17 March 2014

Art for Lent (13): ‘Saint Patrick’
(1949), by Seamus Murphy

Seamus Murphy’s image of Saint Patrick caused a stir when it first went on public view (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Saint Patrick’s Day normally falls in the middle of Lent. But Easter is late this year, and so Saint Patrick’s Day come when we have just marked the Second Sunday in Lent. This year, because Saint Patrick’s Day fall on a Monday, it has extended the weekend, and added to these celebrations, which provided a break for many in the penitential practices of Lent.

The Revised Common Lectionary readings for Saint Patrick’s Day are: Tobit 13: 1b-7 or Deuteronomy 32: 1-9; Psalm 145: 1-13; II Corinthians 4: 1-12; John 4: 31-38.

I have been asked to represent the Archbishop of Dublin at an ecumenical service marking Saint Patrick’s Day in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, at 6 p.m. this evening.

My choice of a work of Art for Lent for this morning [17 March 2014] is Seamus Murphy’s image of Saint Patrick, Naomh Padraig. This sculpture in polished limestone was first unveiled in 1949, and caused a stir when it first went on public view in Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Co Kildare, where it can still be seen.

Seamus Murphy usually worked in limestone, and his sculptors included ecclesiastical and allegorical statues, portrait heads, commemorative plaques, public monuments, gravestones and crosses. He also worked in bronze, making portrait heads of public figures, writers, musicians and friends.

His best-known commissions include bronze busts of five Presidents of Ireland for Áras an Uachtaráin, Dublin, President John F Kennedy for the US Embassy, Dublin, the UN Monument in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, and Saint Brigid and the 12 Apostles in San Francisco.

Seamus Murphy was born in 1907 near Mallow, Co Cork, the son of a railway employee. He went to school in Saint Patrick’s National School, Saint Luke’s, Cork, where his teacher Daniel Corkery gave him his first drawing lessons and encouraged him to go on to the Crawford School of Art in Cork in 1921.

From 1922 to 1930, he was an apprentice stone-carver at JA O’Connor’s art marble works in Blackpool, Cork, where he specialised in architectural and foliage carving while attending Crawford at night.

In 1931, he was awarded the Gibson Bequest Scholarship Exhibits at the Royal Hibernian Academy exhibition. He then went on to study at the Académie Colarossi in Paris and with Andrew O’Connor, the Irish-American sculptor.

He opened a studio and stoneyard in Blackpool, Cork, in 1934, and soon exhibited at a group exhibition in University College Cork (1935) and the World Fair, New York (1939).

His ‘The Virgin of the Twilight’ was exhibited at the at the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1943, and he was elected an associate of the RHA in the following year, 1944. That year he also married Maighread Higgins, a daughter of the sculptor Joseph Higgins (1885-1925).

In 1950, he published Stone Mad with illustrations by Fergus O'Ryan (Golden Eagle Press). This book was described as a classic and is a tribute to the work of the many anonymous stone-carvers and stone-cutters in a tradition that had continued from mediaeval times.

In 1954, he was elected a full member of the RHA, and ten years later he was appointed the RHA Professor of Sculpture. 1969, He received an honorary doctorate (LLD) from the National University of Ireland in 1969, and was appointed to the Arts Council of Ireland in 1973.

His later exhibitions included a solo exhibition in Cork Public Library (1956), a joint exhibition with the artist William Harrington (1967), Adare (1973) and ROSC, Cork (1975).

He died in Cork in 1975, and is buried in Rathcooney, Co Cork.


Almighty God,
in your providence you chose your servant Patrick
to be the apostle of the Irish people,
to bring those who were wandering in darkness and error
to the true light and knowledge of your Word:
Grant that walking in that light
we may come at last to the light of everlasting life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Tomorrow:I AM the Vine’ … a Chinese scroll (John 15: 5)

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