seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of Irish Artist John Butler Yeats

john-butler-yeatsJohn Butler Yeats, Irish artist and the father of William Butler Yeats, Lily Yeats, Elizabeth Corbett Yeats and Jack Butler Yeats, dies in New York City on February 3, 1922. The National Gallery of Ireland holds a number of his portraits in oil and works on paper, including one of his portraits of his son William, painted in 1900. His portrait of John O’Leary (1904) is considered his masterpiece.

Yeats is born on March 16, 1839 in Lawrencetown, County Down, in what is now Northern Ireland. His parents are William Butler Yeats (1806–1862) and Jane Grace Corbert. He is the eldest of nine children. Educated in Trinity College Dublin and a member of the University Philosophical Society, Yeats begins his career as a lawyer and junior assistant briefly with Isaac Butt before he takes up painting in 1867 and studies at the Heatherley School of Fine Art.

Yeats marries Susan Pollexfen (13 July 1841 – 3 January 1900) on September 10, 1863 at St. John’s Church in Sligo. Susan Yeats is dismayed when her husband abandons the study of law to become an artist. She is described as a “shadowy figure” who goes “quietly, pitifully, mad.” They have six children: William Butler Yeats, Susan Mary “Lily” Yeats, Elizabeth Corbett “Lolly” Yeats, Robert Corbet Yeats, John “Jack” Butler Yeats and Jane Grace Yeats.

There are few records of his sales, so there is no catalogue of his work in private collections. It is possible that some of his early work may have been destroyed by fire in World War II. It is clear that he has no trouble getting commissions as his sketches and oils are found in private homes in Ireland, England and the United States. His later portraits show great sensitivity to the sitter. However, he is a poor businessman and is never financially secure. He moves frequently and shifts several times between England and Ireland.

In 1907, at the age of 68, he travels to New York aboard the RMS Campania, with his daughter Lily, and never returns to Ireland. In October 1909 he moves into his final home, a boarding house run by the Petitpas sisters which is located at 317 West Twenty-Ninth Street. In New York, he is friendly with members of the Ashcan School of painters.

John Butler Yeats dies in the boarding house on February 3, 1922. Edmund Quinn makes a death mask which is now in the collection of the Yeats Society in Sligo. Yeats is buried in Chestertown Rural Cemetery in Chestertown, New York, next to his friend, Jeanne Robert Foster.


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Paintings Again Stolen from Russborough House

russborough-house-theft-2001A pair of paintings valued at more than £3,000,000 are stolen by an armed gang from Russborough House in County Wicklow on June 26, 2001. The stolen paintings are Thomas Gainsborough‘s Madame Baccelli, the more valuable of the pair, and Bernardo Belotto‘s Scene of Florence.

Three masked men burst their way into the house after ramming the front door with a Mitsubishi at midday. After grabbing the paintings the men set fire to their getaway vehicle and attempt to hijack a car at gunpoint but its driver refuses to give it up. They are last seen running from the scene.

Chief Superintendent Sean Feely says that there were people in the house at the time of the robbery but no one was hurt. He adds that, because they are so well known, the paintings will be near impossible to sell. Raymond Keaveney, the Director of the National Gallery of Ireland, describes the theft as “an outrage.”

The robbery is a case of history repeating itself for Russborough House, twenty miles from Dublin, which has been the scene of two previous major art thefts.

In 1974, an Irish Republican Army (IRA) gang which includes Dr. Rose Dugdale, the British heiress, steal 19 paintings, valued at IR£8 million, from Russborough House which, at the time, is the home of the late Sir Alfred Beit, a member of the De Beers diamond family, and his wife. The couple are bound and gagged during the raid. The paintings are later found in County Cork. Dugdale and the others involved are ultimately jailed.

In 1986, a 13-strong gang headed by Martin Cahill, the Dublin crime chief who is later shot dead by the IRA, steals 18 works including some of those taken and recovered in the earlier raid. The paintings taken on this occasion include those by Johannes Vermeer, Gabriël Metsu, Francisco Goya, Thomas Gainsborough and Peter Paul Rubens. All but three of the paintings are recovered over a period of years at a number of locations, including London, Belgium, Holland and Turkey, after apparent unsuccessful attempts to sell them. The Gainsborough painting stolen on June 26 was also taken in the 1986 raid.

