Dimensions: 91.5 × 61cm
Medium: Oil on canvas
Collection: Niland Collection
Provenance: Purchased by public subscription from the Capuchin Annual in 1962
This sharply observed painting depicts a coffin being brought from the remote Blasket Islands, off the West Kerry coast, to the mainland for burial in the graveyard at Ventry. There was no graveyard on the islands. The coffin is accompanied by a subdued group of mourners, including women wearing traditional black shawls. They contrast with their younger female companions who are instead attired in fashionable modern dress. On the left hand side of the composition another boat can be seen coming alongside. Its crew, who look towards the funeral boat, add to the strong sense of community evoked by the painting. The work emphasises the importance of ritual and custom in the lives of remote communities in Ireland in a period of political turbulence. As in other works of this period Yeats sets traditional practices against the increasing modernity of Irish life. The image of the boat carrying a coffin across the water has a classical connotation in that it recalls the story of Charon ferrying the souls of the dead across the river Styx to Hades.
Written by Roisin Kennedy