In late 2022 I was commissioned by the Office of Public Works to create portraits of the first four women elected to the first Seanad Éireann in 1922. The paintings are now part of the State Collection at Leinster House and hang at the top of the Seanad stairs.
The making of the portraits was a rewarding learning experience for me. Prior to the commission I was unfamiliar with Alice Stopford Green, Ellen Cuffe (Countess of Desart) , Jennie Wyse Power and Eileen Costello. Through my research I discovered four diversely different women who are all equally interesting and who all contributed significantly to the Ireland we live in today.
I would encourage others to learn more about these women and their achievements but in brief words:
Alice was a historian, a nationalist writer, a member of Cumann na Saoirse and a close confident to Michael Collins.
Ellen was a philanthropist and a humanitarian. Anyone familiar with Kilkenny will know her name well as she put in place the hospital, the theatre, factories and businesses that provided jobs and income for its people.
Jennie was a leading suffragist, a founding member of Cumann na mBan and later Cumann na Saoirse. She was active during the Easter Rising and the War of Independence. It was at her shop on Henry St that the proclamation was signed before being brought to the GPO. She was also Vice President of Sinn Féin.
Eileen Costello was also a member of Cumann na Saoirse. She was a collector of Irish songs and music for Irish Schools and Gaelic League classes. She had a strong voice in the Seanad, promoting and pushing for equality for women.
They were women with great presence of mind, determination and a heartfelt commitment to Ireland and its people. In painting them I have tried to reflect these qualities and bring colour and vivacity to their images and the way in which they are remembered. The format of the portraits is intimate, an invitation to meet with them face to face as individuals.
I feel most grateful to have been given the opportunity to play a part in honouring them and the formal acknowledgement of their contribution to The Seanad by the addition of their portraits to the walls of Leinster House.