The Beit collection is made over to the Irish nation and many of the works are still on display at Russborough House.

(Pictured: The Mitsubishi used to ram the entrance of Russborough House sits near the front steps. The thieves torch this car before fleeing in another car. Note the gas can to the right of the car.)


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Birth of Nathaniel Hone the Elder

nathaniel-hone-the-elderNathaniel Hone the Elder, Irish-born portrait and miniature painter, and one of the founder members of the Royal Academy of Arts in 1768, is born in Dublin on April 24, 1718.

The son of a Dublin-based Dutch merchant, Hone moves to England as a young man and, after marrying Molly Earle, daughter of the John Campbell, 4th Duke of Argyll, in 1742, eventually settles in London, by which time he has acquired a reputation as a portrait-painter. While his paintings are popular, his reputation is particularly enhanced by his skill at producing miniatures and enamels. He interrupts his time in London by spending two years (1750–52) studying in Italy.

As a portrait painter, several of Hone’s works are now held at the National Portrait Gallery in London. His sitters include magistrate Sir John Fielding and Methodist preacher John Wesley, and General Richard Wilford and Sir Levett Hanson in a double portrait. He often uses his son John Camillus Hone (1745-1836) in some of his works, including his unique portrait of “The Spartan Boy,” painted in 1774.

Hone courts controversy in 1775 when his satirical picture The Conjurer (National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin) is seen to attack the fashion for Italian Renaissance art and to ridicule Sir Joshua Reynolds, leading the Royal Academy to reject the painting. It also originally includes a nude caricature of fellow Academician Angelica Kauffman in the top left corner, which is painted out by Hone after Kauffman complains to the academy. The combination of a little girl and an old man has also been seen as symbolic of Kauffman and Reynolds’s closeness, age difference, and rumoured affair. To show that his reputation is undamaged, Hone organises a one-man retrospective in London, the first such solo exhibition of an artist’s work.

The Hone family is related to the old Dutch landed family the van Vianens, who hold the hereditary title of Vrijheer. His great-grand-nephew shares the same name and is also a notable Irish painter, known as Nathaniel Hone the Younger (1831–1917). He is also a relation to painter Evie Hone.

Nathaniel Hone the Elder dies on August 14, 1784.

(Pictured: Self-portrait by Nathaniel Hone, circa 1760)


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Birth of William Dargan, 19th Century Engineer

william-darganWilliam Dargan, arguably the most important Irish engineer of the 19th century and certainly the most important figure in railway construction, is born at Killeshin near Carlow in County Laois (then called Queen’s County) on February 28, 1799. He designs and builds Ireland’s first railway line from Dublin to Dún Laoghaire in 1833. In total he constructs over 1,300 km (800 miles) of railway to important urban centres of Ireland. He is a member of the Royal Dublin Society and also helps establish the National Gallery of Ireland. He is also responsible for the Great Dublin Exhibition held on the lawn of Leinster House in 1853. His achievements are honoured in 1995, when the Dargan Railway Bridge in Belfast is opened, and again in 2004 when the William Dargan Bridge in Dublin, a new cable stayed bridge for Dublin’s Light Railway Luas, are both named after him.

Dargan is the eldest in a large family of tenant farmers on the Earl of Portarlington‘s estate. He attends a local hedge school in Graiguecullen near Carlow, where he excels in mathematics and accounting. He subsequently works on his father’s 101-acre farm before securing a position in a surveyor’s office in Carlow. With the assistance of prominent local people, particularly John Alexander, a prominent Carlow miller, and Henry Parnell MP for County Laois, he begins working with the Scottish engineer Thomas Telford on the Holyhead side of the London-Holyhead road. He works there between 1819 and 1824.

