously, we’ve got day trippers and people coming on holiday, makers coming up from you know, we’ve got loads of people coming up from the site. We’ve had quite a few people over from England and Scotland. People who had heard of us but had never been there have, you know, turned up. And it’s just fantastic. It’s been amazing.

Jackie De Burca Brilliant. That’s brilliant. And going back to one of the places that we mentioned much earlier on was Belfast, that you said you lived there for a while with your husband. You know, then you realised you wanted to go back to Portstewart, you know, for the sake of yourselves and your children. For Belfast, even though it’s such a different environment, obviously, it still is somewhere that you mentioned you’ve got like strong roots and ancestral roots with Belfast. Can you tell us a little bit more about that, please, Emma?

Emma Thorpe Yeah well both my parents are from Belfast. And my great grandfather on my mother’s side, I suppose, is probably where a lot of my inspiration comes from. He worked as – I always remember being immensely proud of it as a child. He was a pattern maker. He actually was one of the pattern makers that helped design – he worked for the company that designed the boilers for the Titanic. I make it – probably about 50 percent of the people here from Belfast, they’ve all got some connection to the Titanic. So I remember being immensely proud of all of that whenever I was little. And I mean, I suppose as a child growing up, you know, you would have been up and down to Belfast so much because obviously both sets of grandparents lived in Belfast. And, you know, I really – I mean, Belfast is just a very interesting, very colourful place. I never appreciated it that much whenever I was younger and obviously I went to Queens in Belfast and I can remember always feeling I can’t wait to go, can’t wait to get out of here because it always felt very small in the grand scheme of things. And then I went away and came back and really appreciated it for what it was. And you know, how much Belfast had sort of grown and changed. And you know what a vibrant place it really, really is. And I mean, it’s obviously my grandfather, my mother’s father would always have been, you know, tell us stories about whenever- he was growing up in Belfast when he was younger and, you know, just these fantastic, colourful stories of the different characters that were here in this city. And it just always seems – It was always just a very interesting place to me. I think also then, obviously, that was reinforced whenever I started working with Northern Ireland Screens’ Digital Film Archive, because a lot of the collection – film collection – that we had at that time would have been based in Belfast, especially a lot of the very early footage that we had. See, I still used “we”, but I haven’t been there for 18 months and I still say “we”.

Jackie De Burca Do you still feel part of the team there as others where you are at the moment?

Emma Thorpe I remember there was a gentleman called Richard Hayward. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with him. He was a writer and actor and a producer, and he made some of Northern Ireland’s very first feature films, would you believe, back in the 30s. He was also a prolific travel writer. And he made a very early travelogue film of Ireland’s in about – of Northern Ireland in about 1935, and he took in the north coast of Belfast. I remember Portstewart and Portrush. And down round through the Glens and then into Belfast. And I remember there being a line and it’s where he referred to Belfast as the city of ships and hammering men. And I just love that description because I was just – that is just – That was it. It really is this city of ships and hammering men. And I mean, that definitely, you know, that definitely was reflected I think possibly in my Belfast collection, that is a lot of hammered textures, a lot of very geometric shapes. But you know, that just – I mean, I just I mean, that – that’s just to me, that was a really colourful description of Belfast in a very, very short sentence of a few words.

Jackie De Burca Yeah. Definitely.

Portrush sunset Northern Ireland with Emma Thorpe
Portrush sunset Northern Ireland with Emma Thorpe

Emma Thorpe But then added to the background of the colours – colours of Ireland that I knew through my grandfather and then my dad’s family as well. I just- you know, it just made it more complete in that respect.

Jackie De Burca So tell us a little bit more about your Belfast Collection.

