Thursday 19 September 2019

What Lies Beneath: Caravans by Diarmuid O'Ceallachain

Caravans by Diarmuid O'Ceallachain, Oil on canvas 1954. Courtesy of Noel O'Callaghan and Uillinn West Cork Arts Centre, Skibbereen

Caravans by Diarmuid O'Ceallachain
Caravans by Diarmuid O'Ceallachain

Niall MacMonagle

As a father, artist Diarmuid O'Ceallachain was "normal and wonderful at the same time and different from other dads". His artist daughter Noel O'Callaghan remembers her father "drawing cartoon cats in the corner of his sketch books which would mysteriously run across the pages when he flicked them - homemade cartoons!"

Born in Drimoleague in 1915, O'Ceallachain graduated from the Metropolitan School of Art and taught full-time at Crawford College of Art from 1940 to 1970. Awarded a medal by the Academie Francaise, his employers refused him time off work to travel to Paris to receive it. And he was retired at 55. "I was too young to know," says his daughter, "but I noticed that we suddenly didn't have any money." After his death a former VEC employee told her it was "a clash between a free spirit and authoritarianism".

O'Ceallachain's The Struggle, winner of the Taylor Prize in 1939, is a painting of a fracas between Travellers and the RIC based on an incident he witnessed as a boy in West Cork. Travellers regularly called to their own home on Model Farm Road. "My parents, though having little themselves, always gave something. Dad respected Travellers for their affinity with nature and as a plein air painter he knew the harshness of being out in all weathers and could sympathise with their situation." Here, he paints a halting site alive with bright, bold colours. The vibrant foreground matches the caravans and the figures' clothes.

Very spiritual, devoutly Catholic, in April 1993 his daughter sat with him during a long, troubled night during which he made his way to the front door to look at the stars for one last time. In the morning he told her, "Now I can go. This is my appointed day", and he died around 5 o'clock that day, "the whole incident typical of his clarity of vision, typical of his will power".

Affinities: Two Generations of Painters - father and daughter, Diarmuid O'Ceallachain and Noel O'Callaghan - at Uillinn West Cork Arts Centre, Skibbereen, until December 11. Giclee prints of 'Caravans', €40 plus p&p from or

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