Lively scenes from pre-Famine Cork

Lively scenes from pre-Famine Cork Young men leaping the bonfire on St John’s Eve
Daniel MacDonald Painting and Pencillings Cork 1843-1844

(Exhibition at the Gorry Gallery; catalogue from Gorry Gallery, 20 Molesworth Street, Dublin 2)

In the Lion’s Den: Daniel MacDonald, Ireland and Empire

by Niamh O’Sullivan (Cork University Press, €20.00)

The exhibition of Daniel MacDonald works recently at the Gorry Gallery in Dublin was the first time that the work of the Cork painter Daniel MacDonald made an impression upon me. He is undoubtedly a great talent, as Niamh O’Sullivan has shown in her book about him and her extensive essay in the exhibition catalogue.

There are inevitably echoes of contemporary English artists, Leech, Cruickshank, Phiz, are mentioned. But in the images of Daniel O’Connell I see H.B., the Dublin-born artist John Doyle, the grandfather of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Certainly for me this recent show presented provided a vivid “shock of the new”. These are lively drawings and caricatures of Cork life in the two decades before the famine. This has been evoked by Mary Coakley in Wine and Wit; Literary and Artistic Cork in the Early Nineteenth Century (Glendale Press, 1985). MacDonald belonged then to the golden age in Cork, when it outshone Dublin, laying down its claim perhaps to be “Ireland’s real capital”.

The exhibit covered a wide range of yachting in Cork Harbour (very much a sport for the well-of middle classes to which MacDonald’s family belonged), scenes of society on formal occasions and on less buttoned-up ones too.

But the real interest is the picture of rural life: these are humorous, but in a fond, even loving way. They reveal an active, energetic society, poor but under the leadership of Daniel O’Connell, hopeful of advance and change. These are images of a life before the Great Hunger shook the city, the country and the province to the core.

Here is an artist to look out for when visiting galleries in the future. Prof. O’Sullivan’s book will open up a vision of a truly lost Ireland, to which we still owe so much.