The FNCI's donation of €20,000 made possible the return to Ireland of this fine portrait of Emily FitzGerald, Duchess of Leinster, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, acquired for Castletown House in January, 2019.
Our most recent donation to a public collection is also the largest which the Friends of the National Collections of Ireland have ever made in our 95 year history. It was €20,000 and it made possible the purchase at auction in London of the beautiful portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds of Emily FitzGerald, Duchess of Leinster (1731-1814), and its return to Ireland. This striking painting had hung for many years in Carton, County Kildare, ancestral home of the Dukes of Leinster (which is now a hotel). It was one of a number of important paintings recently sold by the 9th Duke, who lives in England. The balance of the cost was provided jointly by the Office of Public Works and the Castletown Foundation. It now hangs in Castletown House, near Celbridge, County Kildare. The FNCI were able to provide a grant of this size only because we recently received an unexpected and generous bequest in a will. It would otherwise have been impossible for us to do so since our only regular income is the annual subscriptions of our members. We are proud to have enabled the return to Ireland of this lovely painting which is part of our country's heritage and can now be appreciated and enjoyed by future generations. This is what the FNCI is for!
Lady Emily FitzGerald was not just the wife of a man who was an important figure in the political life of 18th century Ireland; she was very much a personality in her own right. Married young to James FitzGerald, 20th Earl of Kildare and later 1st Duke of Leinster, she was the mother of eighteen children, one of them Lord Edward FitzGerald, United Irishman and a leader of the insurrection of 1798, and three more children following her remarriage. Much of the duke's political success was attributed to her as, from their homes in Carton (which she extensively redesigned), Frescati,Blackrock, County Dublin (a supermarket stands there now) and Leinster House, they played a significant role in the political life of the country, her own sympathies being radical.
Castletown House , the earliest and largest Palladian house in Ireland, was built in 1722-29 by William Conolly, the immensely rich Speaker of the Irish House of Commons. It was described by an English visitor fifty years later as ''the only house in Ireland to which the term palace can be applied.'' Here another dynamic woman, Lady Emily's sister Louisa who was married to Thomas Conolly, presided. After the last of the family, the Conolly-Carews, left in 1965 it was saved from developers by the generosity and foresight of Desmond Guinness, co-founder of the Irish Georgian Society, who bought it and 120 acres of its surrounding demesne. Subsequently maintained by the Irish Georgian Society , and then by the Castletown Foundation, it was taken into public ownership in 1994. The house and lands are maintained by the OPW and open to the public, while the important furniture and fittings (much of them original to the house) are owned by the Castletown Foundation who have, like the IGS before , painstakingly acquired them over the years with the help of Irish and American philanthropists.It is in every way a fitting home for Lady Emily's portrait.
The Friends have also made a grant of E8000 to the National Self-Portrait Collection at the University of Limerick which asisted them to purchase at auction in London a fine self-portrait by Kathleen Fox (i880-1963), the Dublin-born artist best known for her flower studies.
Other recent donations by The Friends have benefited the National Library of Ireland,the Waterford Museum of Treasures and the Irish Architectural Archive. We purchased at auction, and presented to the National Library, the following items -each of them unique and of historical importance- which the Library had wished to obtain;
- A letter written from Dublin Castle on 28 May 1807 by Sir Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington, who was the Chief Secretary for Ireland, to an unidentified correspondent ('My dear Lord') describing the progress of the general election then taking place.It also discusses the distribution of posts to supporters of the government. While this practice was normal at the time Wellesley expresses indignation at "the most indecent simoniacal arrangement in respect of the Deanery of Limerick that I ever heard of" which had been proposed by Lord Sligo. €950 plus auctioneers' fees.
- On 19 October 1845 Dr Richard Whately, the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, wrote a three-page letter to an unidentified correspondent in which he described the destitution of the rural poor. The potato blight had struck in the previous month,and although the worst of the Great Famine was yet to come, Whately was in no doubt about the forthcoming tragedy: "I apprehend a dire mortality." €750 plus fees.
- The manuscript journal of James Farrell of Moynalty, County Meath, giving a detailed account of a journey which he and his brother made to Paris via Holyhead and London in May-June, 1822. He describes what they did and comments on what they saw, including the Louvre ("statues worth seeing but rather naked") and people: "The women in France are not in general as handsome as those in England, a few excepted, but they are less subject to vice" wrote this thoughtful Moynalty man. €200 plus fees.
