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'Rural Ireland: The Inside Story'
Exclusive Exhibition at BC's McMullen Museum

Aloysius O’Kelly (1853-1936), Mass in a Connemara Cabin, c. 1883.

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. (February 2012) — The McMullen Museum of Art presents Rural Ireland: The Inside Story, an exclusive exhibition that introduces American viewers to many recently discovered genre paintings of nineteenth-century rural interiors. The exhibition is on display February 11 through June 3, 2012.

In depicting how Irish country people worshipped, mourned, conducted business, arranged their homes, and educated and entertained themselves, the exhibition offers new visual evidence about the varied lives of a politically marginalized population.

Inspired by recent scholarship, it reveals that contrary to earlier assumptions, artists working in Ireland during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries frequently turned to the lives of the country’s rural poor for subject matter. The exhibition also challenges assumptions that artists working in Ireland painted only the “big houses” and landscapes of an Anglo-Irish elite society.

Although the works on display reveal poverty and deprivation during the Famine era, they convey aesthetic pleasures, spiritual satisfactions, and tenants’ negotiations with a growing consumer economy.

The exhibition comprises outstanding works of art from such lenders as the National Gallery of Ireland, the Crawford Art Gallery, Cork, the National Library of Ireland, the Ulster Museum, the National Gallery of Scotland, as well as from a range of smaller public and private collections in Ireland, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

“The McMullen Museum is pleased to present this examination of paintings, many recently discovered, and of newly-collected artifacts from Irish rural life. The exhibition tells the ‘inside story’ of Ireland's country people through its selection of outstanding genre interiors, most never displayed in North America,” says McMullen Museum Director and Professor of Art History Nancy Netzer.

[MEDIA NOTE: Jpg/Tiff images available on request from the McMullen: please call Kate Shugert at 617.552.4676 or e-mail Slideshow of images, more exhibition details at]

Exhibition Curators
Organized by the McMullen Museum in collaboration with BC’s Irish Studies faculty and the John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College, Rural Ireland: The Inside Story is co-curated by Irish Studies faculty member Vera Kreilkamp and McMullen Exhibition Designer Diana Larsen, in consultation with Irish Studies faculty members Marjorie Howes and Joseph Nugent, and Irish art historian Claudia Kinmonth.

“We hope to convey the Irish tenant’s aesthetic sensibility, a delight in display and color, as well as in the creation of ingenious household objects from limited resources such as driftwood, turf, or straw,” says Kreilkamp.  "Rural Ireland: The Inside Story offers powerful visual evidence that contests dark and even racist accounts by visitors and British government officials about ‘uncivilized’ Irish country people living in hovels.”

Public Opening Celebration: Monday, February 13, 7-9:30 p.m.
On February 13, the public is invited to join BC community members at a free opening celebration with a special evening viewing at the Museum. For information:

Michael Power O’Malley (1870-1946), Her Family Treasures, c. 1925.

Rural Ireland: The Inside Story
Covering the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth centuries, Rural Ireland offers a rich selection of 65 paintings that depicts the lives of ordinary families and reveals the range of classes living in the Irish countryside. Works are organized thematically: Ways of Living; Mourning, Celebrating, and Worshipping; Working; Reading and Writing; and Law Breaking. A concluding section, Twentieth-Century Paintings, depicts both the continuity and change in more recent rural interiors.

Rural Ireland also displays many examples of the household objects visible in the paintings— furniture, cooking utensils, baskets, and ceramics—as well as archaeological shards excavated from Famine cabins and works from the University’s Burns Library. The multi-dimensional exhibition includes a reconstructed cabin hearth surrounded by objects found in a typical nineteenth-century home in order to draw visitors into the interior spaces depicted by artists.

Paintings of interiors focus on such iconic scenes as the Irish wake in Frederic William Burton’s The Aran Fisherman’s Drowned Child, and on rituals of courtship, holiday celebrations, and country dances. Several images illustrate women’s traditional work, and Aloysius O’Kelly’s watercolor Mass in a Connemara Cabin turns with a sympathetic realism to the traditional custom of holding a “station” or Mass in a rural household.

