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Lost Dreams

Series of paintings by

Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin

The following series of paintings consists of portraits of Irish radical / revolutionary leaders covering the last 300 years. This year is the 90th anniversary of the Easter Rising leading many to discuss the implications of the 100th anniversary in 2016. It is an interesting coincidence that the year 2016 will also be the 400th anniversary of the death of Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone. In terms of the struggle against colonialism the year 1616 marked the end of the beginning with the Flight of the Earls while the Easter Rising marked the beginning of the end.

The idea of this series is to explore Irish history in visual way, to re-present well-known Irish figures not as strict historical paintings but more of a modern interpretation of their lives and their times. There are notable exceptions in the series, such as Daniel O'Connell who was essentially a monarchist and very much looked after his class interests. For example, O'Connell 'cherished a romantic attachment for his "darling little Queen" (Victoria)' and when he took his seat as a supporter of the Whig Government in the House of Commons 'voted against a proposal to shorten the hours of child labour in factories' in 1838. [See P. Berresford, Ellis, A History of the Irish Working Class. London, Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1972, pps 100 and 104/5]. Thus the following series concentrates on those leaders who were revolutionary and progressive and who were concerned for the ordinary people of Ireland.

One artist who very successfully painted the history of the people of his country was the Mexican artist Diego Rivera who made many murals and paintings covering social and political issues of his time. The following work is an attempt to put forward and remind Irish people of their radical history in a similar way.

Part 1 : 1600s - 1900s

Oil on canvas / Ola ar chanbhás [60cm x 80cm]

Hugh O Neill (c1540-1616)

Aodh Mór Ó Néill (anglicised as Hugh O'Neill), (c. 1540 - July 20, 1616), was an Irish chieftain of the late 16th century, who became 2nd Earl of Tyrone (known as the Great Earl). O'Neill's career was played out against the background of the Tudor re-conquest of Ireland, and he is best known for leading the resistance during the Nine Years War (Ireland), the strongest threat to English authority in Ireland since the Anglo-Norman conquest in 1172.

In 1598, a cessation of hostilities was arranged and a formal pardon granted to O'Neill by Elizabeth. Within two months he was again in the field, and on August 14 he destroyed an English army at the battle of the Yellow Ford on the Blackwater river, in which engagement Henry Bagenal was killed; it was the greatest of all setbacks to English arms in Ireland. If the earl had been capable of driving home his advantage, he might have successfully upset English power in country, as discontent had broken out in every part - and especially in the south, where James Fitzthomas Fitzgerald was asserting his claim to the earldom of Desmond. In reality, O'Neill required foreign intervention and, despite his growing reputation in Europe as a commander in the field, this was not yet forthcoming.

The Flight of the Earls, one of the most celebrated episodes in Irish history, occurred on September 14, 1607, when O'Neill and O'Donnell embarked at midnight at Rathmullen on Lough Swilly, with their wives, families and retainers, numbering ninety-nine persons, on a voyage for Spain. Driven by contrary winds to the east, the refugees took shelter in the Seine estuary and passed the winter in the Netherlands. In April 1608, they proceeded to Rome, where they were welcomed and hospitably entertained by Pope Paul V. O'Donnell died there the same year.

In 1613 O'Neill was outlawed and attainted by the Irish parliament; he died in Rome on the 20th of July 1616. Throughout his nine-year exile he was active in plotting a return to Ireland, toying variously both with schemes to oust English authority outright and with proposed offers of pardon from London.

For information about Hugh O'Neill's tomb in Rome see:


Oil on canvas / Ola ar chanbhás [50cm x 60cm]

Eoghan Rua O Neill (c1590-1649)

Eoghan Rua Ó Néill, anglicised as Owen Roe O'Neill (c. 1590–1649) ("Red Owen"), was one of the most celebrated of the O'Neill family of Ireland. As a young man, left Ireland in the Flight of the Earls to escape the English conquest of his native Ulster. After 40 years abroad, and having served with distinction for many years in the Spanish army, most recently in Flanders, he returned to Ireland to aid the Irish Rebellion of 1641. The subsequent war is known as the Irish Confederate Wars, part of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. Because of his military experience, O'Neill was recognised on his return to Ireland, at Doe Castle in Donegal (end of July 1642), as the leading representative of the O'Neills and head of the Ulster Irish. Owen Roe professed to be acting in the interest of Charles I; but his real aim was the complete Independence of Ireland as a Roman Catholic country, while the Old English Catholics represented by the council desired to secure religious liberty and an Irish constitution under the crown of England. More conceretely, O'Neill wanted the Plantation of Ulster overturned and the recovery of the O'Neill clan's ancestral lands.

