seamus dubhghaill

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


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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.

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Opening of the National Gallery of Ireland

national-gallery-of-irelandThe National Gallery of Ireland, home of the national collection of Irish and European art, opens on January 30, 1864. 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.

In 1853 an exhibition, the Great Industrial Exhibition, is held on the lawns of Leinster House in Dublin. Among the most popular exhibits is a substantial display of works of art organised and underwritten by the railway magnate William Dargan. The enthusiasm of the visiting crowds demonstrates a public need for art, and it is decided to establish a permanent public art collection as a lasting monument of gratitude to Dargan. The moving spirit behind the proposal is the barrister John Edward Pigot (1822-1871), son of David Richard Pigot, Chief Baron of the Irish Exchequer, and he becomes one of the first Governors of the Gallery. 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 skilful 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, director of the Gallery since 1914. 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, 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 Chester Beatty and in 1987 the Sweeney bequest brings 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, well known art critic, promises the Gallery part of his rich collection and eight paintings from his promised bequest are on permanent display, including Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph by Rembrandt.

The collection currently contains about 14,000 artworks, including approximately 2,500 oil paintings, 5,000 drawings, 5,000 prints, and some sculpture, furniture, and other works of art.


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Construction Begins on the Royal Canal

royal-canal-old-mill-dublinConstruction begins on the Royal Canal on October 24, 1789. The canal is originally built for freight and passenger transportation from the River Liffey in Dublin to Longford.

In 1755, Thomas Williams and John Cooley make a survey to find a suitable route for a man-made waterway across north Leinster from Dublin to the River Shannon. They originally plan to use a series of rivers and lakes, including the Boyne, Blackwater, Deel, Yellow, Camlin, and Inny and Lough Derravaragh.

Work commences in 1789 and lasts 27 years before finally reaching the River Shannon in 1817, at a total cost of £1,421,954. Construction is unexpectedly expensive and the project is riven with problems. In 1794 the Royal Canal Company is declared bankrupt. The Duke of Leinster, a board member, insists that the new waterway take in his local town of Maynooth. The builders have to deviate from the planned route and necessitate the construction of a ‘deep sinking’ between Blanchardstown and Clonsilla. The diversion also calls for the building of the Ryewater Aqueduct, at Leixlip.

royal-canal-kinnegadThe canal passes through Maynooth, Kilcock, Enfield, Mullingar and Ballymahon has a spur to Longford. The total length of the main navigation is 145 kilometres (90 miles), and the system has 46 locks. There is one main feeder, from Lough Owel, which enters the canal at Mullingar.

In 200 years it has been maintained by eight successive agencies – the Royal Canal Company, the Commissioners of Inland Navigation, the New Royal Canal Company, Midland Great Western Railway Company, Great Southern Railways, CIÉ, and the Office of Public Works.

The canal falls into disrepair in the late 20th century, but much of the canal has since been restored for navigation. The length of the canal to the River Shannon is reopened on October 1, 2010, but the final spur branch of the canal to Longford Town remains closed.

(Pictured: Royal Canal as it enters Dublin city centre (left) and Royal Canal in rural County Westmeath north of Kinnegad (right)


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First Prisoners Arrive at Kilmainham Gaol

kilmainham-gaolKilmainham Gaol in Dublin receives its first prisoners on August 12, 1796. When it is first built in 1796, Kilmainham Gaol is called the “New Gaol” to distinguish it from the old prison it is intended to replace. It is officially called the County of Dublin Gaol, and is originally run by the Grand Jury for County Dublin.

Originally, public hangings take place at the front of the prison. However, from the 1820s onward very few hangings, public or private, take place at Kilmainham. A small hanging cell, located on the first floor between the west wing and the east wing, is built in the prison in 1891.

There is no segregation of prisoners as men, women, and children are incarcerated up to five in each cell, with light and heat provided by a single candle which has to last for two weeks. The cells are roughly 28 square metres in area.

At Kilmainham the poor conditions in which women prisoners are kept provide the spur for the next stage of development. Remarkably, for an age that prides itself on a protective attitude for the “weaker sex,” the conditions for women prisoners are persistently worse than for men. Male prisoners are supplied with iron bedsteads while females lay on straw on the floor. Half a century later, however, there is little improvement.

Many Irish revolutionaries, including the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising, are imprisoned and executed in the prison by the British.

Kilmainham Gaol is decommissioned as a prison by the Irish Free State government in 1924. Seen principally as a site of oppression and suffering at the time, there is no declared interest in its preservation as a monument to the struggle for national independence. The jail’s potential function as a location of national memory is also undercut and complicated by the fact that the first four republican prisoners executed by the Free State government during the Irish Civil War are shot in the prison yard.

The Irish Prison Board contemplates reopening it as a prison during the 1920s but the plans are abandoned in 1929. In 1936 the government considers the demolition of the prison but the price of this undertaking is seen as prohibitive.

In February 1960 detailed plans submitted by the Kilmainham Gaol Restoration Society for the restoration of Kilmainham, which notably also envisions the site’s development as a tourist attraction, receive the approval of the notoriously parsimonious Department of Finance. Restoration work begins in May of the same year. The final restoration of the site is completed in 1971 when Kilmainham Gaol chapel is re-opened to the public.

Kilmainham Gaol now houses a museum on the history of Irish nationalism and offers guided tours of the building. An art gallery on the top floor exhibits paintings, sculptures, and jewelry of prisoners incarcerated in prisons all over contemporary Ireland.  It is run by the Office of Public Works, an agency of the Government of Ireland.