- In 1767 Captain James O'Hara, R.N. of Cork decided to write a letter to the recently appointed Lord Lieutenant at Dublin Castle in which he combined some helpful advice with a request for a position at the Vice-regal court. He advised the Viceroy to treat his Irish subjects with flattery and fair speech ("a silken string may lead them by the nose"), entertain lavishly and keep an eye open for pilfering servants. Whether or not Viscount Townshend heeded the advice Captain O'Hara never became a Gentleman-at Large; he ended up in the humbler role of organising press gangs in Hull. €130 plus fees.
The Friends donated to the Waterford Museum of Treasures, at their request, two large architectural drawings attributed to James Gandon,the architect of the Four Courts and the Custom House, Dublin. They show the plan of New Geneva, the proposed Swiss Huguenot settlement at Passage East, County Waterford, in 1780. In the event the project came to nothing owing to the disturbed state of the country, the Swiss left and today there is little to recall New Geneva other than the memory of the sad role its military barracks played in the suppression of the 1798 Rebellion, evoked in the well known ballad 'The Croppy Boy'. The drawings will feature in a forthcoming exhibition about New Geneva and the Huguenots at the Waterford Museum of Treasures. €1000 plus fees.
We also donated to the Irish Architectural Archive a very fine coloured architectural drawing dated 17 January 1786 of "The Intended Military Infirmary", the building which today is Defence Forces Headquarters, at Parkgate, Dublin. The drawing is by the artist, Catherine Maria Dawson, later Countess of Charleville (1762-1851) and is a rare work of both historic and artistic interest. €900 plus fees.
One of the most remarkable objects to enter a public collection anywhere was obtained at auction by the National Museum of Ireland thanks to a grant of €10,000 by the Friends. From the darker side of our history, it is an inscribed gold medal which was presented in 1798 by the Guild of Merchants in Dublin to one Thomas Reynolds, in gratitude for what it described as his “truly honourable and important services”. Reynolds was an informer and the service he rendered was treachery: his betrayal to the Dublin Castle authorities of 16 of his friends, leaders of the 1798 Rebellion, among them Oliver Bond and Lord Edward Fitzgerald, leading to their deaths.
Our donation of this unique object to the Museum is a reminder that although the FNCI is well known for its long history of giving works of art to Ireland’s public collections, another of our aims is to acquire objects of historical importance or interest for the country.
Indeed, because nowadays the price of most works of art is beyond our very limited financial resources, we have in recent years acquired, at considerably less cost, a number of important manuscripts and objects which are part of our history and would otherwise be lost to the nation.
However, two modern paintings which we have been lucky enough to acquire are “Head with Red Eye” by Kenneth Hall, a leading member of the White Stag Group (donated to the Irish Museum of Modern Art – IMMA) and “Horses” by Phelim Gibb, an Irish artist closely associated with the Fauve Movement, which we donated to the Crawford Gallery, Cork.
To commemorate the 90th anniversary of our foundation in 1924 a member of our Council presented to the National Gallery of Ireland a watercolour of a rural funeral procession in the West of Ireland by Charles Mills ARHA (1875 – 1922), an Irish artist who until now has not been represented in the national collection.
An exciting acquisition by the library of Trinity College, Dublin has been assisted by a grant of €5,000 from the FNCI. It is an important early 14th century manuscript from St. Mary’s Abbey, Dublin. Auctioned by Christies in London, it is the only medieval Irish codex to come on the market for half a century. It left Ireland in the 16th century and it now returns to join a number of other items from the Abbey which have been in TCD for several centuries.
Objects from a more recent era acquired at auction by the Friends and donated to the National Museum of Ireland at their request, were a set of 10 medals which were presented to the men and women who served in the various Services, including the civilian ones, during the 1939 – 1945 Emergency.
The set is complete save for the 11th – the Defence Forces Chaplains' medal is missing. So if any generous reader of this website is able to help complete the set.... the Friends and the Museum await your call!
We recently paid for the conservation of 17 important but fragile architectural drawings of Kilkea Castle, Co. Kildare, done in 1849 for the Duke of Leinster by the distinguished Irish architect William Deane Butler, in the collection of the Royal Irish Academy (€3,000).