In 1824 Telford asks Dargan to begin work on Howth Road, from Raheny to Sutton in Dublin. He earns the relatively large sum of £300 for his work on this road and this provides the capital for future public works investments. Henry Parnell describes the road as “a model for other roads in the vicinity of Dublin.” Around the same time Dargan contributes roads in Dublin, Carlow and Louth as a surveyor. He also serves as assistant manager for about three years on the Birmingham & Liverpool Junction Canal and the Middlewich Branch, which are two canals in the English midlands.

On October 13, 1828, Dargan marries Jane Arkinstall in the Anglican Church of St. Michael & All Angels, Adbaston, Staffordshire. He and Jane do not produce any offspring.

When Dargan comes back to Ireland, he is occupied by minor construction projects, including rebuilding the main street of Banbridge and the 13 kilometers long Kilbeggan branch of the Grand Canal. After Irish parliament decides to launch a plan for the very first railway, the Dublin & Kingstown Railway in 1825, he becomes increasingly invested in the project. To fight against the skepticism of any railway program in Ireland, he spends a considerable amount of unpaid time promoting this first railway of Ireland, working along with engineer Charles Vignoles to plan the route. After a persistent effort, the Dublin & Kingstown Railway is opened on December 17, 1834, with eight trains running in each direction.

Dargan next constructs the water communication between Lough Erne and Belfast, afterwards known as the Ulster Canal, a signal triumph of engineering and constructive ability.

Other great works follow – the Dublin and Drogheda Railway, the Great Southern and Western Railway and the Midland Great Western Railway. By 1853 Dargan has constructed over six hundred miles of railway, and he has contracts for two hundred more. He pays the highest wages with the greatest punctuality and his credit is unbounded. At one point he is the largest railway projector in Ireland and one of its greatest capitalists.

Dargan has a strong sense of patriotism to Ireland. He is offered a knighthood by the British Viceroy in Ireland, but declines. Following this, Britain’s Queen Victoria visits Dargan at his residence, Dargan Villa, Mount Annville on August 29, 1853. She offers him a baronetcy, but he declines this also. Wishing to encourage the growth of flax, he then takes a tract of land which he devotes to its culture, but owing to some mismanagement the enterprise entails a heavy loss. He also becomes a manufacturer, and sets some mills working in Chapelizod, in the neighbourhood of Dublin, but that business does not prosper.

In his later years Dargan devotes himself chiefly to the working and extension of the Dublin, Wicklow and Wexford Railway, of which he is chairman. In 1866 he is seriously injured by a fall from his horse. He dies at 2 Fitzwilliam Square East, Dublin, on February 7, 1867, and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery. His widow, Jane, is granted a civil list pension of £100 on June 18, 1870.


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Birth of Painter Nathaniel Hone the Younger

nathaniel-hone-the-youngerNathaniel Hone the Younger, Irish painter and great-grand-nephew of painter Nathaniel Hone the Elder, is born in Fitzwilliam Place, Dublin on October 26, 1831. He is the son of Brindley Hone, a merchant and director of the Midland Great Western Railway.

Though a member of a very artistic family, Hone’s initial training is as an engineer at Trinity College Dublin followed by a brief period of work for the Irish Railway before going to Paris in 1853 to study painting. He first studies under Adolphe Yvon, the French military painter, and later Thomas Couture, who is one of the earliest exponents of realism and from whom he learns principles which influence his work throughout his career.

Most of Hone’s later paintings are landscapes, very often enlivened with animals and occasionally with figures. In France he is influenced by the painter Gustav Courbet who is taking a new and quite revolutionary realistic approach. His closest painting tips are, however, from another French impressionist, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. He becomes a close friend of one of Corot’s followers at the Barbizon school of landscape painting. At Barbizon he learns to appreciate colour, texture and tone in the landscape and applies it in strong and confident brushworks to the painting of Irish subjects on his return. In Paris he also works closely with artist Édouard Brandon, also a follower of Corot.

Hone’s paintings which are completed in France have many similarities to those that he completes at his country farm in County Dublin, but the finish is perhaps more polished and professional in the later Irish works.

From 1876, except for four years, Hone exhibits at the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA). He is elected a full member in 1880 and in 1894 becomes Professor of Painting. His exhibition with John Butler Yeats in 1901 is one of the turning points for the history of Irish art as it is their paintings which convince Sir Hugh Lane that Dublin should have a gallery of modern art.

