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New Hibernia Review 7.3 (2003) 71-79

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Domhnall Ó Murchadha:
Sculptor with a Gaelic Vision

John Turpin


One of the sculptors most involved in the tradition of Irish cultural nationalism in the visual arts of the mid-twentieth century, including religious imagery, was Domhnall Ó Murchadha. 1 He was born on April 1, 1914, as Daniel Joseph Murphy at Carrigrohane, Ballincollig, County Cork, but he adopted the Irish form of his name in the 1940s. He grew up in humble circumstances in a laborer's cottage at Carrigrohane, the eldest of two children. He attended his local National School at Ballincollig and the Christian Brothers at the North Monastery, Cork.

There was no artistic tradition in his family. Ó Murchadha's earliest artistic interest may be traced to a gift of art materials from the Bray family at Rosanna where his father was employed. There was also the example of the conversation and wood engravings of Robert Gittings, a neighbor and the son of the Church of Ireland rector of Carrigrohane. Ó Murchadha pursued his art education at the Crawford School of Art from 1937 to 1939, where he studied under the artists Hugh C. Charde and Somhairle Mac Cana. Of particular importance was the teaching of the sculptors Marshall Hutson and Seamus Murphy, who had just returned from a period in Paris. The Cork School of Art had the celebrated collection of casts of the Vatican marbles that had inspired the Cork sculptor, John Hogan, in the 1820s. Professor Daniel Corkery of University College, Cork, better known as a writer, was also a watercolorist and took the young Ó Murchadha with him to sketch in the countryside. He also enkindled in the sculptor an interest in the history and cultural associations of landscape. The National College of Art, as the principal center for the study of sculpture in Ireland, was to be Ó Murchadha's main professional focus through his life. The [End Page 71] [Begin Page 73] Admissions Register indicates that he studied there from 1941 to 1945. He had the Giltenan Memorial Scholarship from Cork Vocational Educational Committee.

The aesthetic of stone carving dominated most European sculpture after 1920. Bourdelle in France, Gill, Dobson and Kennington in Britain, were to stress classic simplification and formal clarity rather than naturalistic or emotional effect. By the late 1930s, this style was already evident in Ireland in the work of Laurence Campbell, Gabriel Hayes, Peter Grant, and Friedrich Herkner from Czechoslovakia, who was professor of sculpture from 1937 to 1939. During Herkner's absence in the German army from 1939 to 1946, Laurence T. Campbell (1911-64) was acting professor of sculpture. He was to have a major influence on Ó Murchadha, one of his best students. Campbell's great importance was that he emphasized direct stone carving. Having studied in Stockholm and in Paris, Campbell brought a continental sense of style to the pre-existing stone carving tradition in Ireland—a tradition mainly practiced by artisans, although some like Albert Power had transcended that tradition. Campbell had replaced the romantic realism of Rodin and his followers—like Sheppard, St. Gaudens, and Jerome Connor—with a more austere style. In 1943, Ó Murchadha received his diploma from the National College of Art in sculpture and he also won the Sheppard Memorial Prize for a figure of a young male athlete. Oliver Sheppard had dominated the teaching of sculpture at the College from 1902 to his retirement in 1937. Ó Murchadha also took the one-year Art Teachers Certificate in 1944, which allowed him to teach in schools.

While he was at the National College of Art, Ó Murchadha attended the Purser-Griffith lectures on the history of European painting under Dr. Françoise Henry (1902-92) at University College, Dublin. Henry was an archaeologist and art historian whose 1933 Sorbonne doctoral thesis on Irish high crosses led her to make a career in Ireland and to become a close friend. He got his diploma in 1943 when Dr. Thomas Bodkin, the examiner and then director of the Barber Institute in Birmingham, commended his answers. Ó Murchadha used the Purser-Griffith...


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