Around the nine Glens of Antrim there are farmers, traders and shopkeepers by the name of McAuley but one name stands out as quite different from the others. That is the artist, Charles McAuley who lived with his wife Peggy and four children in a house overlooking the sea at Dalriada, on the edge of Cushendall village.
He was born in 1910 on a small farm at Lubatavish, Glenaan, near Cushendall, the youngest of eight children. For generations before him, his ancestors had lived in the Glens so the landscape was in his DNA.
Although he had to work in the farm when he was younger he painted the landscape of the glens and his mother and teachers encouraged him. He often said that this was vital to his desire to be an artist although his father often counselled him that there wasn’t much money ‘in that sort of thing’.
His next encouragement came from a professional artist, Humbert Craig, whom he met when he was about 18. He had entered some of his art work into Feis na Gleanna, Craig, who adjudicated, praised them and told him, ” People will think you crazy when they see you out painting in the fields but don’t you pay any heed. You go ahead with this, and you’ll do well.”
He briefly attended Belfast College of Art but, in his own words, “I pined for the Glens”. He was however, persuaded to send some of his work to the Royal Hibernian Academy and they were accepted.
This had a great influence on Charles and although he always insisted that he was ‘technically self-taught’ he said that RHA acceptance was the spur he needed to become a professional artist at the age of 26. When asked what subjects he preferred to paint he had no hesitation in saying that his desire was to try to produce the sunlight and the shadow of the glens landscape and to show the everyday lives of the people who lived and worked there. That was what fascinated him.
He returned home to Cushendall and married Peggy. As the children came along he realised that he had to make a living yet he still persevered with a strong belief in his ability to earn enough from his paintings to provide for them. He was a prolific painter of the Glens, of the scenery and the people at their work, cutting corn, cutting and stacking turf, mending fishing nets and other tasks. He didn’t like farming machinery and preferred to paint the farm animals.
He shied away from portraits even though he would have earned more by painting those but he loved to include people in his paintings as they worked. Nothing made him happier then painting in the Glens of Antrim.
Today his paintings are in the Ulster Museum and Queens University and in several private collections. One sold recently for £5,300 at auction.
He died in 1999 at the age of 89.