Nathaniel Hone dies in Dublin on October 14, 1917. After his death his widow bequeaths the contents of his studio to the National Gallery of Ireland. He rarely dates his work so it is difficult to establish chronology. The similarity of many of his motifs and subjects often make it difficult to tell whether a view is Irish or French. Equally it is difficult to chart his developments on stylistic grounds alone.

(Pictured: Nathaniel Hone, the younger, self-portrait as an old man)


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Birth of James Stephens, Novelist & Poet

istepja001p1James Stephens, Irish novelist and poet, is born in Dublin on February 9, 1880.

Stephens’ mother works in the home of the Collins family of Dublin and is adopted by them. He is committed to the Meath Protestant Industrial School for Boys as a small child and spends his childhood there. He attends school with his adopted brothers Thomas and Richard before graduating as a solicitor’s clerk. He is known affectionately in school as “Tiny Tim” due to his 4’10” stature. He is much enthralled by the tales of military valour of his adoptive family and would have become a soldier if not for his height.

By the early 1900s Stephens is increasingly inclined to socialism and the Irish language and by 1912 is a dedicated Irish Republican. He is a close friend of the 1916 Easter Rising leader Thomas MacDonagh, who is then editor of The Irish Review and deputy headmaster in St. Enda’s School, the radical bilingual school run by Patrick Pearse. His growing nationalism brings a schism with his adopted family, but probably wins him his job as registrar in the National Gallery of Ireland, where he works between 1915 and 1925, having previously had an ill-paid job with the Mecredy solicitors’ firm.

Stephens produces many retellings of Irish myths and fairy tales. His retellings are marked by a rare combination of humour and lyricism. He also writes several original novels, The Crock of Gold, Etched in Moonlight and Demi-Gods, based loosely on Irish fairy tales. The Crock of Gold in particular has achieved enduring popularity and has often been reprinted.

Stephens begins his career as a poet under the tutelage of “Æ” (George William Russell). His first book of poems, Insurrections, is published in 1909. His last book, Kings and the Moon (1938), is also a volume of verse.

Stephens’s influential account of the 1916 Easter Rising, Insurrection in Dublin, describes the effect of the deaths by execution of his friend Thomas MacDonagh and others as being “like watching blood oozing from under a door.” Of MacDonagh he writes:

No person living is the worse off for having known Thomas MacDonagh, and I, at least, have never heard MacDonagh speak unkindly or even harshly of anything that lived. It has been said of him that his lyrics were epical ; in a measure it is true, and it is true in the same measure that his death was epical. He was the first of the leaders who was tried and shot.

Stephens lives between Paris, London and Dublin. During the 1930s he is a friend of James Joyce, and they mistakenly believe that they share a birthday. Joyce, who is concerned about his ability to finish what later becomes Finnegans Wake, proposes that Stephens assist him, with the authorship credited to JJ & S, short “Jameses Joyce & Stephens,” but also a pun on the popular Irish whiskey made by John Jameson & Sons. The plan is never implemented, as Joyce is able to complete the work on his own.

During the last decade of Stephens’ life he finds a new audience through a series of broadcasts on the BBC. He dies at Eversleigh on Saint Stephen’s Day, December 26, 1950.


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Birth of Edward Martyn, Playwright & Activist

edward-martynEdward Martyn, Irish playwright and early republican political and cultural activist, is born in County Galway on January 30, 1859. He serves as the first president of Sinn Féin from 1905 to 1908.

Martyn is the elder son of John Martyn of Tullira Castle, Ardrahan and Annie Mary Josephine (née Smyth) of Masonbrook, Loughrea, both of County Galway. He is educated at Belvedere College, Dublin, and Wimbledon College, London, both Jesuit schools, after which he enters Christ Church, Oxford in 1877, but leaves without taking a degree in 1879. His only sibling, John, dies in 1883.

Martyn begins writing fiction and plays in the 1880s. While his own output is undistinguished, he acquires a well-earned reputation as a noted connoisseur of music, both European classical and Irish traditional. He is a fine musician in his own right, giving memorable performances for guests on an organ he has installed at Tullira. He uses his wealth to benefit Irish culture.

