Asher Witham is born in April of 1870, in a cottage on the lower slopes of the Cavehill, north-east of Belfast city. His father, a shipyard carpenter, recognizes his son’s artistic talent when the boy is very young but has no means (money-wise) to nurture the talent. Because of his standing in the Harland and Wolff carpentry sheds, he is able to procure an apprenticeship for Asher and fortune shines on the young lad when the head man makes a tour of the common man’s workplace.
William Pirrie notices a pencil drawing pinned on the carpentry notice board. It is of a ship under construction in the graving dock. He is immediately taken by the fine lines, shadowing and attention to detail and asks to meet the artist. Asher begins painting for the upper crust of Belfast society while being tutored to improve his education to a point where he may be welcomed into the School of Art. And then life gets in the way.
His father, non-sectarian, is killed by a thrown rock during a riotous, Protestant march which clashes with a Catholic mob. No-one realises at the time that it is a killing engineered by a hard-nosed foreman of welders. Asher creates a painting of the riot which shows Tommy Dawson (the antagonist) hurling the rock at his father. When Dawson sees the painting hanging in the offices of William Pirrie, it sets in motion a vendetta against Asher and his family which will end in more tragedy.
Asher loves three women in his life but his greatest love is Ulrica, a Danish beauty whom he meets while painting high up on the Cavehill. Her father, a wealthy businessman, believes Asher is beneath his daughter and conspires to end the relationship by removing his daughter back to Denmark and convincing Asher that she has died in a fire.
Through all of his struggles, his art becomes more magical and when he chooses to sell pieces, they fetch high prices. During these years, he makes lifelong friendships with all manner of people, even becoming a partner in a successful development company.
Asher’ life is a bumpy ride and, along the way, he loses close friends to illness (tuberculosis, which is rife) and war. His mother is a gentle guiding light until her mid-forties death and Hermione, his first lover, passes away at 42. He takes it upon himself to ‘father’ her daughters while guiding the path of his sisters. He eventually marries the love of his life, Ulrica, and they have two children, but even in the midst of the happiness, tragedy rears its ugly head again.
Published: 9 June 2016
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