How I pick titles for paintings…

Someone was asking me about the title of this painting. Funny thing about titles, it’s never a simple story (and with me, it’s usually extra complicated) but I think it’s always helpful to investigate the titles – you just never know what you might find.

oil painting by Eoin Mac Lochlainn

So first of all, I painted this girl for an exhibition in Belfast. I had spent a long time on her eyes so I simply called her “Brown-eyed Girl” (referring of course to Van Morrison’s song, him being from Belfast). Not much thought there, says you but I was only getting started. I also like having titles in Irish for my paintings and – who said that they have the same meaning? A title gives the viewer a way into the painting so, in this way, different viewers can have different ways in.

So then I called it: “Gheall tú dhomsa ach rinne tú bréag liom” – In English it means: “you promised me but you lied to me”. It’s from an old Irish song called Dónal Óg. Such a beautiful sad song, sad and beautiful. Actually, it features in the film “The Dead”, when Mr. Grace recites a translation by Lady Gregory. In the last few lines he says:

You took the East and you took the West from me.
You took the bright moon and the sun from me.
You took the heart from deep within me
And great is my fear that you’ve taken God from me.

Imagine being able to paint that feeling! But you have to listen to the original Irish song to absorb it.  Here’s a lovely version by Liadan, and there’s a translation included underneath it.

PS:  this painting is 80 x 90cm and it’s in my current exhibition in the Dunamaise Arts Centre, Port Laoise.  See more of the work at

Another PS:  By coincidence – I’ve just come across a very informative blog post by Lisa Pressman about titles for paintings.



  1. Some powerful and interesting material here Eoin.It is a good reminder of how a title can draw the viewer in. An artist friend once reminded me that a title can also have a dialogue with the painting. It can even contradict or contrast with the piece……. The film “The Dead” is one which I continually go back to. Thanks for more words of wisdom!


    • Hello Tom, Fionnuala and I try to see that film “The Dead” every year around the 6th of January. I’ve heard also that some people gather specially to eat a meal together on that day, to celebrate James Joyce’s story. Thanks for your comments, always appreciated, eoin


  2. You must have had a wealth of words stored away in your head when I knew you just waiting to emerge. You are as literally profound as you are artistically proficient. Oh, and thanks for your kind comment on our new born great grandson


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