Ancient Ireland in the palm of your hand : Mini Inish creates stunning art pieces depicting Derry and Donegal landmarks

Mini Inish is a unique display of artwork inspired by the vast history on the island of Ireland.

Tuesday, 19th October 2021, 1:00 pm

The concept was created and designed by Ciaran Anderson. His strong passion and knowledge for heritage sites and Irish history has developed art pieces which are one of a kind.

Derry-based Ciaran aims to showcase some of Ireland’s true hidden gems and lesser known heritage sites around Inishowen and beyond.

“I’m mad into history,” said Ciaran. “I’ve always been crazy about local history, especially Inishowen and Derry. I always thought the heritage sites were never talked about enough. I was searching online and there is nobody in the world doing what I am doing. I used to do a bit of scale modelled aircrafts and vehicles in my spare time. I just always had an eye for detail and I liked working with small scale.

The stunning Grianan of Aileach by Mini Inish.

“I got a couple of commissions to work with scale models. I thought it was great that people trusted me with fine detail. I got into foam then and learned a bit about colour theory, how to paint things to make them look like real rock or real stone.

“You see sites like Burt Castle and Inch Castle; they’re just not recognised as much as I think they should be. They were really significant back in the day, so I decided to make models out of the castles using foam.

“I started to make replicas of Cooley Cross in Moville, and other local landmarks you don’t really see on a tourist brochure; like lesser celebrated heritage sites.”

Ciaran says his “own passion” for the local heritage is why he creates miniature sculptures of ancient landmarks around the island in plaster.

Bishop's Gate by Mini Inish.

His replication of Grianan is almost a kilo and a half in weight. Ciaran has been shipping his pieces across the world to places such as Germany, Austria and America. “Grianan is the biggest scale piece I have at the moment,” he said. “Every single piece starts from the bucket. They are all made individually and there’s no quick way to make them.

“You can’t dry plaster, you have to cure it. Because of the way I paint these things, it’s very, very specific. There’s some layers of paint that have to be left to completely dry, and there are some that need to be layered over while they are wet. It’s the only way you’ll get that effect.

“There was a friend of mine, a local musician, Gary Nixon. He was badgering me and saying you need to try and find a way to produce this stuff. I didn’t really have much faith in myself, I just liked making things. I had no idea how to reproduce the things I was making. A woman named Nuala Campbell was recommended to me by a friend. She owns Titanic FX in Belfast. They do a lot of special effects work for movies and TV. Nuala has been the game changer to be honest with you. I have been working exclusively with Nuala on a small collaboration. She is a real leader in the field, especially in the North. If I hadn’t met her, I wouldn’t have been able to do this. She has been the driving force.”

On the northernmost tip of Malin Head, called Banba’s Crown, stands a cumbersome 1805 clifftop tower that was built by the British admiralty, and later used as a Lloyds signal station. Around it are concrete huts that were used by the Irish army in WWII as lookout posts.

As Ciaran describes, this northernmost point of the Inishowen peninsula and the island of Ireland is named after Banba, the goddess of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the mythological tribe who lived in Ireland in ancient times. Banba and her sisters Ériu and Fódla became the patron goddesses representing the sovereignty and the spirit of Ireland.

“I was actually delivering a Carndonagh Cross piece to a fellow a few weeks back, and he asked me would I not do a Malin Head one. I thought, it’s so significant, the most northern point of the island, and you can hold it in the palm of your hand.

“I’ve done a few craft fairs and I have gotten a lot of messages from people asking me where Beltany’s Stone Circle is, and what it is. You tell them it’s in Raphoe and they are surprised because they never heard of it. That’s one of the biggest stone circles in Ireland, it is so significant. If it’s enough to make someone go away and google it or lift a book and read about it, then that’s my job done.”

Ciaran has attracted interest from all over the globe and he dreams of making Mini Inish a full time occupation. “Although I would paint more old history and neolithic stuff, I’ve actually done a replica of Bishop’s Gate. I am really excited about that, it’s about 12 inches long. I feel like that’s going to be a bit special when that’s done.

Mini Inish's St Patrick's Cross, Carndonagh.

“A couple of shops have contacted me about possibly stocking some pieces. Because I want to keep integrity, I am going to go totally independent through Little Acorns bookstore. I have known Jenni for a long time, and I trust Jenni, she is probably the most independent trader you’ll ever meet. I say from next week maybe there is going to be a display on the window and you can go buy the pieces, or go there and touch them and feel them. They’re tactile, they’re heavy and they feel like stone. I want people to hold them in their hands and see how natural these pieces are.”

As well as an artist, Ciaran is a competitive triathlete and a full time family man. He is currently using his kitchen table as his home studio. “There are not enough hours in the day,” to produce pieces, which require fine detail and time,” he says.

“I work alone, but my amazing partner Nora helps me out with all the casting. I am going to be working on a few specific Derry City pieces after I finish the Bishop’s Gate one. I just want to try and recreate as many of them wee sites, artefacts and them wee curious places, as much as I possibly can. If there is anything I can take away from my own experience, you are never too old to learn new things. Be open to everything.”

*If you would like to check out more of Ciaran’s work and purchase a Mini Inish miniature, then please visit his social media pages at www.facebook.com/irishheritageminiatures, or at www.instagram.com/mini.inish.

Kilclooney Dolmen.
Mini Inish's Grianan of Aileach and the well.
Beltany Stone Circle.