Although Owen Roe O'Neill possessed the qualities of a general, the struggle dragged on inconclusively for three or four years. In 1646 O'Neill, furnished with supplies by the Papal Nuncio, Rinuccini, attacked the Scottish Covenanter army under Major-General Robert Monro, who had landed in Ireland in April 1642. On 5 June 1646 O'Neill utterly routed Monro at the Battle of Benburb, on the Blackwater.

In March 1646 a treaty was signed between Ormonde and the Catholics, which would have committed the Catholics to sending troops to aid the Royalist cause in the English Civil War. The peace terms however, were rejected by am majority of the Irish Catholic military and the Catholic clergy including the Nuncio, Rinuccini. O'Neill led his Ulster army, along with Thomas Preston's Leinster army, in a failed attempt to take Dublin from Ormonde. However, the Irish Confederates suffered heavy military defeats the following year at the hands of Parliamentarian forces in Ireland at Dungans Hill and Knocknanauss, leading to a moderation of their demands and a new peace deal with the Royalists. This time O'Neill was alone among the Irish generals in rejecting the peace deal and found himself isolated by the departure of the papal nuncio from Ireland in February 1649.

So alienated was O'Neill by the terms of the peace the Confederates had made with Ormonde that he refused to join the Catholic/Royalist coalition and in 1648 his Ulster army fought with other Irish Catholic armies. He made overtures for alliance to Monck, who was in command of the parliamentarians in the north, to obtain supplies for his forces, and at one stage even tried to make a separate treaty with the English Parliament against the Royalists in Ireland. Failing to obtain any better terms from them, he turned once more to Ormonde and the Catholic confederates, with whom he prepared to co-operate more earnestly when Cromwell's arrival in Ireland in August 1649 brought the Catholic party face to face with serious danger.

Before, however, anything was accomplished by this combination, Owen Roe died on 6 November 1649. the traditional Irish belief was that he was poisoned by the English, but it is now thought more likely that he died of disease.



Oil on canvas / Ola ar chanbhás [60cm x 80cm]

Wolfe Tone (1763-1798)

Theobald Wolfe Tone was a son of Peter Tone, a coachmaker, and Margaret Lamport Tone; he was born on St. Bride's Street, just behind Dublin Castle. Though entered as a student at Trinity College, Dublin, Tone gave little attention to study, his inclination being for a military career; but after eloping with Matilda (or Mathilda) Witherington,  he took his degree in 1786, and read law in London at the Middle Temple and afterwards in Dublin, being called to the Irish bar in 1789. In October 1791 Tone  founded, in conjunction with Thomas Russell (1767-1803), Napper Tandy and others, the Society of the United Irishmen. The original purpose of this society was no more than the formation of a political union between Roman Catholics and Protestants, with a view to obtaining a liberal measure of parliamentary reform. In 1794 the United Irishmen, persuaded that their scheme of universal suffrage and equal electoral districts was not likely to be accepted by any party in the Irish parliament, began to found their hopes on a French invasion.

When the rebellion broke out in Ireland in 1798 Tone urged the Directory to send effective assistance to the Irish rebels, all that could be promised was a number of small raids to descend simultaneously on different points of the Irish coast. Wolfe Tone took part in one of the raids, under Admiral Bompard, with General Hardy in command of a force of about 3000 men, which encountered an English squadron near Lough Swilly on October 12, 1798. Tone, who was on board, refused Bompard's offer of escape in a frigate before the action, and was taken prisoner when the Hoche was forced to surrender. When the prisoners were landed a fortnight later, Sir George Hill recognized Tone in the French adjutant-general's uniform. At his trial by court-martial in Dublin, Tone made a speech avowing his determined hostility to England and his intention "by fair and open war to procure the separation of the Two countries," and pleading in virtue of his status as a French officer to die by the musket instead of the rope. He was, however, sentenced to be hanged on November 12, 1798, but he cut his throat with a penknife to cheat the noose, and died of the wound several days later at the age of 35 in Provost's Prison, Dublin, not far from where he was born.



