Next Week: Visual & Material Culture of Famine Conference

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Just a wee note about a conference I’m co-organising next week (14-16 March), hosted by Maynooth University and organised/funded as part of the NWO-funded International Network of Irish Famine Studies (of which I’m a core member).

Registration is free! If you’ve an interest in Famine studies, visual/material culture, or historical memory, please feel free to register and come along.

We’ve a fantastic programme that includes seven panels of top-notch papers, five keynote speakers (including me, speaking on Evidencing Eviction: the Visibility of Irish Poverty, 1870-90 on Weds.), and a range of special events, including:

  • A reading by acclaimed Irish author and Aósdana member Evelyn Conlon, whose most recent novel, Not the Same Sky (2013) draws on the social and material history of the Earl Grey-assisted emigration scheme, reimagining the story of three young women from amongst 4,000 Irish girls sent to Australia between 1848-50.
  • A presentation by Moonfish Theatre Company, whose stage adaptation of Joseph O’Connor’s Famine novel Star of the Sea has been on a sell-out national tour.
  • A talk by screenwriter and playwright Hugh Travers, Maynooth University’s Screenwriter-in-Residence who has been commissioned to write a sitcom on the Famine for Channel 4.
  • A special tour by curator Donal Maguire of the National Gallery of Ireland’s forthcoming exhibition The Pathos of Distance, a collaboration with artist Sarah Pierce exploring the visual history of Irish emigration.

All details (including travel, accommodation, and full schedule) are on the conference website.

Just published: Vol. 3 of Irish Journal of Arts Management & Cultural Policy

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I’m delighted to announce we’ve just published the latest volume of the Irish Journal of Arts Management and Cultural Policy. It’s a special issue featuring the edited proceedings of the 2014 summer conference on ‘Mapping an Altered Landscape: Cultural Policy and Management in Ireland‘. Guest edited by Dr Niamh NicGhabhann from University of Limerick, it features contributions from a range of speakers on the day, who offer candid and contemporary views of the cultural sector and public finance, the role of local authorities, policy, the working lives of artists, and a range of other topics. The journal also features introductory essays by Niamh and conference organisers Pat Cooke and Kerry McCall, as well as a postscript by former Minister for Education Ruari Quinn.

You can download the entire issue here, or visit the to download individual contributions by:

  • Gerry Godley (Principal & Managing Director, Leeds College of Music)
  • Clare Duignan (Independent Director & Business Advisor)
  • Peter Hynes (Chief Executive, Mayo County Council)
  • Alan Counihan (Artist)
  • Mary Carty (Entrepreneur, Arts Consultant, Author)
  • Conor Newman (Chair, Heritage Council)
  • Ruari Quinn (Minister for Education and Skills, 2011-14)


Ways to make a living (in the arts)


NINE TO FIVE, (aka 9 TO 5), Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda, 1980. TM and Copyright © 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved..

The jobs page has just been refreshed — an unusual amount of public history positions on offer at the moment (maybe it’s the 1916 effect?) as well as many other positions… but what a week it’s been, especially for the ladies!

The Waking the Feminists campaign for gender equality in Irish theatre has been extraordinary, in its intensity, its reach, and hopefully its impact — catch up on the video of the public meeting held last week (12 November) in the Abbey. Possibly one of the defining moments for women in the arts over the last decade in Ireland.

My colleague Niamh NicGhabhann has penned an insightful blogpost on women and leadership in higher education – very kindly including me in her list of inspiring Irish academic women – thank you Niamh!

Some very cool theatre apprenticeships / residencies worthy of note:

  • Pan Pan Theatre is offering an International Mentorship & Bursary with Stewart Laing of Untitled Projects (deadline 19 November)
  • Applications for the 2016 MAKE residencies for developing creative theatre work (based at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre and co-organised by Theatre Forum, Cork Midsummer Festival, Project Arts Centre and Tiger Dublin Fringe) are closing soon (deadline 20 November)
  • The Lyric Theatre (Belfast) is hiring an Apprentice Producer as part of its participation in the Stage One: Regional Apprenticeship Scheme (deadline 30 December)

The Mermaid Arts Centre in Bray has come up with a groovy idea: it’s offering a funded ‘Gap Day’ to independent theatre creatives (directors, makers, writers, designers, production managers and creative producers) to take a day off to concentrate on creative thinking and dreaming – deadline for applications is 23 November.