Emma Thorpe So the Belfast Collection is very much inspired by the industries in that were sort of, I suppose, the centre of Belfast and well, Belfast would have been known for. And at the moment, the collection, many reflect sort of – to me, anyway. In my mind, it reflects the ship building with the hammered textures and the rope works. The ropeworks that were a big part of Belfast, the industrial scene in Belfast for a very, very long time. And it’s just – it’s about texture and shape. And, you know, I think one of the pieces I made – It was one of the first pieces I made for the Belfast collection, which is what I called the Belfast Pendant. And it’s just literally, it is just literally a hammered – I shouldn’t say it is “just” – It is a hammered, heavy hammered bar of silver pendant. And I just – It was just the way the silver would react to the hammer. And it just – And every time I make it, in my head, it just sort of brings to life the image of these men working away on the ships and the shipyards, hammering in rivets, you know, tapping in huge sheets of steel into the sides of ships that were so enormous. And, you know, it was amazing that they ever actually even floated. And I always just feel when I’m making it, there is a kind of a – it’s more of an emotional connection, I think the Belfast collection really. And it’s sort of, for me, kind of harkens back to sort of that golden age of Belfast’s industrial heyday of the sort of late 1800s and early 1900s. And so I suppose the Belfast collection, not only does it have all those geometrical shapes and textures, but there’s that sort of a certain opulence, a finery to some of the pieces. There’s a lot of the stuff I kind of, sort of, almost could imagine or I try to imagine them being worn by the ladies of the day, you know, when they went for their dinner parties and they’re going on their cruises and things like that with their long evening gloves and their feathers in their hair. So I suppose that I feel like it’s almost an Edwardian sort of luxury in a lot of the pieces that are in the Belfast Collection.

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And now, back to you, Jackie.

Jackie De Burca I mean, your jewellery is absolutely stunning. The other – one of the other collections, Emma, that you have is the Petroglyphs Collection. Does that bring you back to kind of your university days? You know, what inspires this collection?

Zigzag Petroglyph Ear Climber
Zigzag Petroglyph Ear Climber

From Atlantic Rose

Emma Thorpe That’s definitely – that’s a page out of my archaeology career. I remember that Petroglyphs were one of the very first things I – we covered whenever I studied archaeology at Queens. And I always just loved the sheer simplicity of these shapes and the amount of confusion that they caused. You know – What are they? Why did people do it? And I always loved the fact they were so open to interpretation, like, you know, you could look at them. I think one of my favourite pieces in that collection are my Zigzag Ear Climbers. They’re based on – If you went down to Newgrange, you’ll see on Newgrange obviously, absolutely famous for not only that, for their huge burial mounds of Newgrange and Knowth and Dowth, but also the number – the sheer number of engraved stones that they have down there. And one of them would be Zigzag. There are lots of zigzag lines. And some people look at it and think it’s the path of a journey. Some people look at it, see mountains. Some people look at them and see that it maybe represents crossing water. I mean, sometimes, a zigzag can just be a zigzag as well. That’s the other thing you got to remember. But I just love them because you can look at them and they can be whatever you want them to be. You know, you can tell whatever story you want them to tell. Nobody but the person who made them in the first place actually knows what they mean. And I think that’s their unending fascination. It’s certainly an unending fascination for me. But – and it’s the fact that you find them all over the world. They’re not just found here in Ireland. You find them in South America, North America, you know- Australia and you know, anywhere humans have been, you will find petroglyphs in different styles and forms. But I just find them absolutely fascinating. I really do. Yeah.

Jackie De Burca Yeah. Yeah. No, they are, obviously they are. Now, I’m going to touch on it. Your – Is it your most important collection or not? It’s the one that’s probably closest to your heart. The Causeway Coast Collection, Emma. Talk us through that collection and if possible, choose one favourite. I’m sure that’s very challenging.