Oil on canvas / Ola ar chanbhás [60cm x 70cm]

Arthur O'Connor (1765-1852)

Arthur O'Connor was born County Offaly. In 1791 he became a Member of the Irish Parliament for Philipstown and supported the Catholic Bill of 1795. Under the influence of Lord Edward Fitzgerald O'Connor joined the Society of United Irishmen and became one its most radical members. In 1797 he published To the Free Electors of the County of Antrim for which he was arrested and charged with High Treason. O'Connor won his case and travelled to France to solicit aid for a rebellion in Ireland.

He became a general in Napoleon's army and married Elisa de Condorcet (in 1807), daughter of the French philosopher and statesman, the Marquis de Condorcet. He was known as General Condorcet O Connor of the French Service. His wife was a niece of the Marshal de Grouchy who commanded an abortive invasion of Ireland between 1796 and 1797.

In February, 1798 O'Connor [under the alias Colonel Morris], James O'Coigley and several others, was arrested and charged with High Treason in Margate, England on route to France. O'Connor pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to rebel and in May, 1798 he was acquitted but was immediately re-arrested on another High Treason charge. O'Connor was taken to London and from there to Dublin where he was imprisoned in Kilmainham Gaol in solitary confinement. Again O'Connor won his case and subsequently published A Letter to Lord Castlereagh and The State of Ireland (both 1798) before journeying to France where he tried in vain to rally support for another insurrection in Ireland. A prolific writer, most of his life after retiring from the army was devoted to literary work. He published many pamphlets on social and political subjects, and he helped to edit the works of Condorcet in 12 volumes (Paris, 1847-1849). He died at his château in Bignon on 25th April, 1852. Several of his direct descendants have been officers in the French army up to recent times.
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Oil on canvas / Ola ar chanbhás [60cm x 70cm]

Henry Joy McCracken (1767 – 1798)

Henry Joy McCracken (31 August 1767 – 17 July 1798) was a cotton manufacturer and industrialist, Presbyterian, radical Irish republican, and a founding member, along with Theobald Wolfe Tone, James Napper Tandy, and Robert Emmet, of the Society of the United Irishmen.

Born and raised in Belfast, McCracken became interested in radical politics from an early age and joined the Society of the United Irishmen in 1795 which quickly made him a target of the authorities. He regularly travelled throughout the country using his business as a cover for organising other United Irish societies but was arrested in October 1796 and lodged in Kilmainham jail in Dublin. While imprisoned with other United Irish leaders, McCracken fell seriously ill and was released on bail in December 1797.

Following the outbreak of the United Irish rebellion in Leinster in May 1798, the Antrim organisation met on June 3rd to decide on their response. The meeting ended inconclusively with a vote to wait for French aid being passed by a narrow margin. A new meeting of delegates was held in Templepatrick on June 5th where McCracken was elected general for Antrim and he quickly began planning military operations.

McCracken formulated a plan for all small towns in Antrim to be seized then for rebels to converge upon Antrim town on June 7th where the county's magistrates were to hold a crisis meeting. Although the plan met initial success and McCracken led the rebels in the attack on Antrim, they were defeated and his army melted away. Although McCracken initially escaped, a chance encounter with men who recognized him from his cotton business led to his arrest. Although offered clemency if he testified against other United Irishmen leaders, McCracken refused to turn on his compatriots. He was court-martialled and hanged on July 17, 1798.


