Salkeld is born in Assam, India on July 9, 1904. His parents are Henry Lyde Salkeld, a member of the Indian Civil Service (ICS), and Blanaid Salkeld (née Mullen), a poet. He returns to Ireland with his mother in 1910 following the death of his father in 1909. He attends Mount St. Benedict’s, Gorey, County Wexford, and the Dragon School in Oxford, England. He wins a scholarship to Oundle School in Oundle, North Northhamptonshire, but returns to Dublin where he enters the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art in 1919 to study under Seán Keating and James Sleator. He marries Irma Taesler in Germany in 1922. They have two daughters, Celia and Beatrice. The latter marries Brendan Behan in 1954.
Salkeld works in tempera and oil, as well as etching and wood engraving. In 1921 he travels to Germany to study under Ewald Dulberg at the Kassell Kunstschule. He attends the Union of Progressive International Artists in Düsseldorf in May 1922, and is exhibited at the Internationale Kunstausstellung. Upon his return to Dublin in 1924, he holds his first solo exhibition in the Society of Dublin Painters gallery. He becomes a member of the Dublin Painters in 1927. With Francis Stuart, he co-edits the first two issues of To-morrow in 1924. His studio is in a converted labourer’s cottage at Glencree, County Wicklow. He also exhibits with the New Irish Salon and the Radical Painters’ Group.
Salkeld wins the 1926 Royal Dublin Society‘s Taylor scholarship, and has his first exhibited work with the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) in 1929. He lives in Berlin for a year in 1932. He exhibits in Daniel Egan’s Gallery in Dublin in 1935. He has a wide circle of literary friends, including Samuel Beckett and Flann O’Brien. In O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds, the character of Michael Byrne is designed for Salkeld, reflecting his debilitating alcoholism. He also teaches at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art, teaching artists such as Reginald Gray.
From 1937 to 1946 Salkeld runs a private press called Gayfield Press. This is co-founded with his mother, and operates from a garden shed at their home, 43 Morehampton Road. The press is a small Adana wooden hand press. He illustrates her 1938 The Engine Left Running, as well as Ewart Milne‘s Forty North Fifty West (1938) and Liam O’Flaherty‘s Red Barbara and Other Stories (1928). In 1951, he loans the press to Liam and Josephine Miller to found the Dolmen Press.
Salkeld’s most famous public work is his 1942 three-part mural in Davy Byrne’s pub. He is a co-founder of the Irish National Ballet School in the 1940s in his capacity as a pianist. In 1946 he is appointed an associate member of the RHA. In 1953 his play Berlin Dusk is staged at 37 Theatre Club, Dublin. During the 1950s he is a broadcaster with Radio Éireann as well as a director of cultural events for An Tóstal. He dies on May 11, 1969 in St. Laurence’s Hospital, Dublin.
The National Gallery of Ireland holds a portrait by Salkeld of his daughter, Celia.
(Pictured: “The Climber” by Cecil Ffrench Salkeld, oil on canvas)