Martyn is reportedly pivotal in introducing William Butler Yeats and Lady Gregory to each other in 1896. The three found the Irish Literary Theatre, for whom Martyn writes his best and most popular plays, The Heather Field and A Tale of a Town. He covers the costs of the company’s first three seasons, which proves crucial to establishing the company and the future of the Abbey Theatre. He later parts ways with Yeats and Gregory, something he later regrets, but remains on warm terms with Lady Gregory until the end of his life.

Martyn is a cousin and friend to George Moore (1852–1933). The two make frequent trips all over Europe, where Moore influences Martyn’s views on modern art, which result in the latter purchasing several works by Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and Kitagawa Utamaro, all later donated to the National Gallery of Ireland. Moore does not share Martyn’s fenian ideas nor espousal of violent means to achieve national sovereignty. Their different political opinions eventually drive their friendship apart.

Martyn is descended from Richard Óge Martyn, a leading Irish Confederate, and Oliver Óge Martyn, a Jacobite who fights in the Williamite War in Ireland. Yet by his lifetime, the family are unionists. Martyn’s outlook begins to change in the 1880s after studying Irish history, as well as living through the events of the Irish Land War. He comes out as an Irish republican when he famously refuses to allow “God Save The Queen” to be sung after a dinner party at Tullira. By this stage he is involved with the political work of Maude Gonne and Arthur Griffith, and is a vocal opponent of the visit of Queen Victoria to Ireland in 1897. He also protests the visit by Edward VII in 1903, this time as chairman of the People’s Protection Committee. He is the first president of Sinn Féin from 1905 to 1908. In 1908 he resigns from the party and politics in general to concentrate on writing and his other activities.

He is on close personal terms with Thomas MacDonagh, Joseph Mary Plunkett and Patrick Pearse, and deeply mourns their executions in the aftermath of the Easter Rising. A parish hall and church that he founded at Labane, near Tullira, are burned by the Black and Tans. He supports the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921.

Martyn dies at Tullira on December 5, 1923 after years of ill health. Friends and family are shocked at a provision in his will that directs that his body be donated for the use of medical science and, after dissection, be buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave. The Palestrina Choir sings at his graveside. He bequeaths his papers to the Carmelites of Clarendon Street in Dublin, who subsequently misplace and lose them. Portraits of Martyn exist by, among others, John Butler Yeats and Sarah Purser. On his death the senior line of the Martyn family dies out. His property is inherited by his cousins, the Smyths of Masonbrook and Lord Hemphill. Tullira is sold by the latter forty years later changing ownership several times since.


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Death of George Petrie, Painter & Musician

george-petrieGeorge Petrie, Irish painter, musician, antiquary and archaeologist of the Victorian era dies on January 17, 1866.

Petrie is born and grows up in Dublin, living at 21 Great Charles Street, just off Mountjoy Square. He is the son of the portrait and miniature painter James Petrie, a native of Aberdeen, Scotland, who had settled in Dublin. He is interested in art from an early age. He is sent to the Royal Dublin Society‘s schools, being educated as an artist, where he wins the silver medal in 1805 at the age of fourteen.

After an abortive trip to England in the company of Francis Danby and James Arthur O’Connor, both of whom are close friends of his, he returns to Ireland where he works mostly producing sketches for engravings for travel books including among others, George Newenham Wright‘s guides to Killarney, Wicklow and Dublin, Thomas Cromwell‘s Excursions through Ireland, and James Norris Brewer‘s Beauties of Ireland.

In the late 1820s and 1830s, Petrie significantly revitalises the Royal Irish Academy‘s antiquities committee. He is responsible for their acquisition of many important Irish manuscripts, including an autograph copy of the Annals of the Four Masters, as well as examples of insular metalwork, including the Cross of Cong. His writings on early Irish archaeology and architecture are of great significance, especially his essay on the Round Towers of Ireland, which appear in his 1845 book titled The Ecclesiastical Architecture of Ireland. He is often called “the father of Irish archaeology.” His survey of the tombs at Carrowmore still informs study of the site today.

