Thursday 19 September 2019

WriteSide... Robert Ballagh

Artist Robert Ballagh. Photo: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision
Artist Robert Ballagh. Photo: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision
Kim Bielenberg

Kim Bielenberg

Your first book, A Reluctant Memoir, came out recently. Does writing come as easily to you as painting?

When I got my contract for the book, and it said I had to write 200,000 words, it was daunting. When I am distracted from my painting, I find that I can pick up easily where I left off. I found it much harder with writing - when I lost my train of thought.

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Your a man of many parts. What about your musical career?

I was in a popular showband, the Chessmen, but I retired from music in 1966. And I sold my bass guitar to Phil Lynott. I may not have become famous as a musician, but my guitar became famous.

As an artist, you made money drawing money. How did that happen?

I designed the last Irish banknotes before the euro came in. I was one of a dozen artists who was asked to submit a design for the £20 note, and I did my sketch of Daniel O'Connell at the last minute - and was surprised that it was chosen. When I got the instructions on what I should do, there was a note from the German Bundesbank that a banknote is a security document, not a work of art.

Which books would you take to a desert island?

When I was a teenager I loved all the John Steinbeck books, including the Grapes of Wrath. But now, whenever I go away for a long time, I always have Joyce's Ulysses in my bag. It is the sort of book you can dip into. I tried to write my memoir that way, so that you can just dip into it.

Painter, musician, and now writer - could you be President next?

Seven years ago, there were articles saying that I was running, and I had to issue a statement saying that I was not. Several TDs approached me asking to run this time. I'm in the business of painting canvases, not canvassing for votes

'A Reluctant Memoir' by Robert Ballagh is shortlisted in the Non-Fiction category in the An Post Irish Book Awards 2018.

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