- This is My Hadji Bey
- Eurovision in a Cowshed
- The Boll Weevil 3: On the Waterfront
- A Year in Brocante 11: An Easter Egg
- A Year in Brocante 10: Upscaling and Hacking
- Kevin Pearce
- The Bol Weavil and the Lightning Bug 2: On the Ground
- The Boll Weevil and the Lightning Bug 1: A Home in Ireland
- Love In The Air
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In or around 1910, my grandfather bought shares in the Munster and Leinster Bank and gave some to his children. Over the years, the name of the bank changed to Allied Irish, but the shares stayed in the family and eventually got passed down to my generation. Some of us used them wisely, others not at all, thinking that if they were almost a hundred years old and still growing, they would be good for a rainy day. I kept mine as Running Away Money. Now I’m stuck. In 2008 Irish bank shares collapsed spectacularly – as everybody knows – and now I can’t run away, for I’ve nothing to run away with.
All we have left is art. In 1980, with my money – and yours too, Biddy –Allied Irish then known as the Allied Irish Bank, or AIB, began buying art. The emphasis was on tracing the development of modernism in Irish art, from 100 years previously and continuing, with an increasing emphasis on contemporary artists. By 1986 they had amassed enough works from the twentieth century to be exhibited at the Crawford Gallery in Cork and the Douglas Hyde Gallery in Dublin and subsequently go on tour. “Walk into our headquarters in Ireland, Britain and America and you’ll see part of our extraordinary range of paintings, sculptures, tapestries and graphics” said the Chairman of the group in 1995 in an introduction to a lavish book of 120 works in full page, full colour representation, published in “a new initiative to make the collection more accessible to the wider public.”
By 2002 the Chief Executive of the time, Michael Buckley (Booh! Booh!) was writing …. “The artwork in our offices is connected to our more general commitment to make AIB a stimulating place to do business. The demand for art in AIB locations all over Ireland and beyond is staggering, with the result that in addition to offices here in Ireland, we continue to place Irish works in our offices abroad, most recently in Poland.” Ah. Poland.
In April we were back in Cork, busy with family matters, but friends Mike and Kathryn extolled the virtues of two current exhibitions in the Municipal gallery in town, two friends shared links about them on Facebook (one the son of a painter featured in the show) and the Irish Times newspaper urged “Anyone visiting Cork for Easter or, as the locals might put it, lucky enough to live there, should visit the Crawford Art Gallery….which is holding a temporary exhibition of the AIB Bank art collection recently donated to the State. The donation by the bailed-out, and now State-owned, bank consists of 38 paintings and one sculpture …(value: €5 million)….and features work by leading Irish artists including Jack B Yeats, Paul Henry, Sir John Lavery, Sir William Orpen, Séan Keating and Roderic O’Conor.” (Quick question: How can AIB make a ‘donation’ to the State if it already owns AIB?)
“The Crawford’s Director, Peter Murray, described the works as ‘ the most substantial, serious and beautiful collection of art to come to the Crawford for 50 years.’ “….The donation of twelve of the works is immediate, so they will stay on display. When the temporary exhibition ends, 27 of the paintings will be returned – albeit temporarily – to AIB’s headquarters in Dublin”…..”and ‘gradually’ donated to the Crawford over the next two years…….The reason for the phased donation appears, quite simply, to be the bankers’ reluctance to part with all of the art in one fell swoop. The donation will leave big gaps on the walls of the AIB boardroom and offices of senior bank executives.” Aw shucks, they just can’t let go – but I wasn’t given two years to get used to the idea that they were taking my Running Away Money.
I absolutely agree with the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaelteacht Jimmy Deenihan, that: “AIB has enjoyed a long association with Irish artists. Expert sensibilities watched, nurtured and ultimately purchased from many of the greatest artists of the twentieth century. The result of AIB’s dedication is clear to see in the strength of its holdings. As a collection it provides a distinct narrative on visual art practice in Ireland in the 20th century and its value to art historians, art lovers and future generations is incalculable”
So I bowled along to the Crawford and first had a nice bowl of soup with their excellent brown bread and a cup of coffee in the restaurant. (Didn’t want the soup; though the restaurant was not full, they insisted on only serving ‘lunches’ until mid afternoon and were a bit sniffy about it…..)
Drool, drool, drool (not the soup, the art.) What a collection of familiar names, what an evocation of emotions! One wasn’t cross, one was too uplifted and bathed in honey balm. The exhibition space was crowded with all kinds of people, all looking very proprietorial; Cork faces and burghers, a young woman pointing at details and talking excitedly in a hushed voice in Irish to her male companion, a Polish couple pushing their baby buggy up the wheelchair ramp and Sally Phipps, daughter of the writer Molly Keane, with a glamorous woman who looked vaguely familiar and sort of famous….and if she wasn’t, she should have been.
I was the second person to interview Molly Keane after her novel “Good Behaviour” came out, her first work under her own name and the first she allowed sent to a publisher (encouraged by the actress Peggy Ashcroft) in twenty years and we instantly hit it off. At that stage, she was poor as a church mouse and when I urged she apply to join the artists’ affiliation Aosdána and get a few bob, she was charmed. (She got the gig, and the stipend…..but with a Man-Booker prize shortlist, soon the royalties were rolling in from book sales, a re-growth of interest in her 1921-56 plays as ‘M.J.Farrell’, television rights, media and appearances.) Of course, I was too shy to stop Sally Phipps in front of a William Crozier (another lovely person now deceased) and tell her that it had always been my ambition to be like her mother when I grew up, and now that I am growing up, I am working towards that goal…and with the help of AIB, I’m starting by being as poor as a church mouse.