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What lies beneath - 'Ringsend Docks' by Owen Walsh


Ringsend Docks by Owen Walsh (1933-2002)

Ringsend Docks by Owen Walsh (1933-2002)

Ringsend Docks by Owen Walsh (1933-2002)

Dublin 4 is the butt of many a joke. Ringsend, meaning "where tide meets land", shares that salubrious postal number but there isn't a whiff of pretentiousness about it. De Valera was stationed there, in Boland's Mill, during the Rising. It's where Colin Farrell bought a cottage. It's home to the Poolbeg chimneys and Dublin's best walk on the Great South Wall.

This Owen Walsh painting of the Ringsend Docks dates from 1962, and many tides have come and gone since then. St Patrick's church at the corner of Thorncastle and Bridge St stands where it stood but many changes have taken place since this scene was painted. Dail records show that Noel Browne, in 1962, was championing Ringsend, deploring the shortage of suitable housing and the need for a new primary school. The docks, no longer what they were, and the many new buildings make it difficult to determine today Walsh's exact perspective.

A Mayo man, Owen Walsh's life was as colourful as his paintings. He studied at NCAD, lived abroad, lived on tuppence, took meticulous care of his brushes, co-founded, in 1959, Independent Artists, and honoured both of those words. Walsh's paintings cover five decades during which the work developed, progressed, changed. His Aosdana nomination was vetoed, and yet Noel Browne, Charles Haughey, and Enda Kenny opened Owen Walsh exhibitions.

Ringsender Paul Durcan, in his poem Portrait of the Artist, celebrates Owen Walsh, "a young creamy bull stamping his hooves/ On pavements . . ." as one who "Never licked the buttock of any clique". A brilliant draughtsman, his work includes advertising images and stained glass. If you're at Mass this morning in Killererin, Co Galway, look up. The crucifixion scene is by Walsh.

In Ringsend Docks, water reflects the deep blues of the wide sky. Thinly-applied oil paint creates a sheen. Water and sky dominate but the focus is on the place of labour and the church, its spire reaching higher than the surrounding industrial landscape. Work and pray.

Sunday Independent