Emmet Kane at Collins Barracks


While I was visiting the Collins Barracks in Dublin recently, although my main objective was to see the Easter Rising and Asgard exhibitions, I took some time to have a quick look round in Decorative Arts section of the main building. Tucked away in a series of rooms in the south east corner of the 2nd floor was a temporary exhibition featuring the work of the Irish woodturner, Emmet Kane. I almost missed it, but the above piece caught my eye as I was passing and I decided to take a look. It was a good decision.

The Museum website tells us that

Emmet was born and raised in Castledermot, Co. Kildare. He comes from five generations of Master Craftsmen. Self-taught, Kane creates thin-walled hollow forms which defy the difficulties of the medium and whose use of colour, is more readily associated with ceramics or glass. Today, he works predominantly in native hardwoods, citing a particular fondness for Irish oak, which he textures and ebonises, gilds and colours. At times, his work looks like glass or plastic, even metal, until you draw near and see the texture or grain and wonder just how it was achieved.


The exhibition is a retrospective, featuring a large number of works, divided into sections

It provides a good survey of his work and shows how his technique and approach has developed and evolved.


I guess I’d normally associate woodturners with practical objects like furniture and bowls. But that isn’t what Emmet Kane does. He produces abstract forms that don’t have any practical use but are extremely  imaginative and beautiful


Some of the earlier works are more functional but over the years they become more and more abstract with holes and voids, spikes and the incorporation of pigments, metal and lacquer

These are some of my favourite pieces from the exhibition, but there were many more..





1916 – Proclaiming a Republic


Easter Monday 1916. The First World War was raging on mainland Europe. But, believing “England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity”, in Dublin a small group of rebels occupied strategic buildings around the city. These included the General Post Office on Sackville Street (now known as O’Connell street, the main thoroughfare north of the Liffey in the city centre), where they established their headquarters. The Republican flag was hoisted and at 12:45 p.m., Pádraig Pearse read out the Proclamation of the Republic.


Pádraig Pearse (source: Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1528408)

The rebels included Catholic Nationalists and Revolutionary Socialists. The majority were Irish Volunteers, the military wing of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, led by schoolmaster and Irish language activist Patrick Pearse. They were joined by the smaller Irish Citizen Army of James Connolly, which had originally been formed to protect strikes from attacks from police and blacklegs. There were also 200 women from Cumann na mBan a women’s paramilitary organisation affiliated to the Irish Volunteers.

James Connolly

James Connolly

There followed several days of fighting between the rebels and British troops. There were casualties on both sides and amongst Dubliners who weren’t involved (“collateral damage”) and buildings were destroyed by British bombardment including shells fired from a gunboat, the Aurora, moored on the Liffey. The rebels didn’t really stand a chance and they eventually surrendered on the following Saturday.

Most historians reckon that there was little support for the rising amongst ordinary Dubliners. In fact, the leadership of the IRB were opposed to it – Pearse went ahead despite being ordered to cancel his plans. The British authorities however ordered the execution of the leaders which turned the tide of opinion. So although the Rising failed to achieve power, it set in motion a series of events that eventually led to Irish independence.


So this year is the centenary of the Uprising and it’s being celebrated in Ireland with a series of events, activities and exhibitions. These included a parade in Dublin city centre on Easter Monday. This was not the true centenary as Easter was early this year (at the end of March) while in 1916 it was late and the uprising actually took place on 24 April.

As part of the celebrations, a new exhibition, Proclaiming a Republic: The 1916 Rising opened on 3rd March at the Museum of Decorative Arts & History, Collins Barracks, in Dublin. I’m working in Ireland this week and, as I often do, I’d travelled over on an early boat on Sunday so I could spend the afternoon doing something. So I decided to take a look.


The museum’s website tells us

The exhibition explores the background to the 1916 Rising. It introduces the visitor to the nuances of contemporary political events; the rise of the Catholic élite; the push for Home Rule along with the counter-moves of unionism; the increasing ‘Irish-Ireland’ aspects of the arts and cultural movements of the period and the growth of republican nationalism. The visitor will be presented with accounts of the individuals and the organisations which featured in the political arena of 1916, as it became increasingly militaristic in nature. However, Proclaiming a Republic: The 1916 Rising also offers visitors the unique experience of physical proximity to the people and events of Easter Week through the everyday, intimate and personal belongings of the participants.

One of the first exhibits I saw was a copy of the Proclamation. 2,500 copies were printed on an old and poorly maintained Wharfedale Stop Cylinder Press at Liberty Hall, the headquarters of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU) and also of the Irish Citizen Army.

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Exhibits included the Republican flag that was flown from the GPO


and a flag featuring the Starry Plough, the symbol of James Connolly’s Irish Citizen Army.


These exhibits were objects from the GPO


Examples of weapons used by the rebels.


They were very much “make do and mend” obtained from a wide variety of sources. The best available guns they had were probably the antiquated  German Mauser rifles brought in to Ireland just before the War broke out in 1914.

This is an example of the uniform worn by members of the Irish Citizen’s Army


There were documents too, including hand written notes by Padraig Pearse and James Connelly.

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There was certainly plenty to see and although I already knew quite a lot about the history of the uprising, it was interesting to see the items that had belonged to or had been used by the people involved. It brought history to life. However, I do agree with this view expressed in the Irish Times

space is a little cramped, some elements are too text heavy and the dull lighting does none of the displays any great favour.