From 1833 to 1843 Petrie is employed by Thomas Frederick Colby and Thomas Larcom as head of the Topographical Department of the Irish Ordnance Survey. Amongst his staff are John O’Donovan, one of Ireland’s greatest ever scholars, and Eugene O’Curry. A prizewinning essay submitted to the Royal Irish Academy in 1834 on Irish military architecture is never published, but his seminal essay On the History and Antiquities of Tara Hill is published by the Academy in 1839. During this period Petrie is himself the editor of two popular antiquarian magazines, the Dublin Penny Journal and, later, the Irish Penny Journal.

Another major contribution of Petrie’s to Irish culture is the collection of Irish traditional airs and melodies which he records. William Stokes’s contemporary biography includes detailed accounts of Petrie’s working methods in his collecting of traditional music: “The song having been given, O’Curry wrote the Irish words, when Petrie’s work began. The singer recommenced, stopping at a signal from him at every two or three bars of the melody to permit the writing of the notes, and often repeating the passage until it was correctly taken down …”

As an artist, Petrie’s favourite medium is watercolour which, due to the prejudices of the age, is considered inferior to oil painting. Nonetheless, he can be considered as one of the finest Irish Romantic painters of his era. Some of his best work is in the collections of the National Gallery of Ireland, such as his watercolour painting Gougane Barra Lake with the Hermitage of St. Finbarr, County Cork (1831).

Petrie is awarded the Royal Irish Academy’s prestigious Cunningham Medal three times: firstly in 1831 for his essay on the round towers, secondly in 1834 for the now lost essay on Irish military architecture, and thirdly in 1839 for his essay on the antiquities of Tara Hill.

The closing years of Petrie’s life are devoted to the publication of a portion of his collection of Irish music. He dies at the age of 77 at Rathmines, Dublin, on January 17, 1866. He is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery.


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Birth of Robert Ballagh, Artist, Painter & Designer

Robert “Bobby” Ballagh, artist, painter and designer, is born in Dublin on September 22, 1943. His painting style is strongly influenced by pop art. He is particularly well known for his hyperealistic renderings of well known Irish literary, historical or establishment figures.

Ballagh grows up in a ground-floor flat on Elgin Road in Ballsbridge, the only child of a Presbyterian father and a Catholic mother. He studies at Bolton Street College of Technology and becomes an atheist while attending Blackrock College. Before turning to art as a profession, he is a professional musician with the Irish showband Chessmen. He meets artist Michael Farrell during this period, and Farrell recruits him to assist with a large mural commission, which is painted at Ardmore Studios.

Ballagh represents Ireland at the 1969 Biennale de Paris. Among the theatre sets he has designed are sets for Riverdance, I’ll Go On, Gate Theatre (1985), Samuel Beckett‘s Endgame (1991) and Oscar Wilde‘s Salomé (1998). He also designs over 70 Irish postage stamps and the last series of Irish banknotes, “Series C,” before the introduction of the euro. He is a member of Aosdána and his paintings are held in several public collections of Irish painting including the National Gallery of Ireland, the Hugh Lane Gallery, the Ulster Museum, Trinity College, Dublin, and Nuremberg‘s Albrecht Dürer House.

In 1991, he co-ordinates the 75th anniversary commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising, during which he claims he is harassed by the Special Branch of the Garda Síochána.

He is the president of the Ireland Institute for Historical and Cultural Studies, which promotes international republicanism. It is based at the new Pearse centre at 27 Pearse Street, Dublin, which is the birthplace of Pádraig Pearse in 1879.

In July 2011 it is reported that he might consider running for the 2011 Irish Presidential election with the backing of Sinn Féin and the United Left Alliance. A Sinn Féin source confirms there has been “very informal discussions” and that Ballagh’s nomination is “a possibility” but “very loose at this stage.” However, on July 25 Ballagh rules out running in the election, saying that he has never considered being a candidate. His discussions with the parties had been about the election “in general” and he has no ambitions to run for political office.

