Christine Chivers' painting of Lavey pitch
One morning during lockdown, Lavey's Instagram account exploded with an image that represents all we are missing right now. Christine Chivers' depiction of match day in Lavey is as majestic as the club's sports hall is eye-catching.
If you were writing a letter to Santa, asking for something your community is craving for right now, this is it. An array of goodness, colour and atmosphere. A hub of activity depicted to the very last detail by Christine, a retired art teacher. The love of her craft hasn't diminished one iota.
Even the stanchions on the goalposts have been added, at the request of her husband Paddy, the club's chairman, after he scanned over it for one last time.
Like families across the world, lockdown changed the shape of Christine's week. The school runs have disappeared, caring for their grandchildren put to an end by a need for social distancing, her golf and helping around Lavey club also halted.
“The club gates were locked up and I missed calling in there every day,” Christine commented.
“Paddy could always have found an excuse to call in and attend to something or other. I enjoyed helping with reception duties and keeping our amazing facilities clean and tidy.”
Until now. Updating her family photo albums is part of the new routine. When it was her turn to add to Damian's collection, an football action photo set her creative mind wandering.
“He featured in a photograph taken by Mary K Burke for the County Derry Post. The high catch in this photograph inspired me to paint the ‘Love Our Club, Love Lavey’ painting,” Christine reveals.
“I was old-school and when we grew up, we enjoyed the high catch – I just thought that was a fabulous skill and I liked that picture.
“I was going to do a painting of that, but then I thought 'I'll do the whole club' because we are missing the club. I put in the pitch and I just kept adding to it, I put the supporters in and I kept putting more and more detail into it. I really enjoyed doing it.”
She took photos of the clubhouse and the pitch to help her with the overall scaling.
“I was trying to capture the colour, excitement and special atmosphere of match days,” Christine explains.
“The only part of the painting that is from an actual game is the high catch at midfield. The rest of the players and
supporters are imagined, although I did model two of the younger supporters on Eimear and Aodhan my grandchildren, who are underage players and keen fans.”
Her love and interest in sport isn't something recent.
Christine, originally from Swatragh, is from the Quinn family steeped in the GAA. Her sisters Bernie (Rogers), Patsy (McElwee) and Sarahanne (McNicholl) all had distinguished camogie careers. The family was also immersed in Scór, football and hurling.
“My younger brothers, Roddy A, Adrian and Iggy, hurled for club and county. My older brother, Dickie, played senior football and for many years continued as a dedicated member of the thirds,” Christine explains.
“GAA was a constant topic of conversation in our house and it continues to be so, with many of my nieces and nephews starring on club and county.
“Sundays were always 'match days' in Ballynian where I grew up,” she adds.
The field at the back of the house was flat, goalposts were put up and the 'pitch' was marked out and all.
“Jim B Bradley and lots of cousins came over over, two teams were picked and we had some great games of football, hurling and camogie.
“All the boys and girls played all codes. Sarahanne turned out to be the best hurler and camogie player and was always a first pick.
“A highlight was mammy bringing out the plate of orange segments at half time. The sun always seemed to shine then and we have some great memories.”
Christine's artistic passion also grew. When the Far East magazine arrived at home, the colouring in competitions were done and sent away.
“And the very few times, you would win something from it.” she remembers. “I was always interested in it, right from primary school.”
Like many schools, reading, writing and arithmetic were the order of the day at the local St John's in Swatragh, but when Maura McKenna came in as a student teacher in Primary 5, Christine's love for art deepened even more.
“We did art competitions, it was brilliant and I can remember it to this day – I really enjoyed it,” Christine said, with total enthusiasm.
“I went to Loreto in Coleraine and it was such a fabulous place for anybody to go to, for anybody who was interested in art.
“The art department was down at the road, in a lodge and was separate to the rest of the school. There were so many opportunities.”
She was 'lucky' to have TP Flanagan, who painted pieces for Seamus Heaney, as a tutor in St Mary’s Teacher Training College in Belfast.
In 1977, Christine joined the Art and Design Department in St Mary’s Grammar School, Magherafelt, where she was popular with her pupils, one of whom remarked how she was 'always smiling', an example of someone revelling in their job.
BBC Broadcaster Thomas Niblock is a past pupil and always remembers Christine's first words when he stepped into the school in first year.
“Someday you will all travel the globe, make your way in the world and decorate your own homes,” she would tell them.
“My job is to provide you all with a true appreciation of art and the joy it can bring,” Thomas remembers.
“To a 17-year-old, that felt like million miles from where I was, but I remember her saying it. It stuck,” states Thomas.
“Her teaching 100 percent instilled that appreciation and education that will stay with me for life. More importantly, a lovely human-being and it was a privilege to be taught by her.”
Christine spent her teaching life in the school - over 30 'very happy years', something she labels as a 'privilege.
“To work with so many exceptional staff and students, I couldn't explain how happy I was going to work every day, the children were so talented and such lovely children to work with.”
In retirement, art has certainly not being left to one side and she has painted many local settings, such as Moyola Park Golf Club and the recently refurbished Lavey chapel.
As we talk on the phone, Christina is heading for her first round of golf in eight weeks. Her husband Paddy has been a member there all his life.
“They did lessons for ladies four years ago. We have had great fun and we were the first ladies' team to win an Ulster medal for Moyola.”
In recent years, the painting hasn't been as plentiful, but now she is back in full flow.
“I particularly enjoy painting with oils and have previously painted many scenes in my locality, including local homesteads, local bars and places of interest.
“I knew I wanted to include our amazing clubhouse in the composition, Christine said of her most recent masterpiece.
“I miss the excitement and camaraderie of match days and I tried to capture that by adding players and supporters. I took a few photographs of the pitch and the clubhouse.
“The weather was kind and I set my easel outside the back of the house. It was really enjoyable getting the oil paints out and painting outside, while listening to my favourite album, Neil Diamond’s ‘Original Hot August Night’ from 1972.”
It was a work of art and a labour of love, all rolled into one. Not one to be rushed. A glance at the images around this feature showcases the level of detail required to fully depict a scene. Doing it justice is the most important thing.
“It seemed to take forever - the painstaking level of detail required me to use tiny, No 2, paintbrushes,” she explains.
“I thought I had it perfect and was ready to pack up my paints when Paddy came along and said 'where are the stanchions', so I had a little more to do.
“Painting is such an enjoyable experience, especially at a time like this when you have lots of time on your hands - to start with a blank canvas, draw and paint and create something.”
Christine points to the other people in the locality and their creative side. Drawings, paintings, sketches, poems, songs and stories have all been produced depicting their Love for Lavey.
“In Lavey, we are incredibly proud of that group in our community who got together 12 years ago and built our state-of-the-art facilities,” Christine adds.
“Everyone in the parish benefits from the healthy lifestyle that Erin’s Own Club and Termoneeny Community association has to offer and the friendships that develop there too.”
She points to the minors winning the football and hurling double, a group that added an Ulster football title – giving 'great hope' for the future.
“We look forward to the day when our weekly activities all begin again, the walking, cycling and running groups,” Christine concludes.
“Mary’s baby massage and yoga classes, Thomasina’s mindfulness sessions, Parish events, Mary’s Young at Heart groups, local PS events, local schools coaching and competitions, Anne’s yoga and spinning sessions, Darragh and Katrina’s circuits.”
A litany of a life currently on hold. When Lavey parish returns from the wilderness, the characters in Christine's paintings will burst back into life, all in the perfect colour in which they have been depicted.
Love your community. Love your club. Love Lavey.
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