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Sherkin podcast explores Geoff’s extraordinary life

August 8th, 2023 10:30 PM

By Eimear O'Dwyer

Sherkin podcast explores Geoff’s extraordinary life Image
Geoff Stephens speaks to Mona O’Driscoll about his life on Sherkin Sounds and Surrounds.

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AUTHOR Rosita Boland in her book Elsewhere says that there is a phrase her editor once shared with her, ‘la ligne donée’ meaning the given line, which encapsulates the core of a person or a story.

Mona O’Driscoll from Sherkin Island recently interviewed fellow local artist Geoff Stephens on the Sherkin Sounds and the Surrounds podcast. 

Geoff is no stranger to locals of West Cork – he truly immersed himself into the Sherkin community and way of life. 

He owned the island’s much-loved Jolly Roger pub for several years and he was involved in many instrumental community projects such as restoring the Franciscan Friary. 

Geoff was also one of the first-ever students to attend the DIT art college on the island and he inspired Mona to pursue her art in the same way. 

‘When I went to college myself afterwards, he was one of the first people that I went to sit with and talk to about art. And he was very inspiring,’ Mona said.

‘The people on the island are what make it, they fall in with the flow and they bring their interesting stories,’ Mona added.

The first episode in this four-part series reveals why Geoff’s colourful life cannot be summarised in one line, because he has immersed himself in many different fields and embarked on many unique adventures.

Geoff paints a vivid picture of his childhood growing up in Whistich, a little village north of Cardiff. Born in 1940, during World War 2, Geoff recounts a Whistich which had a German prisoner-of-war camp about 10 miles away, and an American aeroplane base just one mile outside the village. Bombs were often dropped nearby. 

The country was embroiled in conflict, and the economic outlook was dire.

Rationing meant that there were barely any sweets so Geoff and his friends became resourceful. They would play at the air raid shelter where the tar would melt and form ‘stalactites’, which they would break off and chew. ‘Our sweets were chewing lumps of tar that melted off the shelter,’ he joked.

Geoff’s humour shines through as he recollects the first time he saw bananas, sometime after the war ended. He clutched the fruit between his hands like it was magic, having never eaten one before. But by the time he got home, the fruit was ruined. ‘Eventually we got home and I’m still clutching this banana to my chest as if it was going to be magic-ed away,’ he said. ‘I opened my hand and there was just this goo inside.’ 

Geoff’s artistic journey began when he left school at 15 to go farming in Monmouthshire in Wales. In the quiet evenings, he found himself putting pencil to paper, sketching landscapes and animals, sketching all aspects of life, including cows calving. ‘I thought this was fascinating, it was all part of life,’ he said. 

When he was 17,  a visitor to the farm who was impressed by his work  suggested he take art classes. Geoff cycled the seven miles to the nearest art college in Newport. ‘I was terrified at this stage, I don’t know what the hell I’m doing,’ he said. 

He had made the decision to attend life drawing classes as opposed to perspective, not knowing what either meant, based solely on his work schedule on the farm.

The room that awaited him at the very top of the building was a vast Victorian studio. ‘It was the most beautiful room I think I’ve ever been in,’ he said. Everyone was gathered around easels and the subject of their drawings was a naked woman who sat in the centre.

‘I expected the heavens to open up and a thunderbolt would blow me away,’ he said. 

As the weeks went on, he cultivated a talent for life drawing and says he must have done a thousand life drawings in his lifetime.

While the first episode concludes with Geoff meeting his first wife Jan in art college, his story is far from over. His stories of how he ended up on Sherkin off Ireland’s south-west coast are all to come.. 

Podcast host Mona says Geoff was a big part of her life growing up on Sherkin, and she was always fascinated by his life story. 

‘He’s touched on everything in life. He’s an artist, he is multi-talented. He worked in theatre in England … he’s just really interesting to listen to.’ 

• For more, see the Sherkin Sounds and the Surrounds Facebook page or search Sherkin Sounds and the Surrounds on 

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