Roe Valley Northern Ireland with Emma Thorpe
Roe Valley Northern Ireland with Emma Thorpe

Emma Thorpe Oh, that’s really difficult. No, definitely the Causeway Collection. I mean, like I said, there will never not be as far as I’m concerned with Atlantic Rose, there will never not be a Causeway Coast Collection. I mean, it’s really – it’s sort of taken inspiration from, I guess, a number of elements around the coast. It’s not only just the – it being the Causeway Coast. And there’s this fantastic scenery and you’ve got these beautiful beaches with these amazing waves that crash on the beach. You know, it’s the fact that, you know, we’ve got things like – The history up here is amazing as well. You’ve got the Girona that’s just off the north coast of Northern Ireland. Just – You know, you’ve got this castle, there’s a huge – there’s a really important mediaeval story to be told here in this part of the world. And I just sort of feel that that collection we’ve got, that it sits itself very well to chainmail. And also, Viking netting, which is another technique that I do as it’s sort of- those are the kinds of styles that would have been, you know, that I feel would have been around in those days. And you know, every now and again, I’ll throw in and I say, throwing – not throwing. That’s the wrong word to use. I use a lot of sea glass and lava bead because obviously the Giant’s Causeway and the huge basalt floods, that’s obviously formed the Giant’s Causeway. And then there’s like, you know, gemstones that they use that would sort of clue you in to sort of the importance of sites like Dunluce Castle. The importance – the significance of the Girona. And, you know, it’s just I mean, I just feel it’s – It’s an exciting place that has so many things that I can draw on to sort of infuse it into my collections or into that particular collection. I mean, for favourite pieces. Oh, gosh, I love that collection. There’s so many in that one. I think really one of the – I think possibly one of my favourite ones at the minute- I’ll do the one that I mean, at the minute, which could be possibly one of the ones I’ve done. The latest piece – pieces I’ve done. So would be the Sea Oak necklace and bracelets and earrings. Actually, there’s all three of them there. Which is sort of graduated silver beads on sort of what we call a shaggy lip weave. And it’s – to me, it just reminds me of the seaweed that you would find – the sea oak and the bladderwrack that you would find in this – in the rock pools all over the rocks across the north coast. I mean, obviously, it grows prolifically everywhere. But I always just loved the way it move when it was in the water. If it wasn’t, you know, if it was the swell with sort of rise and fall and that would just float there like big sort of hands in the water. And it would just – there was just something.

Whiterocks from Dunluce
Whiterocks from Dunluce

So it was something – it’s really enticing. You were never quite sure what you were going to find if you put your hands in there. And you might find a crab that wasn’t too happy to see a hand coming in. Or – No, you would talk about – There would be the legends of the Conger eels in Port (inaudible – 01:05:01) who would be just waiting to nibble somebody’s toe off. So they can’t be close to the seaweed in the rocks. It was always – I just always felt that the seaweed was – something there was something quite beguiling about it, but almost potentially something maybe- a hidden menace there, if you came at it at the wrong time. But it was you know, it sort of – I always just loved – I would always find it quite hypnotic. The way it would just sway and sort of rise at the dawn on the tides. So I always just kind of wanted – You know, I chose sea oak because I didn’t think anybody would particularly wish to have bladderwrack around their neck. It doesn’t sound as attractive. It’s just sort of has that – sort of – it just has this rather kind of magical feeling to it as a name. And I just thought it suited the piece very well.

Jackie De Burca Yeah.

Emma Thorpe And it does have that – the jewellery itself, the way it flows, you know, it’s a very fluid piece. And when it’ll sort of move in certain way whenever you’re wearing them, especially with the bracelet and the necklace. They’ll sort of flow with you, as it were, which is just the way I feel that the sea would just do, you know.

Jackie De Burca Sounds like a perfect Christmas gift to me. Now, I know we’re only in August –

Emma Thorpe Never too early to start your Christmas list.

Dunluce Bracelet
Dunluce Bracelet

From Atlantic Rose

Jackie De Burca No. Anyhow, moving on to if you had a friend, you know, who hadn’t ever been to your part of the world, coming over just for a quick stay, you know, coming from somewhere abroad, where would you – apart from pushing them up at your own home – if you were to have them stay somewhere locally, where would your favourite place, Emma, be for a good friend’s stay?

