seamus dubhghaill

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


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Fourth Art Theft at Russborough House

The priceless art collection at stately Russborough House in County Wicklow is the target of thieves for a fourth time on September 29, 2002. The thieves use a jeep to smash their way into the property and make off with a haul of art treasures.

The raid happens shortly before dawn, when the gang drives across the fields from a back road leading from Blessington to Ballymore Eustace in a four wheel drive Mitsubishi. The thieves mount the steps at the back of the house and smash a window leading to a room known as the salon. They take less than five minutes to snatch five paintings from the wall of the drawing room of the home. They speed away from the scene using the same route as the alarm alerts gardai in local stations to which the system is linked. The noise also wakes an elderly caretaker who also contacts the gardai.

The gang abandons the jeep on the side of the Ballymore Eustace road and switch to a waiting vehicle. They are on their way back to Dublin before the gardai reach the house.

Two paintings by the renowned artist Sir Peter Paul Rubens are stolen, including Portrait of a Dominican Monk, which had previously been stolen in 1986 by the notorious Dublin crime boss Martin Cahill, known as The General, but was subsequently recovered. Also missing is The Cornfield by Jacob van Ruisdael.

The heist at Russborough comes just days after two paintings, by Thomas Gainsborough and Belotto, are recovered from the last haul snatched from the house in June 2001. Detectives from the arts and antiques section of the national bureau of criminal investigation recover the two paintings in south Dublin.

There is widespread speculation that the latest heist is masterminded by a major Dublin criminal and former close associate of The General, who is responsible for the 1986 theft from the house. It is suggested that the latest robbery might be an act of revenge for the recovery of the earlier paintings two days earlier, although Gardai involved in this case say that is “pure speculation.” Another theory is that it is a copycat burglary inspired by publicity surrounding the previous thefts. Gardai believe that whoever is involved in the theft knew the layout of the house and the surrounding countryside as well as the value of the contents.

(Pictured: Russborough House in County Wicklow | Glanville, Lynn. “Fourth Robbery in 30 Years Art Heist from Russborough.” Independent.ie. 4 October 2002)

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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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Assassination of Irish Criminal Martin Cahill

martin-cahillMartin Cahill, prominent Irish criminal from Dublin, is assassinated on August 18, 1994. Cahill generates a certain notoriety in the media, which refers to him by the sobriquet “The General.” During his lifetime, Cahill takes particular care to hide his face from the media and is rarely photographed.

At age 16, Cahill is convicted of two burglaries and sentenced to an industrial school run by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate at Daingean, County Offaly. With his brothers, he continues to commit multiple burglaries in the affluent neighbourhoods nearby, at one point even robbing the Garda Síochána depot for confiscated firearms.

In 1983, Cahill and his gang famously steal gold and diamonds with a value of over €2.55 million from O’Connor’s jewelers in Harolds Cross. The jewelers subsequently is forced to close, with the loss of more than one hundred jobs. He is also involved in stealing some of the world’s most valuable paintings from Russborough House in 1986 and extorting restaurants and hot dog vendors in Dublin’s nightclub district.

On November 1, 1993, Cahill’s gang abducts National Irish Bank CEO Jim Lacey, his wife, and four children and holds them hostage in an attempt to force the bank to hand over the estimated €10 million in cash in the bank’s vault. Ultimately, the plan fails and the gang is arrested.

With all gang members from the Lacey kidnapping released on bail, on August 18, 1994, Cahill leaves the house at which he has been staying at Swan Grove and begins driving to a local video store to return a borrowed copy of Delta Force 3: The Killing Game. Upon reaching the intersection of Oxford Road and Charleston Road he is repeatedly shot in the face and upper torso and dies almost instantly. The gunman, who is armed with a .357 Magnum revolver, jumps on a motorbike and disappears from the scene.

There are a number of theories about who murdered Martin Cahill and why. Within hours of Cahill’s murder, the Provisional Irish Republican Army claims responsibility in a press release. The reasons cited are Cahill’s alleged involvement with a Portadown unit of the Ulster Volunteer Force, which had attempted a bomb attack on a south Dublin pub which was hosting a Sinn Féin fund-raiser.

Another theory surfaces that reputedly claims that two of Cahill’s underlings, John Gilligan and John Traynor, had put together a massive drug trafficking ring. When Cahill demanded a cut of the profits, the Gardaí believe that Traynor and Gilligan approached the IRA and suggested that Cahill was importing heroin, a drug that the IRA despised and were trying to prevent from being sold in Dublin. Gilligan reputedly paid the Provisional IRA a considerable sum in exchange for Cahill’s assassination. Frances Cahill’s memoir, Martin Cahill, My Father, alleges the General detested and steered clear of the drug trade.

After a Roman Catholic requiem mass, Martin Cahill is buried in consecrated ground at Mount Jerome Cemetery. In 2001, his gravestone is vandalised and broken in two.