Time’s running out to add your two cents on how CIRCA – Ireland’s only contemporary art publication for many years, until it folded in 2011 – might be revived /re-invigorated, with a series of small grants to support new ideas: deadline is this Thursday (19 November).

Would you know what to do if you made an archaeological discovery? Help out a Galway-based researcher who is conducting a survey to assess public awareness of reporting procedures.

Cobwebs plaguing your parlour? A day long seminar on taking care of historic houses is taking place on 26 November at Russborough House: Heritage Housekeeping: Philosophy and Practice is sponsored by the Irish Georgian Society and the Institute of Conservators-Restorers in Ireland, aimed at owners, managers and curators of heritage properties (both public and private).

The Irish Journal of Arts Management and Cultural Policy will shortly be launching its third issue – a special issue featuring contributions from the UCD/IADT cultural policy conference, ‘Mapping an Altered Landscape‘ held last year – watch for an announcement, I’m putting the finishing touches on it this week!

Our colleagues over at University of Warwick are hiring an Associate Professor in their acclaimed Centre for Cultural Policy (deadline is 2 December).

Beit campaign update

Benfactors: Sir Alfred and Lady Beit at Russborough House in 1978 with Adoration of the Shepherds, by Adriaen van Ostade, one of paintings destined for Christie’s. Photograph: Dermot O’Shea (from the Irish Times, 13 June 2015)

Benfactors: Sir Alfred and Lady Beit at Russborough House in 1978 with Adoration of the Shepherds, by Adriaen van Ostade, one of paintings destined for Christie’s. Photograph: Dermot O’Shea (photo & link from the Irish Times, 13 June 2015)

Thanks to everyone who has circulated notice of the Beit paintings campaign, signed the Irish Arts Review petition, or otherwise made their voices heard on this issue! It was heartening over the weekend to see such great coverage in the Irish Times, and also on RTE Drivetime which featured our Professor Kathleen James-Chakraborty summarising the controversy, and explaining why it matters (listen back here)!

One of the extras accompanying Rosita Boland’s excellent piece in the Irish Times (‘Flight of the Beits’ – read it here) was a sound clip provided by my colleague Dr Philip Cottrell, working along with School alum Ciaran Woods, which was extracted from a 1985 BBC documentary where the Beits explain their intentions leaving the house and collections jointly in trust — and their clear wish that the collection remain intact. That recording (and its transcript) are linked to / provided below.

Please join us on Wednesday for a public event in Tailors’ Hall where members of our School, the Irish Georgian Society and An Taisce will be discussing the significance of these paintings and the campaign to save them.


An extract of an interview (2:36) conducted with Sir Alfred Beit and Lady Beit in 1985 for a BBC documentary in which they discuss the importance of keeping Russborough and its collections intact (transcript follows below)

It was broadcast on 7 July 1985 – almost 30 years to the day before the bulk of this priceless group of old masters are due to be sold off at Christie’s London (some of which, including the Rubens, Study of a Bearded Man, are discussed at length in the documentary). The documentary was part of a series, The Great Collectors, presented by Harriet Crawley.

Presenter: From April to October, Russborough is open to the public. Clementine and Alfred Beit have no children, and they were faced with the problem: how to keep the house and the collection together?

Lady Beit: Although there are some wonderful institutions and societies in this country to do with the arts, there is nobody – no ‘body’ – which functions in the same way as the National Trust. And therefore we began to worry about the future and we felt that whatever we did about this, to whomever we left it, or what have you, that the day would come when they couldn’t possibly afford to live in it, and what happens? In this country everybody is very keen to buy land but virtually nobody wants to live, love and care for a very, very large house. And we became worried about this.

It’s not only a question of the house it was the fact that we had spent, on the whole I suppose you could say, about the last 30 years putting the collection into the house – the two made a very happy marriage and we didn’t want to disturb it, and we were nervous that something in the future might happen whereby the house would be sold, people would lap up the land, the house would go to rack and ruin, and the collection would be dispersed.

Presenter: For this reason, in 1978 a trust was set up, the Alfred Beit Foundation which today administers Russborough…

Lady Beit: …quite frankly, to buy anything up to the standard of the rest of this very, very great collection, we would need to sell a picture, and I don’t honestly think that there is a picture that we particularly want to sell.