Emma Thorpe You know, I would always encourage anyone coming up here to get themselves an Airbnb. I don’t know if I would actually – it’s not that well, we don’t have very many hotels up on this north part of the coast, which is unfortunate. We do have a few very good hotels, but there’s not very many. But I always think if you want to get the real sense of the place, you know, stay in a house rather than a hotel. You know, go somewhere where you have to go out to the shops to buy your food or you have to go and eat out. So you sort of get more of a theme of the place where you’re staying. So- and I know friends who have in the past have come over and stayed and had to have done exactly that. They just stayed in- stayed in their Airbnb and loved it. And really, really loved it. And there’s some beautiful homes up here that are on the Airbnb website. And so many of them have the most fantastic view from their houses of Portstewart Bay or out towards Portrush that you wouldn’t be able to get in a hotel, you know. So I would always say, stay in an Airbnb when you come up here, because it’s just – you just get a better sense, I think, of what the place is like.

Portstewart Bay Northern Ireland with Emma Thorpe
Portstewart Bay Northern Ireland with Emma Thorpe

Jackie De Burca Definitely. And where would you bring, you know, a friend visiting, obviously, from how you’ve described the nature, you’re going to spend a lot of time out walking. But would there be any other sites, any particular sites, Emma, that you would like to bring somebody?

Emma Thorpe Gosh, there’s so many. Obviously, the Giant’s Causeway, you have to bring somebody to Giant’s Causeway when you come here. You can’t not go there and Ballintoy Harbour because there’s – there’s Ballintoy Harbour, which is lovely. And there’s lots of people go down to it because obviously it’s got a very strong Game of Thrones connection there. But if you walk along from Ballintoy Harbour, away from the harbour and around the coast towards White Park Bay, there’s a little path that you can take along the sea side, at the waterside. As long as the tide’s out, obviously, that we’ll take you right into White Park Bay, which is a beautiful beach. And you walk past things like – you’ve got what you call The Elephant and The Camel, which are these rock formations out in the sea, which do actually look at a certain angle, do look like an elephant and do look like a camel. And it’s just beautiful because, again, it’s a lovely wild walk along – right along the sea edge and to a beautiful beach and White Park Bay is probably one of the lesser known beaches on the north coast. For tourists, anyway. But it’s a fabulous place to go fossil hunting. You can find ammonites and all sorts. And the rocks there. So if anybody has an interest in that kind of thing, White Park Bay is a great place – great place to go for a donder, as they say.

Ballintoy Northern Ireland with Emma Thorpe
Ballintoy Northern Ireland with Emma Thorpe

Jackie De Burca I mean presumably, with children must be great as well.

Emma Thorpe Oh, I mean – absolutely love it. I mean, it’s a bit of a climb down if you’re coming from the – White Park Bay. It does have a car park, but it’s quite a climb down. There’s quite a lot of steps to get down. So you need to be – you need to be prepared to do that. But having said that, it’s a great place. I mean, the kids just love going for walks. I don’t know if it’s a beach I would swim at, but it would definitely be – which would take – It’s good for walks. And there’s always something exciting to find. The other place I would like – I would take them would be Downhill. So, Downhill’s like past Castlerock. Again, It’s on – It’s on the right on the coast. It’s a forest. And it’s sort of nestled between the beach and Binevenagh, which is sort of – I don’t want to call it a mountain because it’s not really a mountain. But it’s certainly a very, very big hill with the most spectacular views over the foil. But Downhill Forest – there’s just something really lovely about it. I mean, it’s a proper forest, not a pine forest, a proper forest. And it has a river that runs through it. And there’s just a lot of again, a lot of exciting little things for people to see and kids to find. And it’s a nice place to go. Where else – There’s so many places, so many places I would take people. Obviously, the Strand. Yeah, the beach. The sand dunes. I – really, I could talk about it all day. Yeah.

Somerton Forest Northern Ireland with Emma Thorpe
Somerton Forest Northern Ireland with Emma Thorpe

Jackie De Burca I know, I know. What about somewhere to eat out? And for example, as a family, obviously, you’ve got young children yourself. Somewhere good for families to have some food?

