Tracing ancestors in the arts in Ireland..

It is a week and year for remembering all those who died in 1916 and we have had many queries relating to people who were involved in or whose lives were affected by the events of the Easter Rising.  With conflict our first thoughts are with the tragic loss of life but there is also then the destruction of our cultural heritage. Close to two hundred buildings were destroyed during Easter Week in Dublin city, the most obvious being the G.P.O, but many businesses, hotels, pubs and other buildings including the Royal Hibernian Academy also went up in flames.  The Academy were holding their Annual Exhibition during Easter week and the entire collection, 500 paintings, together with their own permanent collection of paintings, prints and sculpture and records dating back to its foundation in 1823 were lost.

For those interested in following up on ancestors involved in the arts there are still some very good sources that one can search.  Online the National College of Art and Design have excellent digitised collections of student registers from 1877 to 1986 and a database of mainly 20th century artists ( Dublin Society Drawing Schools: students and award winners, 1746-1876 compiled by Gitta Willemson (Dublin, 2000) is also a very useful published source.

In the aftermath of 1916 many of our Irish artists were sympathetic to the plight of those widows, children and dependants of the rebels that died, and of those subsequently imprisoned/ interned, some of whom were rebels, some of whom were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and were lifted from the streets.

In 1917 Irish artists including William Orpen (four of whose works were destroyed in the Annual Exhibition of 1916), Jack B. Yeats, Patrick Tuohy, Sean Keating, John Lavery, Gerald Kelly and Albert Power, gave their work free to the Irish National Aid and Volunteer Dependants’ Fund in 1917. The proceeds were donated to a central fund that went towards the upkeep of the families of men imprisoned or who had lost their jobs because they were perceived to be among the rebels.

By Research Expert

Helen Moss

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