A close-up view of Ireland’s hills

The Hills Speak: History & Mystery seeks to offer a fresh insight into an untapped aspect of Ireland’s landscape and heritage

In the summer of 2014 my wife, Dolores, and I began a project to explore, describe, photograph and paint scenes from some of the little hills that dot our flat midland landscape. But as we began our investigation our horizon gradually expanded and soon we had 20 hills from the four provinces. None of them is much more than 1,000ft high; some don’t even qualify as hills. Some enjoy international reputations and others are unknown outside their own areas, but all of them are steeped in folklore.

High ground has always held a special place in the history and mythology of Ireland. In the flat limestone plains of the interior no hill escaped the attentions of the druids, warriors and monks, all intent on leaving their mark on the folk-memory of all the races that, over many centuries, have settled in this landscape.

This work is an attempt to separate the history and the mystery, to tell a few – very few of many sagas and folktales of ancient times to be found around these hills.

Dolores is an accomplished watercolourist and her illustrations portray the magnificent vistas that captivated so many generations of hill people. She is the originator and the inspiration of this project. Her work over many months in paintings and drawings, followed by the painstaking labour of the layout and graphics, was a major undertaking professionally executed. For the past 50 years on my travels through the highways and byways of the 32 counties the storied landscapes around me were always a constant reminder of the presence of history. A recent sojourn as a very mature student brought these almost forgotten landscapes back to life and this book is the result.


We are grateful to the landowners who allowed us to traverse their farmland; their local knowledge was an invaluable source. Our thanks are due to the staff of public libraries who shared their knowledge and resources with us; to Gary Kelly, graphic designer, who assisted Dolores in the intricacies of layout and design; to Brian Warfield of the Wolfe Tones for permission to use their haunting melody of The Colleen Bawn; to United Agents, London for the use of the poem At the Hawk’s Well by William Butler Yeats; and to our family and friends for their support and encouragement.

Dolores Keaveney Kenny

This has been a fascinating project for me. I am really a flower painter and had never used landscapes as my subject. When I started to paint the hills, for some reason their image just flowed from me onto the watercolour paper. I spent the best part of six months painting daily to produce the 150 watercolour paintings in this book. My impression of hills has changed forever and whenever I see a hill now I cannot pass it without wondering what went on up there. This is a short poem describing how I now feel about the hills.

My eyes now see more clearly the beauty of each hill,
They beckon me in silence as they stand so tall and still,
Their shape and form, their tone and strength, their magic and their history,
Still tantalise and mesmerise me with their hidden mystery.

John Kenny is a native of Co Wexford. He served for 40 years in the Reserve Defence Force. After retirement he studied history at Maynooth University. This is his first book. Dolores Keaveney Kenny is an artist for the past 40 years and is also a self-published author and illustrator of children’s picture books. In 2009, she launched her first picture book, If I were a bee... www.doloreskeaveney.com