At the Royal Hibernian Academy

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My second visit to Ireland and we’re only part way through February. I reckon by now i should qualify for dual citizenship ! (Might be handy with all the Brexit nonsense going on in the UK).

Anyway, for this visit I decided that rather than waste a day just travelling, I’d catch an early ferry and spend half a day mooching around Dublin. It was a cold, grey, wet and windy afternoon when I arrived with heavy rain forecast for later in the afternoon, so it wasn’t a good day for “street haunting”, so I worked out a plan that didn’t involve too much tramping round the streets. I parked up in Fitzwilliam square on the south side of the city. Street parking in much of the central area is free on a Sunday (parking meters the rest of the week).

I’d decided to visit the Royal Hibernian Academy on Ely Place, near St Stephen’s Green and only 5 minutes walk from where I’d parked. Despite many visits to Dublin for the last 13 years or so I’d never visited before and, to be honest, only found out about it recently.

The RHA’s website tells us that

The Royal Hibernian Academy originated when artists from the Society of Artists in Ireland petitioned the then Viceroy, Earl Talbot, in the late 1700s for the opportunity to exhibit their works annually. A Royal Charter was finally granted in 1821, and the deeds received in 1823, giving the Academy independence from all other institutions.

and that

Today the RHA is an artist-led organisation, a 32-county body with charitable status. Its core remit is to support contemporary art and artists in Ireland through exhibition, education and advocacy. The Exhibitions programme also brings significant contemporary international art to Irish audiences.

So, it was founded when Ireland was still part of the United Kingdom, but I found it rather surprising that today when Ireland has been a Republic for close on 100 years they still hang on to the “Royal”. In fact they’re not the only body in Ireland that does this – there’s also the Royal Irish Academy (RIA), Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI), Royal Dublin Society (RDS), and the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland (RIAI). This article from the Irish Times last year (the centenary of the 1916 Rising) discusses the issue.

The RHA originally had premises in Lower Abbey Street, which was subsequently destroyed by fire during the Easter Rising of 1916 due to shelling by HMS Helga. So even more surprising that they want to be “Royal”. 

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They were homeless until the 1980’s when a new building designed by Dr. Arthur Gibney PPRHA, which opened to the public in 1985. The original design of the building was, apparently, not inspiring and it was given a major renovation, reopening in 2008.

The entrance was moved and the façade remodelled, clad with smooth white Portuguese limestone with a glass frontage on the ground floor The asymmetrical entrance hall leads into a bright two storey atrium space in the centre of the building. Natural light flooding in through the large windows. A staircase in a deep atrium with large windows leads to the upstairs galleries.

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The building has 5 gallery spaces. Three on the first floor are dedicated to curated exhibitions of Irish and international art while the Ashford Gallery on the ground floor concentrates on showing the work of artists who don’t have commercial representation in Dublin

I’d checked out the RHA website and saw that there were several exhibitions by Contemporary Irish artists taking place which looked as though they’d be interesting. In particular,

  • Daphne Wright: Emotional Archaeology (previously shown at the Arnolfini in Bristol)
  • Joy Gerrard: ‘shot crowd’
  • Amanda Jane Graham; A Tribute To The Irish Community Butte Montana 1916-1919

This post has gone on long enough so I’ll do a write up on what I saw in the next few posts.

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6 thoughts on “At the Royal Hibernian Academy

  1. Pingback: Emotional Archaeology | Down by the Dougie

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