An appropriate donation which the Friends made during the Centenary year of the Easter Rising 1916 to the National Library of Ireland was an account of the unfolding events written by Lady Alice Wimborne, wife of the Viceroy, in a 20 page letter to her mother from the Vice Regal Lodge during the course of Easter Week (2-5 May, 1916).Not many accounts of the 1916 Rising or of the War of Independence, written at the time by participants or eye witnesses, have survived, especially those from the British point of view, much less from the heart of their Establishment.
Purchased at auction in Dublin for €1,400 and fees.
On the 1st of July, 1916 one of the greatest battles of the First World War, the Battle of the Somme, commenced. Before it ended five months later - having achieved nothing - there were over a million casualties, among them many Irishmen in the British Army. One of the most famous was Tom Kettle, poet, professor of economics at University College Dublin and Nationalist MP. He is commemorated in St. Stephen's Green, Dublin, by his portrait bust with poignant lines from his best known poem, "To My Daughter Betty, the Gift of God", written shortly before his death. One hundred years later, on the 1st of July, 2016, Matthew Russell, vice-president of the FNCI, presented the National Museum of Ireland, Collins Barracks, through the Friends, with the rug which Kettle had with him in the trenches. It had been sent back to his widow, Mary Sheehy Kettle, after he was killed, and was later given by her to the donor's mother.
In the Centenary year of the Easter Rising Matthew Russell also presented family papers of Thomas Mac Donagh to the Thomas Mac Donagh Museum, Cloughjordan, Co. Tipperary, birthplace of the executed patriot. They include, inter alia, literary works and plays of Thomas Mac Donagh, mss of published works of his mother, correspondence and a family bible. There is also a printer's block from the machine (now lost) on which was printed the Proclamation of Independence, of which Thomas Mac Donagh was one of the seven signatories in Easter Week, 1916.
While many of the major cultural institutions, such as the National Gallery, National Library and National Museum are in the capital, the Friends of the National Collections of Ireland have always recognised the importance to the country of the provincial and local museums and galleries and we have sought to support them over the years by donations of art and historic objects or grants of money to help their own acquisitions. We have given to over 50 such institutions throughout the island of Ireland in this way, ranging from the Fermanagh County Museum, Enniskillen, to the Irish Jewish Museum, Dublin.
One of the most vibrant of these institutions is the Waterford Museum of Treasures (WMT). It is also one of the most recently established, though Waterford Corporation’s careful habit over many centuries of not throwing anything away has luckily resulted in that city’s always having had an unrivalled archive of its history, until now not generally accessible to the public. The Museum is comprised of three venues in the city; the Viking Museum in Reginald’s Tower (1180 AD), Ireland’s first Medieval Museum in the Choristers’ Hall (13th to 15th century) and the magnificently restored Bishop's Palace (1743 AD).
We recently gave a grant of €10,000 to the fund which the WMT is building up for the purchase of the set of 3 important 18th century “Dragon” Headfort Mirrors. They are at present on loan to the Bishop's Palace from the Marquis of Headfort, whose ancestor, Sir Thomas Taylor, commissioned them in 1753 for his Dublin townhouse from Thomas Johnson, one of the foremost mirror makers in Ireland and Britain. They are on display along with other items donated by the FNCI in the Palace's Withdrawing Room, appropriately, because that room is now named after the FNCI to mark our support.
The Friends of the National Collections of Ireland also donated €7,500 to the Waterford Museum of Treasures towards the purchase at auction of the Wyse Papers, the records dating back to 1315 of one of the most important Waterford families (one of its members, Thomas Wyse, married Laetitia Bonaparte, a niece of the Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, despite the disapproval of the Wyse family, who regarded her as unsuitable).
The survival of such a large corpus of family records, covering a period of six centuries, is quite rare in Ireland, owing to our turbulent history. They include a Letters Patent issued on the 22nd of March 1758 by King George II granting a royal pardon to John Wyse for having served in the Irish Brigade under King Louis of France. This enabled him to return to Ireland without danger of arrest and to succeed in due course to his father’s estate.
The Friends gave a grant of €10,000 to the National Library of Ireland towards the purchase at auction of the very important papers of Senator James Douglas, a significant figure in political life in the early years of the Irish Free State. The papers cover a variety of subjects, including the drafting of the Free State Constitution which preceded the present Constitution adopted by the People in 1937; letters from Michael Collins; the work of the White Cross during the Civil War and the proposed Divorce Bill of 1925. The Douglas collection will be an important source for historians and people interested in research into the formative years of the State.