Oil on canvas / Ola ar chanbhás [50cm x 60cm]

Robert Emmet (1780-1803)

Emmet was born in Sam's Cross, near Clonakilty in West Cork in 1780. His education at Trinity College, Dublin was cut short when he joined the patriotic society, the United Irishmen. At first, this group campaigned for parliamentary reform and an end to religious discrimination against Catholics (though Emmet and many United Irishmen were Protestants). However, when the United Irishmen were banned in 1791, the organisation changed into an underground military body, preparing for insurrection with the aid of Revolutionary France. When European conflict was renewed in May 1803 Emmet and other revolutionaries returned to Ireland to head a rebellion. The uprising began prematurely on July 23, 1803 in Dublin but did not get much further than an failed attempt to take Dublin Castle which collapsed into general rioting, during which the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland was murdered in his carriage. Emmet fled into hiding but was captured on 25 August, near Harold's Cross. He was tried for treason on 19 September, and on 20 September he was executed by hanging and beheading in Dublin.


Oil on canvas / Ola ar chanbhás [50cm x 60cm]

John Mitchel (1815-1875)

Mitchel was born in Camnish, near Dungiven, County Londonderry, a son of John Mitchel, a radical Presbyterian minister with strong Unitarian sympathies, and his wife Mary Haslet. Mitchel was educated in Newry and Trinity College, Dublin. After a period as a bank clerk he began working as a solicitor in Banbridge in County Down in 1840. In 1845 he abandoned law to join the staff of the nationalist newspaper The Nation.

Mitchel's radicalism was too extreme for the newspaper and led to the prosecution of the paper's editor, Charles Gavan Duffy for seditious libel. In 1848 Mitchel set up his own newspaper, the United Irishman, where he called for rebellion against British rule in Ireland and criticised British mismanagement of the Irish Potato Famine. Mitchel's calls led to a charge of sedition. He was convicted under the emergency powers provisions of the recently enacted Treasury Felony Act and sentenced to 14 years imprisonment in the penal colony of Van Diemen's Land. It was during this period he wrote his famed Jail Journal. Mitchel escaped from the colony in 1853 and established the radical Irish nationalist newspaper The Citizen in New York, as an expression of radical Irish-American anti-British opinion. Mitchel returned to Ireland where in 1875 he was elected in a by-election to be an MP in the British parliament representing the Tipperary constituency. However his election was invalidated on the grounds that he was a convicted felon. He contested the seat again in the resulting by-election, again being elected, this time with an increased vote. However his sudden death avoided a constitutional crisis, with his opponent being returned unopposed in the third by-election.



Oil on canvas / Ola ar chanbhás [50cm x 60cm]

Thomas Davis (1814-1845)

Thomas Davis was born in the town of Mallow in the county of Cork. He studied in Trinity College, Dublin, and received an Arts degree, precursory to his being called to the Irish Bar in 1838. He established The Nation newspaper with Charles Gavan Duffy and John Blake Dillon. He dedicated his life to Irish nationalism. He himself was a Protestant, but preached peace between Catholics and Protestants. To Davis, it was not blood that made you Irish, but the willingness to be part of the Irish nation. He wrote some stirring nationalistic ballads, originally contributed to The Nation, and afterwards republished as Spirit of the Nation, as well as a memoir of Curran, the Irish lawyer and orator, prefixed to an edition of his speeches; and he had formed many literary plans which were brought to naught by his death, from tuberculosis, in 1845 at the age of 30.



Oil on canvas / Ola ar chanbhás [50cm x 80cm]

Charles Gavin Duffy (1816-1903)

Sir Charles Gavan Duffy, KBE, KCMG (12 April 1816 - 9 February 1903) Irish nationalist and Australian colonial politician, was the 8th Premier of Victoria and one of the most colourful figures in Victorian political history. Duffy was born in Dublin Street, Monaghan Town, County Monaghan, Ireland, the son of a Catholic shopkeeper. He was educated at St Malachy's College in Belfast and admitted to the Irish bar in 1845. In 1842 he married Emily McLaughlin, with whom he had one son. Emily died in 1845. He married Susan Hughes in 1846, with whom he had six children. Duffy became a leading figure in Irish literary circles. He edited Ballad Poetry of Ireland (1843) and other works on Irish literature.