That same month, Ballagh breaks ranks with his colleagues in the travelling production of Riverdance in their decision to perform in Israel. He is an active member of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which insists that artists and academics participate in boycotts of Israeli businesses and cultural institutions.

In July 2012, Ballagh says he is “ashamed and profoundly depressed” at the en masse closure of Irish galleries and museums. He cites an example of some Americans and Canadians on holiday in Ireland. “They described most of the National Gallery as being closed along with several rooms in the Hugh Lane Gallery. I’m glad they didn’t bother going out to the Museum of Modern Art in Kilmainham because that’s closed too. At the point I met them, they were returning from Galway where they had found the Nora Barnacle Museum closed too.” He condemns the hypocrisy of political leaders, saying, “I know arts funding is not a big issue for people struggling to put food on the table but we are talking about the soul of the nation.”


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National Gallery of Ireland Act, 1854

A statutory provision, the National Gallery of Ireland Act, 1854, is made on August 10, 1854, for the establishment of a national gallery of paintings, sculpture, and fine arts in Ireland.

The National Gallery of Ireland, which opens its doors ten years later, houses the national collection of Irish and European art. It is located in the centre of Dublin with one entrance on Merrion Square, beside Leinster House, and another on Clare Street. The Gallery has an extensive, representative collection of Irish painting and is also notable for its Italian Baroque and Dutch masters painting.

The façade of the National Gallery copies the Natural History building of the National Museum of Ireland which is already planned for the facing flank of Leinster House. The building itself is designed by Francis Fowke, based on early plans by Charles Lanyon.

The Gallery is unlucky not to have been founded around an existing collection, but through diligent and skillful purchase, by the time it opens it has 125 paintings. In 1866 an annual purchase grant is established and by 1891 space is already limited. In 1897, the Dowager Countess of Milltown indicates her intention of donating the contents of Russborough House to the Gallery. This gift includes about 223 paintings, 48 pieces of sculpture, 33 engravings, much silver, furniture and a library, and prompts construction from 1899 to 1903 of what is now called the Milltown Wing, designed by Thomas Newenham Deane.

At around this time Henry Vaughan leaves 31 watercolours by J.M.W. Turner with the requirement that they can only be exhibited in January, this to protect them from the ill-effects of sunlight. Though modern lighting technology has made this stipulation unnecessary, the Gallery continues to restrict viewing of the Vaughan bequest to January and the exhibition is treated as something of an occasion.

Another substantial bequest comes with the untimely death in the sinking of the RMS Lusitania of Hugh Lane (1875–1915), since 1914 director of the Gallery. Not only does he leave a large collection of pictures, he also leaves part of his residual estate and the Lane Fund has continued to contribute to the purchase of art works to this day. In addition to his involvement in the Gallery, Hugh Lane has also hoped to found a gallery of modern art, something only realised after his death in Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane. George Bernard Shaw also makes a substantial bequest, leaving the Gallery a third of royalties of his estate in gratitude for the time he spent there as a youth.

The Gallery is again extended in 1962 with a new wing designed by Frank DuBerry of the Office of Public Works. This opens in 1968 and is now named the Beit Wing. In 1978 the Gallery receives from the government the paintings given to the nation by Alfred Chester Beatty and in 1987 the Sweeney bequest purchases fourteen works of art including paintings by Pablo Picasso and Jack Butler Yeats. The same year the Gallery is once again given some of the contents of Russborough House when Alfred Beit donates 17 masterpieces, including paintings by Diego Velázquez, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Jan Steen, Johannes Vermeer and Henry Raeburn.

In the 1990s a lost Caravaggio, The Taking of Christ, known through replicas, is discovered hanging in a Jesuit house of studies in Leeson Street in Dublin by Sergio Benedetti, senior conservator of the gallery. The Jesuits generously allow this painting to be exhibited in the Gallery and the discovery is the cause of national excitement. In 1997 Anne Yeats donates sketchbooks by her uncle Jack Yeats and the Gallery now includes a Yeats Museum. Denis Mahon, a well known art critic, promises the Gallery part of his rich collection and eight painting from his promised bequest are on permanent display, including Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph by Guercino.