Emma Thorpe Oh yeah. So – and I’m going to be very partisan here and I’m going to talk about the restaurants in Portstewart rather than Portrush. So, I mean, there are really great restaurants and there are a lot of pretty good restaurants in Portstewart. I think the ones that would be my favourite would be Amici’s, which is down – this sort of the main – Portmore road, this is between – it runs along the coast between Portstewart and Portrush. And it’s on what we used to refer to as the old golf course. And it has really stunning sea views, and it’s run actually by the Morellis, who are very famous in this neck of the woods for their ice cream, Morellis ice cream cart on the promenade since, my gosh, the early nineteen hundreds. It’s primarily, obviously, as the name says, it’s Amici. It’s an Italian inspired menu. And the food is excellent. It is absolutely excellent. And, it’s, it’s really lovely for families. I mean, they cater very well for children. It’s just a really lovely, relaxed place to go. (inaudible – 01:12:33) a treat for the kids or just a very casual meal. I think the only other place I would – the other place I would think about in Portstewart would be Harry’s Shack, which is down right on the Strand and Portstewart. And it is just amazing. And it’s just so beautiful as to be able to – huge big windows. And you just got – if you’ve ever be able – have the chance to look up Portstewart Strand, you’ll see what I mean when I say the views are just breathtaking. And you know, Harry’s has this fantastic view. The strands. The beach. And yes,the food’s – the food’s not bad either.

View from Benevenagh Northern Ireland with Emma Thorpe
View from Benevenagh Northern Ireland with Emma Thorpe

Jackie De Burca Okay. What about for, you know, not necessarily for a family outing, but bars for, you know, young couples or any other age as people who are not bringing their children. Obviously, you’ll have a bar –

Emma Thorpe Oh, that will have to be – so I would have to get that one to Portrush. There’s a bit of a rivalry between Portstewart, Portrush. Going on for generations. No – Portrush. Harbour Bar – the Harbour Bar in Portrush is a fantastic wee place. They have downstairs. They have, I suppose, what you could call a very typical Irish bar downstairs. Wee snug, bit of an open fire where you can sit and enjoy your pint of Guinness and then a front bar and you can sort of go out the front and you’re right in the harbour and Portrush, which is lovely. And then upstairs, they do live music, and you know, food- bar food and stuff. And it’s a really – It’s been going for years, absolute years. But it’s really- is sort of on the places to go list for anybody coming up the north coast. And they do a pretty good pint of Guinness. I mean, in Portstewart – and good live music. Yeah. I mean, the other bar they would have in Portstewart would be the Anchor, which is very much, you know- how would you say- an old stalwart. Again, they’re for years and they also do really good, you know, live music and stuff. But there’s something special I think about the Harbour Bar in Portrush.

Portrush Harbour Northern Ireland with Emma Thorpe
Portrush Harbour Northern Ireland with Emma Thorpe

Jackie De Burca Okay. Okay. That’s loads of brilliant tips for obviously the days, the days of waiting on, Emma, at the moment where we can, you know, travel a little bit further and more frequently. Exactly. One – at the end of everything, Emma, are there any plans for new collections or any news you know, the audience should be keeping an eye out for?

Emma Thorpe Oh yes. I’m definitely working on a few ideas. I’m looking into expanding my Belfast Collection little bit more so as I’m sort of – tried to reflect some of the industries that Belfast was famous for. We have shipbuilding and I’ve got ropeworks there at the minute. But I’m also now looking into the linen industry and seeing how I can incorporate linen and linen textures into my work. So I’m quite – And that’s a bit of a collaboration we’re working on with one of the other – one of my fellow makers in Makers House. She works with Irish linen. So should hopefully be some exciting developments coming from that in the near future. Yeah, I mean, just, it’s just sort of – I would just say to people, just keep a wee eye on what I’m doing. It’s onwards and upwards and, you know – I’d love to – I’m planning on going for a very long time.

