100 Artworks: The first 30. Which is your favourite? Tell us and win

The competition: Which is the greatest of the works published so far in this series? Write to us about one of them, explaining in no more than 300 words why it’s your favourite, and what it says about modern Ireland



Email your entry to 100artworks@irishtimes.com, and the entry we judge the best will win the five-volume book Art and Architecture of Ireland, courtesy of the Royal Irish Academy.



Art and Architecture of Ireland is a five-volume authoritative and fully illustrated account of the art and architecture of Ireland from the early Middle Ages to the end of the 20th century. This monumental work provides new insight into every facet of the strength, depth and variety of Ireland’s artistic and architectural heritage.

The volumes explore all aspects of Irish art and architecture – from high crosses to installation art, from Georgian houses to illuminated manuscripts, from watercolours and sculptures to photography, oil paintings, video art and tapestries. For more information about this 1600-year history of Irish art and architecture see www.ria.ie.

Modern Ireland in 100 Artworks is a collaboration between The Irish Times and the Royal Irish Academy, assessing a century of Irish creativity. A panel of experts convened by the academy has chosen a single Irish artwork – book, painting, sculpture, play, poem or building – for each year from 1916 to 2015.

Every Saturday Fintan O'Toole and panel members profile one of these works in The Irish Times and on irishtimes.com/100artworks.

The Royal Irish Academy is Ireland’s leading body of experts in the sciences and humanities.

The academy supports academic research and promotes awareness of how the sciences and the humanities benefit society.

See also: www.ria.ie

1916 – A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man By James Joyce

James Joyce’s semi-autobiographical first novel was as much concerned with Irish freedom as were the young political revolutionaries who staged the 1916 Rising. In the penultimate sentence of A Portrait, Stephen Dedalus proclaims his ambition “to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race”. The book itself probes that uncreated Irish consciousness, asking what a free Irish mind might feel like. The answers include a raw, urgent sexuality and a revolt against the power of the church.

1917 – Men of the West By Seán Keating

The Limerick-born artist Seán Keating’s Men of the West celebrates an act of political defiance.

WB Yeats, in his later poem The Municipal Gallery Revisited, interpreted the scene as the preparation for an ambush, which is perhaps to see it through the prism of later IRA tactics.

In fact, the men seem not so much to be preparing for anything as defiantly displaying themselves; the figure on the left holds the viewer’s gaze with his own steely stare. Even while creating an iconic image of how the new nationalistic Ireland saw itself, Keating revealed the uncertainty beneath that image.

1918 – Seacht mBua an Éirí Amach By Pádraic Ó Conaire

Pádraic Ó Conaire’s story collection, in which the Rising is a common element in the lives of seven very different people, traces the shift in attitudes among ordinary Irish people that resulted in Sinn Féin’s stunning electoral success in 1918. But Ó Conaire was no romantic: his politics were as strongly socialist as they were nationalist, and his aesthetic was un, modernist and sharply informed by an awareness of poverty and emigration. The drama of lives is no less heightened than the drama of the Rising that provides their context.

1919 – The Signing of Peace, Versailles By William Orpen

William Orpen went to the Western Front as an official war artist. An exhibition of his paintings was shown in 1918 to great acclaim; as a result Orpen received a commission to paint three huge pictures of the Paris Peace Conference for the Imperial War Museum. For The Signing of Peace, Orpen’s knowledge of art history led him to capture the leaders at a long table, as Leonardo da Vinci had posed his figures for The Last Supper. The painting memorialises and questions both the war and what turned out to be a highly problematic peace.

1920 – The Lobster Fisherman at Dusk By Paul Henry

The Belfast-born son of a Baptist preacher, Paul Henry became the primary creator of a visual representation of the west. In 1920, when Ireland was racked by conflict, he began The Lobster Fisherman at Dusk. The image might be centuries old. Billowing cumulus and horizontal bands of stratus cloud signify calm, but with the threat of wilder weather to come. The clear forms and monochromatic harmonies capture the challenge facing Irish artists at the time, of combining the demands of modernism and nationalism.

1921 – Back to Methuselah By George Bernard Shaw

In his early 60s, after the catastrophe of the first World War, George Bernard Shaw wrote this vast cycle, which he called a “metabiological pentateuch” and a “Bible for Creative Evolution”, made up of a long preface and five plays, stretching from 4004 BC in the Garden of Eden to AD 31920. Back to Methuselah is haunted by the fear that, if humanity does not grow up, the “war to end wars” will be merely the first in a series of wars. The cycle functions as a kind of science fiction in which humans eventually evolve into pure spirits.

1922 – Ulysses By James Joyce

A dazzling compendium of the mundane, from the graveyard to the maternity hospital, from bodily fluids to global trade, from mockery and infidelity to kindness and love: TS Eliot told Virginia Woolf in 1922 that Ulysses “destroyed the whole of the 19th century”. Joyce’s “stream of consciousness” had profound consequences for 20th-century art. But if Ulysses were simply a technical experiment it would be unreadable. The shock lay in its use of these techniques to express the lives of lower middle-class people in a marginal place.