Works by painters such as David Wilkie or Harry Jones Thaddeus depict the dark side of rural poverty driving Irish countrymen into illegal activities like whiskey distilling and poaching to survive. Margaret Allen’s painting Bad News in Troubled Times suggests the gathering post-Famine political tensions as parents face a son’s probable arrest.

The growth of literacy and the prominent role of American emigration so evident in James Brenan’s News from America also captured the attention of painters. Broadsides, magazines, illustrations, and books from the Burns Library provide further evidence of how a new emphasis on reading and writing rapidly transformed a formerly Irish-speaking people into one of the most literate English-speaking populations in Europe.

The exhibition concludes with a selection of mid-twentieth century paintings by Michael Power O’Malley, Anne Yeats, and Gerard Dillon. While adding new stylistic influences, images of interiors such as Gerard Dillon’s Yellow Bungalow or Power O’Malley’s Her Family Treasures illustrate the continuity of traditional life in an inward-looking country slowly moving toward modernity.

Accompanying Catalogue
Rural Ireland
is accompanied by a catalogue edited by Vera Kreilkamp that includes essays contributed by fourteen international and local scholars—including several BC faculty members—with color plates of the paintings and objects in the exhibition.

Exhibition Sponsors/Support
The exhibition has been underwritten by Boston College, the Patrons of the McMullen Museum, and Culture Ireland, with additional support from Eileen and Brian Burns.

Accompanying Public Programming
In addition to the public opening reception, the following lectures will be offered at the McMullen Museum, Devlin Hall 101.

March 12 at 4 p.m.: Prof. Angela Bourke, University College Dublin; “Visiting the Claddagh:
Artists and Others, 1840–1914”
Sponsor: BC’s Institute for the Liberal Arts
Until 1937, when its rows of small thatched houses were demolished to make way for modern housing, the Claddagh fishing village on the edge of Galway City had a unique tradition and personality. It was also easily accessible to outsiders, who came to alleviate poverty, to sketch, paint, take photographs, and to collect folktales. Bourke will discuss cultural encounters in the Claddagh in the period between the Great Famine and the Great War, including the making of paintings featured in the exhibition.

March 21 at 7 p.m.: Irish Art Historian Claudia Kinmonth; “Rural Ireland: The Inside Story" Sponsor: BC’s Lowell Humanities Series
Kinmonth’s book, Irish Rural Interiors in Art, helped inspire this exhibition. She speaks about her work, revealing that contrary to earlier assumptions, artists working in Ireland did turn to the lives of the country’s rural poor for subject matter. She has discovered dozens of previously unknown works, including some depicting an impoverished peasantry. These constitute an insufficiently recognized tradition of Irish genre painting warranting further investigation by social historians, archaeologists, and scholars of visual culture.

McMullen Museum of Art
The McMullen Museum is renowned for organizing interdisciplinary exhibitions that ask new questions and break new ground in the display and scholarship of the works on view. It
serves as a dynamic educational resource for all of New England as well as the national and international community. The Museum mounts exhibitions of international scholarly importance from all periods and cultures of the history of art. In keeping with the University’s central teaching mission, the Museum’s exhibitions are accompanied by scholarly catalogues and related public programs. The McMullen Museum of Art was named in 1996 by the late BC benefactor, trustee and art collector John J. McMullen and his wife Jacqueline McMullen.

McMullen Museum Hours and Tours
Admission is free; handicapped accessible, open to the public. Located in Devlin Hall 101 on BC’s Chestnut Hill campus, 140 Commonwealth Avenue. Hours during this exhibition: Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Closed: April 6, 8, 16; May 28. Docent-led tours available: Sundays, February 19 through June 3, 2012, from 2:00-2:45 p.m. Tours also arranged upon request by calling 617.552.8587. For directions, parking and information on public programs, visit or call 617.552.8100.


Media Contact, Nancy Netzer, Director,; 617.552.8587
Public Contact: 617.552.8100;