At our Annual General Meeting we presented two important architectural drawings to the Irish Architectural Archive. They are by Cyril Arthur Farey (1888-1954), who is regarded as the leading architectural draughtsman of his time in these islands and they show the design for the proposed Limerick civic offices and the Limerick Regional Hospital. Our President, Dr John Gilmartin, spotted them in an auction in Dublin and generously purchased them and gave them to the Friends.
We have donated them to the IAA in memory of Jeremy Williams, for many years an active member of our Council as well as a distinguished architect. It was also a thank you to the Archive who allow us to hold our regular Council meetings in their fine premises on Merrion Square.
Mr Michael Murray has kindly presented to the Friends a self-portrait of the artist Róisín Murray (1894-1980). We have donated it to the National Self-Portrait Collection at the University of Limerick.
Through the good offices of our Council member, Dr Hilary Carey, Dr Cormac MacFhionnlaith and the Mc Ginley family have given us the presumed portrait of the Gaelic Leaguer Claude Chevasse (1885-1971) in national costume, painted by Padraic Woods RUA. We have given it to the Waterford County Museum in Dungarvan. It is our first donation to this museum, which was established comparitively recently, in accordance with our policy of assisting local and regional museums wherever possible.
The Friends also facilitated the generous donation to the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) by our member, Mr F.X. Buckley and our Honorary Treasurer, Dr Michael Burns, of a contemporary work: a HD video entitled "Everything Disappears 2014" by Kevin Gaffney
Because of lack of funds when needed, our efforts frequently fail. Thus we recently have been unable to respond to requests from several of our national cultural institutions for financial assistance in making important acquisitions. For example, we were recently disappointed in our efforts, with the National Museum, to acquire a rug design by Eileen Gray, as well as a group of portraits of the Osborne family of Waterford for that city's museum, being out-bid in both cases.
However, we managed to give a grant of €1,000 to the National Library of Ireland enabling it to purchase two important archives of documents: those of the O'Mahony family of Kerry and Wicklow, covering several centuries, and of Sir Arthur Vicars, the ill-fated Ulster King of Arms. A genealogist, he had longed for the post for many years. The papers include a letter from his brother alerting him that the incumbent, Sir Bernard Burke, was gravely ill; "You should move at once" he urged. Sir Arthur got the job, but it ended abruptly in 1907 when the Irish Crown Jewels were stolen from a safe in his office in Dublin Castle on the eve of a royal visit. They were never recovered. Coincidentally, our annual general meeting this year, at which our donation for the papers was announced, took place in the State Apartments of Dublin Castle - across the courtyard from Sir Arthur's old office, with its empty safe.
The Friends purchased at auction, and donated to the Waterford Museum of Treasures, a hand coloured engraving of the Port of Waterford, 1835. This large and attractive work with its cartouche of the Hook Head lighthouse is now displayed in the Bishop's Palace (1743) and forms part of the museum's display of maritime charts showing the development of the port over centuries, starting with Sebastian Munster's 1550 map of Ireland - in which the only place on the island that is identified is Waterford !
We have been happy to assist the Newry and Mourne Museum with a grant of €1,180 for their purchase of two paintings by the Newry-born artist Margeret Clarke (1884-1964). They are portraits of her son David, showing him in early and in later childhood. She was the wife of the gifted stained glass artist Harry Clarke, and took on the management of his Dublin studio following his early death in 1931. But she was a highly talented artist in her own right, as was amply demonstrated in in the comprehensive exhibition of her work in oils and crayon at the National Gallery of Ireland during summer 2017 and subsequently at the F.E.McWilliam Gallery, Banbridge, County Down.
Unfortunately, we can only continue our work if we have the funds to do so. Our only source of income is our members' annual subscription and the very occasional bequest or donation. We are an entirely voluntary organisation, with no paid officers or staff. If you believe that we are doing useful work for our country, why not send us a donation ? Every amount helps. You can send it to our Honorary Treasurer, Dr Michael Burns, P.O. Box 11481, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4.
Our registered Charity number for tax purposes is 5214.
You would also be very welcome if you became a member of the Friends: Click HERE to join.