Eileen Gray

There was an article in the Observer today about E1027, the Modernist house on the Côte d’Azur designed by the Irish designer and architect, Eileen Gray. I’d never heard of her until relatively recently when I read an article in the London Review of Books about her triggered by the start of an exhibition of her work at the Pompidou Centre in Paris (it finished at the end of May). Now she seems to keep popping up everywhere!

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Image source: Wikipedia

She was born as Katherine Eileen Moray Smith in 1878, near Enniscorthy, a market town in south-eastern Ireland, but moved to London to study art and then on to Paris. An article on the Time Out website reviewing the Pompidou exhibition tells us that

Miss Gray was one of those avant-garde women who wore trousers and broke into a man’s world with their creative flair. A self-made woman and multitalented designer, she spent a good portion of her long (1878-1976) life in France – after her studies at London’s Slade school of art, she moved to Paris in 1902 where she learned (in the studio of Seizo Sugawara) to create futuristic furniture in lacquer, and to insinuate into her screens, tables and lamps the oblique lines that prefigured modernism.

She then moved on into designing Modernist furniture and carpets and interiors. Her best known designs are the Bibendum chair, named after the character created by Michelin to advertise their tyres,

Bibendum chair (picture source: http://antiquesandartireland.com)

and the E1027 table designed in 1929, initially to facilitate her sister reading in bed.


E-1027 table by Eileen Gray (picture source Wikipedia)

In the 1920’s she moved on to architecture, her first design being E1027


E-1027 (Picture source Friends of E1027 website)

There’s a small permanent exhibition about her life and work at the Irish National Museum at the Collins Barracks and, curious to find out more about her after the LRB article had fired my interest, I had a look at it during my visit last Sunday. 

The exhibition posthumously realised one of Gray’s last ambitions – to have her work brought back to Ireland – and

includes such important items as the adjustable chrome table and the non-conformist chair. The exhibition also values Gray on a personal level, including family photographs, her lacquering tools, and personal ephemera. It illustrates an account of her professional development from art student in London and Paris to mature, innovative architect. The exhibition honours the memory of Eileen Gray, modern self-taught architect and designer.

The exhibition comprises one main room showing the exhibits and a second, smaller room where visitors can view a couple of documentaries about her while sitting in a Bibendum chair (it was, to my surprise, very comfortable). There were samples of her lacquer work, plus a description, including videos, of the painstaking process of producing pieces using this natural resin. As I’d expected there were examples of her furniture, pictures of her interiors and plans, and a model, of E1027.

Architectural plan

(image from exhibition website)

No photography was allowed, and there was no guide book and very little information on the Museum’s website about the exhibition.  But it was worth the visit to see the examples of her furniture “in the flesh”.

There will be an opportunity to see more of her work in Dublin later in the year as the Paris exhibition will be transferred to the Irish Museum of Modern Art at the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham, when it reopens in the Autumn, starting 12 October. I hope to have the opportunity to visit it.


There’s a gallery of pictures on E1027 and it’s restoration on the Guardian website here.

The Collins Barracks, Dublin

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I’m back in Ireland again working in Naas, my fourth visit this year. I came over on the fast ferry from Holyhead on Sunday, arriving just before 1 o’clock, which meant I had a few hours I could spend in Dublin during the afternoon. I decided to visit somewhere I hadn’t been before – the Collins Barracks which are the home of the  National Museum of Ireland (Decorative Arts and History).

Collins Barracks was the first purpose-built military barracks in Europe and is the second oldest public building in Dublin (the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, which now houses the Irish Museum of Modern Art, is the oldest). It was built in 1702, in the then fashionable neo-Classical style to a design by Thomas Burgh (1670-1730), and extended in the late 18th century and 19th century. The old barracks, which had billets, stables, a riding school, drilling grounds and firing ranges,was continuously occupied by the British and then Irish army until  1997 the when the buildings were converted to house the Museum.

Originally called simply The Barracks, and later The Royal Barracks, the name was changed to commemorate Michael Collins, the first Commander-in-Chief of the Irish Free State Army, who was killed at Béal na Bláth, County Cork four months before the barracks was surrendered to the Free State Army.in 1922.

The Barracks stand on the north side of the Liffey, facing the Guinness works. This was the view from a top floor window from the South side of the square.

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The small park, Croppie’s Acre, commemorates the 1798 United Irishmen uprising. Croppy was a derogatory title given to Irish rebels who cut (or cropped) their hair in the style of French Revolutionaries.

This is the main entrance to the Barracks. A very typical Georgian neo-Classical style four storey building. It has a central pavilion with a triangular pediment in the centre of which is a large clock face.

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Walking through the arch, you enter a large square / parade ground surrounded on all four sides by four storey buildings, faced with granite, with arcaded colonnades on the east and west sides, in which the main museum collections are displayed.

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It’s a rather eclectic mix of weaponry, furniture, silver, ceramics and glassware; as well as examples of Folklife and costume. There are exhibitions devoted to the Easter Rising of 1916, the Modernist designer and architect, Eileen Grey, and a collection of Asian art. Probably the most popular exhibition (it was certainly very busy when I was there) was Soldiers and Chiefs, which tells the story of  Ireland’s military history from 1550 into the 21st Century.

The Barracks complex includes another square of, a little less grand, buildings surrounding another parade ground

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They’re not in such good condition and seemed to be unoccupied and falling into disrepair

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There was evidence of the previous occupants stencilled on one of the buildings

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