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Work of the Week | 22 March 2021

CAG.2436 Séamus Murphy, Terence MacSwiney, 1963, plaster, H 69 cm. Presented, Séamus Murphy Family, 2006. © the artist’s estate.

This WORK OF THE WEEK celebrates Terence MacSwiney, the anniversary of whose birth is this Sunday 28 March!

Terence MacSwiney (1963) by Séamus Murphy is, as its date suggests, a posthumous portrait of the Lord Mayor of Cork who died after 74 days of hunger strike in 1920.

The portrait was made by Séamus Murphy (1907-1975) as a model for one of two bronze busts commissioned in 1963 for Cork City Hall. The model for the other, which depicts Tomás Mac Curtain – who was himself assassinated on 20 March 1920 (his 36th birthday) – is displayed in Cork Public Museum.

The Cork-born sculptor depicts MacSwiney not in his robes of office, customary suit, or Irish Volunteers’ uniform. Instead, his shoulders are bare, and he is presented more as a Classical hero than a contemporary Irishman. This lends the portrait a timeless quality and suggests that the artist believed MacSwiney would be long remembered for his deeds, thoughts, and writings.

On its publication a century ago this year, MacSwiney’s collection of political writings, Principles of Freedom (1921), was to become hugely influential. Subsequently translated into multiple languages, particularly in India where it is thought to have influenced the likes of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Bhagat Singh, to name but a few.

This international legacy is explored until 5 April in CITIZEN NOWHERE | CITIZEN SOMEWHERE: The Imagined Nation, which features Terence MacSwiney (1963) by Séamus Murphy. Explore the exhibition online here.

Tune into The Arts House with Elmarie Mawe on Cork’s 96FM and C103FM every Sunday morning as Conor Tallon chats with assistant curator Michael Waldron about each WORK OF THE WEEK! Listen back to this week's chat here:


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