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.
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.
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.
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.