Sir Alfred Beit: No, that’s true, we’ve done all that you see.

Lady Beit: We’ve done all that.

Sir Alfred Beit: It’s very nice when you’ve got something you want to sell which is going to fetch a decent amount of money, you can buy something of the equivalent with the proceeds, but …we’ve done the weeding out, and frankly there’s little or nothing that I would like to get rid of now however much I might like to buy something else.

Lady Beit: I think that’s a very important point: we really don’t want to sell anything. After all, the whole object of what we’ve done here at Russborough, opening to the public and that kind of thing and why we’ve done it is to try and keep the collection as it is in the house.

Sir Alfred Beit: Intact!

Lady Beit: Intact.

(end of extract)

Betrayal of Trust: the Sale of the Beit Paintings

Portrait of a bearded man, Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)

Portrait of a bearded man, Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)

There’s no question that the proposed sale of paintings from the Beit Collection at Russborough House next month at Christie’s may constitute the greatest loss of art to Ireland in this lifetime. Many in Ireland’s art history and museum community have decried the sale, the manner in which the paintings have already been exported out of the country, and the lack of proper public debate on the issue. My department (the School of Art History & Cultural Policy) last week published a letter to the Irish Times calling for the sale to be halted — and we are joined in our protest by the Irish Arts Review, Irish Museums Association, Irish Georgian Society, and An Taisce (links are all to separate appeals by each of these organisations).

Today we share details of a public press event addressing the forthcoming sale and urging immediate action:


As part of ongoing efforts to stop the sale of paintings from the historic Beit collection, and to discuss alternative plans for funding Russborough, a press conference has been organised by the School of Art History & Cultural Policy (UCD), the Irish Georgian Society, and An Taisce.

It will take place in Tailors’ Hall, Back Lane, Dublin 8, on Wednesday, 17 June, at 3 pm. Among the speakers will be Ian Lumley (An Taisce), Dr John Loughman (UCD), Dr Michael Ryan (former Director, Chester Beatty Library), and a representative of the Irish Georgian Society.

As a result of a remarkable act of generosity, one of the greatest of all private collections of Old Master paintings, formed in England by a German entrepreneur whose fortune was made in South Africa, has come to rest in Ireland. In 1976 Sir Alfred Beit, Bart., set up the Foundation which bears his name to ensure that his collection remains in perpetuity in the magnificent setting of Russborough at the foot of the Wicklow Hills.

These are the words of Professor Christopher Brown (former Director of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford), writing in 1984. Three years later Sir Alfred and Lady Clementine Beit decided to bequeath seventeen of the most important paintings from their collection to the National Gallery of Ireland (NGI), while the kernel of their collection (30-40 pictures) remained at Russborough. It was hoped that the NGI paintings could occasionally be exhibited, with the rest of the historic Beit collection, at Russborough.

Sadly, recent actions by the Alfred Beit Foundation (ABF) have betrayed both the legacy of the Beits’ extraordinary benevolence to their adopted country and the trust invested in the Foundation by the Irish people to care for this collection. On 9 July six magnificent paintings, including two works by Peter Paul Rubens, will be sold by the ABF at Christie’s, London. Two 19th-century British landscapes and a drawing by Francois Boucher have been consigned to other sales to be held in June and July by the same auction house. In addition, an architectural painting by Jacques de Lajoüe (1687-1761), which had hung together with its pair in the Saloon at Russborough until last year, was apparently sold to a private individual by the ABF for a reported sum of €500,000. These recent sales, or proposed sales, are the latest in the liquidation of what the ABF has called “non-core assets”. In 2006 and 2013 the ABF disposed of collections of Italian Renaissance sculpture and Chinese porcelain.

The sale of these paintings will be an immeasurable loss to the national cultural patrimony. While some of these artists are represented in the National Gallery of Ireland, most of the paintings going under the hammer are either better in quality or are of a different type to those in our national collections. The ABF’s decision will also take us further away from Sir Alfred Beit’s aim in establishing his foundation in 1976, and opening the doors of Russborough to the public two years later – to make the house and its contents a centre for the study and appreciation of the fine arts in Ireland.

It is not too late to halt the sale and to consider other models of funding for Russborough House.

For further details, please email