Jackie De Burca Yes. Absolutely. No. Well, what we’ll be doing when the podcast is going live on to the website and we’ll be putting a link to your website there. And plenty of social media, because I think, you know, anybody who sees your jewellery is going to love it, Emma.

Emma Thorpe No. Yeah, I know. It’s great. Well, the opportunity to just sort of really talk about it as much as I have. Cause I know I have talked a lot.

Jackie De Burca No but it’s been brilliant. It’s been absolutely brilliant. Lots of insight into, you know, your own path, how you’ve come to, you know – It’s not like you – let me just put in kind of in a quick nutshell. It’s not like, oh, I just did an evening course in silversmithing or whatever. You’ve got – had a really fascinating journey to arrive to where you are, you know.

Oonagh Earrings
Oonagh Earrings

From Atlantic Rose

Emma Thorpe Oh, thank you very much. It’s been- it’s been one of those things that I – You know, sometimes you think, “god, how have I managed to end up doing this”? But I suppose in a funny kind of way, it’s all been leading to this point – at some point, you know, like from there’s – You know, it’s all – Everything happened the way it happened for the very reason why I’m here. So, yeah, I kind of – I’m kind of very kind of – surprised and always grateful that I am able to do what I do and that people like what I do. I think also whenever you’re not somebody who’s been – because I’m self-taught and I think, whenever you’re somebody who’s self-taught, you always feel that you might be missing something, that someone has had official, you know, formal training and has had- you know, there’s some secret that they have got but you never got access to. And I think that’s something people have to remind themselves. Is that you know, that’s really- that the formal route is only one path. You know, there are a million different ways to be in the creative industries, any of the creative industries, whether it’s from the art and craft side, right the way through to film. There are many different paths into any of these creative industries. You just have to want to do it, really. And, you know, just put yourself out there, which is always the scariest thing.

Jackie De Burca It is. It is, but I’m sure you – I’m sure you don’t regret it. I’m sure for a moment you must be, you know, you must feel extremely fulfilled with what you’re doing, Emma, I’m sure.

Emma Thorpe Oh yeah. I think even when CoViD struck, I think there was that moment. People say, oh, I’ll bet you wish now you weren’t self-employed and I bet you wish now, you know, you have the- you know, the ability to have a boss to fully up and tell you you’ve been furloughed. So, you know- you know, you were still having some and I’m going, “actually, no”. I’m actually relieved because it’s still also uncertain for everybody. So I’ve – even in the tough times, I’ve never – I’ve never regretted taking this path, I have to say. And it has been tough. It’s not been easy. I think anybody tells you it’s easy is a liar. It’s not easy, but it’s certainly something I don’t regret. Ever. Never regret.

Jackie De Burca Definitely. Well, listen, it’s been an absolute pleasure, Emma, having you here today.

Emma Thorpe You’re very welcome. Thank you very much for having me.

Jackie De Burca Thank you so much. Thank you. Take care of yourself.

Emma Thorpe Very welcome. Thank you very much for having me.

Mike Paine We hope you enjoyed this episode of the Creative Places and Faces Podcast. If you would like to apply to be a guest or a sponsor, be sure to check out the links below the podcast. Until next time. From all of us here. Take care. Stay safe and be creative.

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Jackie De Burca

Jackie De Burca is is a travel, arts and culture writer. The author of Salvador Dalí at Home, De Burca has spent much of her life in Spain since 2003. Originally from Dublin, Ireland, she is the creator of Travel Inspires: the authentic travel magazine by the people, for the people. She mentors aspiring writers around the world, who have the opportunity to showcase their work on Travel Inspires. De Burca feels an inspirational connection with the land in Spain, while maintaining her deeply rooted attachment to Irish landscapes, soil and of course, the Irish character.

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      Portstewart and the Causeway Coast Northern Ireland with Emma Thorpe jewellery designer

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