Artist credits painting with saving him from ‘life of disaster’

Eddie Cahill believes he escaped fate similar to that of brother Martin, the ‘General’


Eddie Cahill, whose exhibition Insider opened last night at the Origin Gallery in Dublin, credits painting with saving him from a fate similar to that which befell his elder brother Martin, who was shot dead in 1994.

The Provisional IRA claimed his assassination, but no one has ever been prosecuted for it.

Although he has several convictions, including for armed robbery and assault, Cahill never achieved anything like the same level of notoriety as his brother: “the General” headed one of the most feared gangs in Irish criminal history.

By the time of Martin’s violent death, Eddie had begun painting. “Painting helped to change my life,” he said yesterday. “I’d still be living a life of disaster without it.”

It started when the artist Brian Maguire, whose own work had long focused on those socially marginalised or excluded, began working with prisoners in Portlaoise, Mountjoy and elsewhere. Cahill took to it immediately.

“Brian was my inspiration, and he’s pushed me along, pressured me to improve.”

When he picked up a brush, he was immediately dealing with dark, troubled subject matter. “My subject has always been the world we live in, the life I live and, you know, it’s not the most pleasant world.”

In painting, he says laconically: “I found a better way of expressing myself. It was a way of escaping a little, a way of distancing myself, I’d say.”

That perspective allowed him to transform himself. He feels he had little choice about his early move into criminality. But through painting: “I had choices that I didn’t have before. It was as much the people I met as the work itself. Things were different. Before that, it was an ‘us and them’ world. I began to see that we’re all the same, everyone faces that same problems, even if we have different ways of dealing with them.”

There is a darkly lyrical quality to Cahill’s paintings, which mostly depict single, isolated individuals. They are not at all macho or overly assertive, as you might expect. Rather they express doubt and emotional vulnerability. There is, he acknowledges, a darkness to them, but it is, as he puts it, “a soft darkness.”

Insider is at the Origin on Upper Fitzwilliam Street until March 7th.