Dimensions: 71.5 × 53.25cm
Medium: Watercolour and pencil
Collection: Niland Collection
Provenance: Presented to Sligo County Library and Museum by James A. Healy in 1965, as a memorial to his parents John and Catherine Healy.
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On 11 February 1905 the Lily of Lough Gill branch of the Irish National Foresters welcomed the Lord Mayor of Dublin, secretary general of the society, to Sligo. The latter was the only surviving member of those who had founded the Irish National Foresters, a nationalist organisation which had broken away from the Ancient Order of Foresters in 1877. It was one of the most widespread and popular Irish friendly societies of the pre-World War One period with branches in several countries throughout the world.
Yeats’s painting shows members of the Foresters wearing sashes and carrying banners depicting Robert Emmet and Irish harps and jostling for position outside the town hall in Sligo. The Lord Mayor of Dublin can be seen in an upper floor window of this building, obviously speaking with great passion, his arms raised dramatically. His speech attacked the evils of emigration. Behind the swirling forms of the foresters and the grey buildings of the town can be seen the mountains of the Ben Bulben range and a dark stormy sky.
Yeats was in England at the time of this event and probably based his painting on a photograph (1). His version manages to capture the dynamic movement of the crowd and resonates with the burgeoning nationalist fervour of this period. Yeats was probably drawn to the subject as it was reminiscent of his 1898 visit to Sligo when he witnessed the unveiling of a monument to Bartholomew Teeling, a hero of the 1798 rebellion which occasioned a similar sense of excitement and historical occasion. The work was acquired by John Quinn at an exhibition in Dublin in 1905 and transported to New York. James A. Healy subsequently bought it in 1939 and donated it to Sligo in 1965.
(1) H. Pyle, Jack B. Yeats at the Niland Gallery Sligo, 1998, p.16.
Written by Roisin Kennedy