Friday 22 September 2017

'She was only art critic I ever really respected'

Artists and writers came together to mourn Betty Ballagh, writes Eamon Delaney

'We said we'd give it six months and it lasted 40 years." So said artist Robert (Bobby) Ballagh in a heartfelt tribute to his wife Betty in Glasnevin cemetery in Dublin during a simple and moving funeral crematorium on Thursday.

Betty, who had been a constant companion, muse and subject to the acclaimed artist, died unexpectedly on February 27 after a short illness. The ceremony was attended by a large gathering of Ireland's artistic and cultural community.

Conspicuously unreligous, Bobby chose a simple and secular ceremony, but all the more poignant for that, with the added Quaker notion that mourners could contribute their own observations, including through silence, said Bobby, with a smile. In his own tender tribute, he described meeting Betty when they were both young -- then legally, too young to marry -- and how they embarked on a wonderful life of creativity, glamour, paint, jazz clubs and radical politics.

At the time, Betty -- with her boyish hairstyle -- reminded Bobby of Jean Seberg in Jean-Luc Godard's French film classic Au Bout de Souffle, a reference that was an appropriate portent of the Sixties music and pop art scene they were about to enter, with references to the No 5 club and Louis Stewart concerts. She was a constant support and comfort to Bobby throughout the development of his now hugely successful career, particularly during the lean years.

Betty, who was born a Carabini, and Bobby had two children; Bruce and Rachel.

Bobby spoke about the twin concepts beginning with L -- love and loyalty -- and said that no matter what he was working on, Betty would always come into the studio to give her view. "She was the only art critic I ever really respected," he said.

Artist Theo McNabb read a letter from his wife Sue who couldn't attend, but who had been a fellow free spirit in the early years. She described their gold lame dresses and

how they fixed each other's false eyelashes at glamorous parties in the houses of Gordon Lambert and Tim Goulding where the bohemian artists mixed with their benefactors and the "stranded gentry".

Painter Jacqueline Bruce invoked a similar world of galleries and exhibitions and said she would sorely miss the gossip and fun of the irrepressible Betty, a sentiment that was echoed by all in the large attendance.

Among the mourners were artists Pat Scott, Brian Henderson, James Hanley, Felim Egan, Guggi, Martin Gale and others from the Royal Hibernian Academy, as well as younger artists such as Catherine Lamb and Clea Van Der Rijn, friends of Betty and Bobby's daughter Rachel, who is herself an artist, and son Bruce.

In latter years, Betty and Bobby's grandchildren were a great source of joy.

Among others who attended the ceremony were poets Michael O Siadhail, Theo Dorgan and Raymond Deane, writers Dermot Bolger, Anthony Glavin and Peter Sheridan, composer Bill Whelan, Shay Healy, and collectors Lochlann Quinn and Eamonn Mallie.

Among the contributions were tributes from the Ballaghs' neighbours in Temple Cottages, Broadstone, in central Dublin where the couple lived for the last 50 years. After some song and traditional Irish music, Bobby Ballagh declared "sin e" and gave the signal for mourners to adjourn to the Brian Boru in Glasnevin where the stories, tributes and affectionate reminiscences continued for the rest of the afternoon.

Sunday Independent

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