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Port Rachrainn by Maurice MacGonigal PRHA (1900 1979)

Date: N.D.
Dimensions: 76.5 × 51cm
Medium: Oil on canvas
Collection: Niland Collection
Provenance: On loan from the Haverty Trust


Maurice MacGonigal’s oeuvre included set designs for the Abbey Theatre, illustrations for Cuala Press and a mural for the Irish Pavilion at the New York World Fair. Despite this diversity, the work for which he is best remembered are his images of the landscape and people of the west of Ireland, particularly Connemara, Donegal and the islands of Achill and Aran. Less well known are his land and seascapes inspired by North County Dublin where he painted around Loughshinny, Rush, Skerries and Portrane.

The setting for this painting is the seashore at Portrane, which was traditionally known as Port Rachrainn. The unusual composition focuses on the abstracted patterns made by the lichen covered rocks in the foreground rather than Portrane Martello Tower which can be seen in the distance. Built during the nineteenth-century, at sites throughout the British Empire, Martello towers are small forts originally designed to defend the coasts of England and Ireland from invasion by Napoleonic forces. Around fifty Martello towers were built in Ireland, including a number on Dublin Bay all in sight of one another for communication purposes. The few surviving towers include this one at Portrane and the tower at Sandycove in which James Joyce once lived.

Written by Riann Coulter

About the Artist

Maurice MacGonigal PRHA (1900 – 1979)

Born 1900, Dublin, Ireland.
Died 1979, Ireland.

Born in Dublin, a cousin of artist Harry Clarke, MacGonigal, began work as an apprentice in his uncle Joshua Clarke's stained-glass studio in North Frederick Street. From 1917 he was a member of Na Fianna Eireann, and after being interned firstly in Kilmainham Jail and later at Ballykinlar Camp, Co. Down, he took up evening art classes at the Dublin Metropolitan School.

He won the Taylor Scholarship in 1924, and in the same year exhibited at the RHA for the first time. After a trip to Holland in 1927 to study painting, he returned to Dublin to teach art at the RHA's schools and as a relief teacher at the DMSA. He was made a full member of the RHA in 1933 and served at the Academy's Keeper 1936-1939 and 1950-1961.

In 1962 he was made President, an office he held until 1977. McGonigal's choice of subject matter was influenced by Sean Keating: early life in the west of Ireland. His work is now represented in all major collections in Ireland.

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