Duffy was active in Irish Nationalist politics and was one of the leaders of the Young Ireland group, and a founder of the The Nation newspaper. He and Thomas Davis organised mass meetings across Ireland to demand the repeal of the Act of Union between Britain and Ireland. As a result of his activities he was arrested and convicted of seditious conspiracy in 1844, but was released after an appeal to the House of Lords. In 1852 Duffy was elected to the House of Commons for New Ross. In 1856, despairing of the prospects for Irish independence, he resigned from the House of Commons and emigrated with his family to Australia. After being feted in Sydney and Melbourne Duffy settled in Victoria. In early colonial Victoria, Duffy, with his political and literary reputation, was an exotic and romantic figure, particularly for the colony's large Irish community. For this reason he was feared and hated by many in the English and Scottish Protestant establishment, especially when he indicated his intention of entering Victorian politics.

A public appeal was held to enable him to buy the freehold property necessary to stand for the colonial parliament. He was immediately elected to the Legislative Assembly for Villiers and Heytesbury in the Western District. He later sat for Dalhousie and for North Gippsland. Duffy was Commissioner for Public Works in 1857, and was President of the Board of Land and Works and Commissioner for Crown Lands and Survey in the first two governments of John O'Shanassy from 1858 - 1859, and from 1861 - 1863. Like other radicals, he regarded unlocking the colony's lands from the grip of the squatter class as his main priority, but his 1862 lands bill was amended into ineffectiveness by the Legislative Council. The historian Don Garden writes: "Unfortunately Duffy's dreams were on a higher plane than his practical skills as a legislator and the morals of those opposed to him." In 1871 Duffy led the opposition to Premier James McCulloch's plan to introduce a land tax, on the grounds that it unfairly penalised small farmers. When McCulloch's government was defeated on this issue, Duffy became Premier and Chief Secretary (June 1871 to June 1872). Victoria's finances were in a poor state and he was forced to introduce a tariff bill to provide government revenue, despite his adherance to British free trade principles.

An Irish Catholic Premier was very unpopular with the Protestant majority in the colony, and Duffy was accused of favouring Catholics in government appointments. in June 1872 his government was defeated in the Assembly on a confidence motion allegedly motivated by sectarianism. He resigned the leadership of the liberal party to Graham Berry. When Berry became Premier in 1877 he made Duffy Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, a post he held without much enthusiasm until 1880, when he quit politics and retired to the south of France. He was knighted in 1873 and made KCMG in 1877. He married for a third time in Paris in 1881, to Louise Hall, and had four more children in his 70s. One of his sons, John Gavan Duffy, was a Victorian politician between 1874 and 1904. Another, Frank Gavan Duffy, was Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia 1931 - 1935. Sir Charles Gavan Duffy died in Nice in 1903, aged 86.


Oil on canvas / Ola ar chanbhás [60cm x 90cm][sold]

Michael Davitt (1846-1906)

Michael Davitt was born in Straide, County Mayo, Ireland, at the height of the Great Famine, the second of five children born to Martin and Sabina Davitt. When he was 6 years old his family was evicted from their home in Straide. In 1865, he joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the organization in Ireland of the Fenians; two years later he left off mill work to devote himself full time to the IRB, as organising secretary in Northern England and Scotland. In 1870 he was arrested in London while awaiting a delivery of arms, convicted of a felony, and sentenced to 15 years in Dartmoor Prison. On 16 August 1879, the Land League of Mayo was formally founded in Castlebar, with the active support of Charles Stewart Parnell. On October 21 it was superseded by the national Land League, of which Parnell was made President and Davitt was one of the secretaries. This united practically all the different strands of land agitation and tenant rights movements under a single umbrella and, from then until 1882, the "Land War" in search of the "Three Fs" (i.e. Fair Rent, Fixity of Tenure and Free Sale) was fought in earnest.

One of the actions taken by the Land League during this period was the campaign of ostracism against the land agent Captain Charles Boycott in the autumn of 1880. This incident led to Boycott abandoning Ireland in December and caused the word boycott to be coined.

In 1881 Davitt was again imprisoned for his outspoken speeches, later released and arrested yet again in 1883. Upon his release in 1882, he campaigned for land nationalisation and an alliance between the British working class, Irish labourers and tenant farmers. In 1882 he was elected Member of Parliament for County Meath but was disqualified from taking his seat as he was in prison at the time. He was subsequently elected for West Mayo in 1895.