A scalpel artistically wielded on Irish body politic

A scalpel artistically wielded on Irish body politic The National Gallery of Ireland

Who Do I Think I Am?: A Memoir
by Homan Potterton
(Merrion Press, €24.99)

The former director of the National Gallery of Ireland, now living in retirement in the France, scored something of a literary success with Rathcormick: A Childhood Recalled, his memoir of his years of growth in Anglo-Irish Meath.

This was perhaps a feat not to be repeated. (To record his later professional life has fallen back on his journals of his time as a director.) These are full of interest, though they lack the universal charm of the earlier book.

However,  aside from the difficulties of  his position as director of NGI (among other roles), the reader is likely to be amused by the vignettes of a host of people in the overlapping worlds of Irish art and politics. When one knows some of these the sharp insight of  his comments are revealed to be close to the truth. All of this makes for an interesting read but it is a later section that really makes this a book everyone should read.

I refer to the chapter which recounts his experiences with Mr Charles Haughey. This is a brilliant piece of writing, which neatly fillets a whole period of social pretention and corruption in a few pages – it reads like something from the pages of Waugh.

Alas we are not likely to have more in this manner. The air of France can be very comforting, inimical to the hard work of writing.

But Potterton is also an accomplished scholar of the arts, as the list of his publications reveals, one or two of which, such as Irish Art and Architecture: From prehistory to the present (1991), sold so well they funded his early retirement.

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