Art: What Lies Beneath
Eoin Mac Lochlainn’s major new artwork remembers Ireland’s Civil War.
After becoming “interested in images of ordinary people in situations of conflict”, Mac Lochlainn made Cogadh na gCarad/The War between Friends to “commemorate the dead, and in some way acknowledge this national trauma.”
He spent two years on these 1,400 powerful charcoal drawings. For Mac Lochlainn, “the drawings are not portraits, they’re not based on actual people who were killed during the conflict. Each piece is an attempt to represent a soul, someone with dreams and ambitions, someone whose life was cut short. The series does not pass judgement or takes sides.”
Dublin-born Mac Lochlainn grew up in an Irish-speaking family. At Coláiste Mhuire on Parnell Square, “there was no art on the curriculum – but a good art teacher, Danny Brennan, put on art classes for us on Saturday mornings. At home there were paintings by my father, my grandfather and my granduncle.”
Again and again in his art, Mac Lochlainn honours the dead.
“Perhaps it’s because my father died when I was only 10.”
But regarding this recent project, he thinks that “those killed on either side during the Civil War were never ‘properly’ commemorated by the State”.
"My grandfather Ailfrid Mac Lochlainn was imprisoned during the Civil War in the Curragh Camp, and in Mountjoy, and there’s an exhibition of his drawings of fellow prisoners at the Pearse Museum.”
A Civil War turns brother against brother, family against family – and Mac Lochlainn believes “it is wise to look and learn from our history”.
"Rows can all too quickly turn into wars,” he says, adding his hope that his new exhibition “will inspire discussion about the nature of humanity and the nature of war”.
These drawings, in charcoal-wash monochrome, capture the souls of those who died between June 1922 and May 1923. Mac Lochlainn believes both sides had “sincerely held views”. There are, understandably, “more men than women, and fewer again of children” and the process was intuitive.
“I start by grinding the charcoal and brushing it onto the page with water. After the charcoal settles and dries, I return to it and try to discover the face on the page.” These presences return us to a time of great hatred – Yeats called it a time of being “closed in, and the key turned/ On our uncertainty.”
Though sources vary (some say 600 to 700 were killed, others say 1,700), Mac Lochlainn went with Diarmaid Ferriter’s number of 1,400 Civil War dead. Hence 1,400 drawings.
War, says Mac Lochlainn, is “a failure of empathy, a failure of humanity” – but he’s not pessimistic about our war-torn planet in 2023. “Where there’s art, there’s hope.”
William Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun contains the line: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” It’s Prince Harry’s epigraph in Spare – and Harry says that when he came across it (at brainyquote.com), he asked himself: “Who the fook is Faulkner?” But what Harry recognised in the line is how our lives are shaped and influenced by what has gone before.
Is the Civil War over? Is it even past? It certainly preoccupies Mac Lochlainn. When asked if he’s a political artist, he says: “I’m a concerned citizen. I take an interest in what’s happening in the world. Would you call that being political?”
Cogadh na gCarad/The War between Friends, Olivier Cornet Gallery, until April 2; a video projection on March 21 at The Garden of Remembrance, Dublin. emacl.wordpress.com
The Clock Winds Down
Brian Maguire’s passionate concern for justice is evident in his paintings of war-torn Aleppo, the plight of immigrants and prisoners. But these new works focus on the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. Visiting remote villages in Brazil, Maguire captures on canvas the social and ecological crisis, the neglected indigenous population – what Ed Vulliamy calls “the war on the world”.
Kerlin Gallery, Dublin 2, until April 8
Site of Change
Evolution of a Building
Built in 1724 and originally a customs house, what is now Crawford Art Gallery – which last week got planning permission for a €29m extension – is depicted in an exhibition in its very galleries. Images and objects from across the centuries tell of the building’s former appearance, how it has adapted and grown – and its role in the cultural life of Cork city.
Crawford Art Gallery, until November 12