The War between Friends

photo of Michael D Higgins at Intervals of peace exhibition at Kilmainham Gaol Museum
An tUachtarán Michael D. Higgins visits “Intervals of Peace” at Kilmainham Gaol Museum      photo: Office of Public Works

Yes indeed, I met an tUachtarán Michael D. Higgins and his wife Sabina the other day, he came to visit an exhibition of my grandfather’s drawings in the Kilmainham Gaol Museum, Dublin.

My grandfather was Ailfrid Mac Lochlainn.  I never met him because he died before I was born.  He was only 44 years old.

The first drawing below is his self-portrait.  He drew this when he was in Mountjoy Jail during the Irish Civil War.  He made several sketches of his fellow prisoners at the time and now, one hundred years later, 39 of them can be seen publicly for the first time in an exhibition entitled “Intervals of Peace”.

The President’s father was involved in the Civil War and he has written a heart-rending poem about it, entitled “The Betrayal”).  He was clearly moved by the exhibition and stayed for an hour, examining the sketches and discussing the tragic conflict, the war between friends which, some say, continues to have repercussions in Irish society to this day.

pencil drawing by Alf Mac Lochlainn in Intervals of Peace exhibition at Kilmainham Gaol Museum, Dublin

pencil drawing of Joe Clarke by Alf Mac Lochlainn in 1923

And for National Heritage Week my cousin Tim McGloughlin presented an insightful lecture about our grandfather – how he trained as a draughtsman, worked with Patrick and Willie Pearse in Scoil Éanna, joined the Irish Volunteers, was Sinn Féin’s director of elections in south Dublin in 1918 and 1921, how he supported the Republican Anti-Treaty side in the Civil War, was arrested in 1922 (although never charged with any offence), and how he gave lectures in prison and sketched his fellow prisoners…

The conditions in prison varied greatly and I imagine that the poor man must have feared for his life at times. On one occasion he was sent for five days to the notorious ‘Glasshouse’ Detention Centre in the Curragh where he was left hanging by the wrists for four and a half hours, with his feet barely touching the floor.

photo by Eoin Mac Lochlainn of Professor Tim McGloughlin on the occasion of the Intervals of Peace exhibition at Kilmainham Gaol Museum
Professor Tim McGloughlin presenting his lecture at Kilmainham Gaol Museum

Needless to say, the portraits are of historical significance but for me, I like them because they are a link with my grandfather.  I can imagine him sitting down with his pencil and some rough bits of recycled paper, for half an hour perhaps, temporarily forgetting the conflict and simply concentrating on the sitter before him.  These were the ‘intervals of peace’ that gave us the title for the exhibition.

And when I look at his self-portrait, even though I never met him, I recognise the look in his eyes.  In fact, he looks quite like my oldest and wisest brother.

charcoal drawing by Eoin Mac Lochlainn

charcoal drawing Civil war project by Eoin Mac Lochlainn
From the ‘Cogadh na gCarad’ series – charcoal and wash drawings, 33 x 25 cm, 2022

The exhibition continues at Kilmainham Gaol Museum until the 25th of October.  I might add that finding out about these drawings inspired me to begin a new body of work.  I have been working on a series of charcoal drawings over the last year, a series entitled: “Cogadh na gCarad/ the War between Friends” that will be presented in March next year, in a solo show at the  Olivier Cornet Gallery.  If you wish, you can read more about them here.

Lecture by Professor Tim McGloughlin

Intervals of Peace Exhibition



  1. Píosa an-deas, Eoin. Shíl mé féin gur bhreathnaigh an pictiúr sin de Alf níos mó cosúil lenár deirthear Fearghas ná lenár deirthear is sinne, Éamonn. Deachair a rá, is dóigh.

    D’éist mé leis an dán ‘Betrayal,’ ó
    Michael D. Cuíosach maith, ach faighim an tuairim nár thaithin a athair leis go mór. Níor thuig mé ach an oiread cén ‘betrayal’ a raibh sé ag caint faoi. An é gur fhág sé a athair i St Joseph’s, an sin an ‘betrayal’? Bfhéidir go bhfuil fhíos agatsa.


    • Grma Cóilín. Measaim gur cheap sé gur an stáit nua a lig síos é – nach raibh an stáit nua chomh h-oscailte/ liobrálach is a gealladh i Forógra na Publachta 1916 – ‘cherishing all our children equally’ agus mar sin de… Meas tú?


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