1923 – Decoration By Mainie Jellett

Mainie Jellett’s mission was to introduce the Irish public to modernism, making her both the greatest advocate of modern art in Ireland and the prime target for those who opposed it. Decoration is a modernist take on very old themes. The expression of spirituality through art was a vital aspect of Jellett’s modernist mission and Decoration draws on traditional images of the Madonna and child. That these references were lost even on a largely Catholic culture underlines the degree to which abstract art was viewed as obscure.

1924 – Eve of St Agnes window By Harry Clarke

Based on the poem by John Keats, Harry Clarke’s Eve of St Agnes window is a work of almost pure fantasy, redolent of an imagination so luxurious it seems to transcend the straitened circumstances and conservatism of the early Irish Free State. The window was commissioned by Harold Jacob, owner of the Dublin biscuit factory, for his house on Ailesbury Road. Keats’s tale of elopement is made all the more powerful through the contrasts between the jewel-like comforts of the palace where the heroine sleeps and the frozen wastes outside.

1925 – Monument to William Gladstone By John Hughes

Commissioned in London, carried out in Paris, intended for Dublin: the monument that was never to find its place in the Irish capital tells its own story of the State’s awkward relationship with its British and imperial heritage. The statue by the Irish sculptor John Hughes was ready for casting in bronze in July 1914, but the advent of war delayed the process. In 1924 the government postponed the decision to accept the work, and ultimately the monument went to Hawarden, in Wales, where Gladstone had lived.

1926 – The Plough and the Stars By Seán O'Casey

In 1926, the 10th anniversary of the Easter Rising, the Abbey Theatre had just become the first in the English-speaking world to receive a government subsidy; so it was not unreasonable to expect that the theatre would mark the anniversary respectfully. Instead it staged O’Casey’s vivid, wrenching, surreal tragicomedy which presented the Rising through the experiences of those who suffered most in Easter Week: the Dublin slum dwellers. Some of the audience, led by widows of men who had died, expressed their outrage in riots.

1927 – Ardnacrusha hydroelectric scheme

Ardnacrusha is the short name for the Shannon hydroelectric scheme, in Co Clare, initiated by the Cumann na nGaedhael government in 1924. This architectural/ industrial scheme led to the establishment of the Electricity Supply Board in 1927 and brought electricity to thousands of predominately rural homes across the country by the end of the 1920s. Ardnacrusha became the byword for infrastructure in the new State. In a rural location, it echoed in built form Pádraig Pearse’s call, in 1913, for a “free Ireland” that would “drain the bogs, would harness the rivers, would plant the wastes, would nationalise the railways and the waterways”.

1928 – the Sam Maguire Cup By Hopkins & Hopkins

It is the Holy Grail of Gaelic football: the Sam Maguire Cup, presented every year to the winners of the All-Ireland final. A group of Maguire’s friends raised the considerable sum of £300 for a trophy to who died in 1927. The great silver cup was commissioned to commemorate the GAA and IRA activist ned from a Dublin jewellery firm, Hopkins & Hopkins. A copy of the eighth-century Ardagh Chalice, it is the most famous product of the search for a visual identity for the new Ireland rooted in the golden age of early Christian art.

1929 – An tOileánach By Tomás Ó Criomhthain

The Blasket islander Tomás Ó Criomhthain’s book An tOileánach is a milestone in the emergence of 20th-century Gaeltacht literature. Ó Criomhthain is highly conscious of his own literacy, acquired during sojourns in the Kerry village of Dunquin. The world he presents has heroic elements, in the perseverance of the islanders, their fishing and the need to be “cliste chun gach gnótha”. Still, Ó Criomhthain is equally clear about the difficulty of island life and the tragedy of its high mortality rates.

1930 – High Treason: The Trial of Roger Casement By Sir John Lavery

Sir John Lavery was invited to record Roger Casement’s appeal trial by the presiding judge, Sir Charles Darling, a former client of his. Lavery later claimed that Darling had commissioned this large work – three metres wide and two metres high – but it remained in the painter’s studio until his death in 1941. Lavery surely knew what he was doing when he left High Treason to British institutions in his will. For what he had produced was not an Irish painting or a British one but an image of two histories intertwined and at odds.

1931 – Guests of the Nation By Frank O'Connor

The title story of Frank O’Connor’s collection Guests of the Nation tells of two English soldiers, held by the IRA, who become – as the opening line has it – “chums” with their Irish captors. But if the British execute four prisoners as planned, those same captors will have to shoot the soldiers in cold blood. The story contains a fierce rebuke to the romanticisation of violence. The narrator’s final statement sums up the consequences of violence: “And anything that happened me afterwards, I never felt the same about again.”

1932 – Eucharistic Congress skywriting

The 1932 International Eucharistic Congress was the largest public event held in Ireland. Among the astounding images it generated is a photograph of skywriting over Dublin. Using equipment from the Theatre Royal, the event projected three words on to the night sky: Laudamus, Glorificamus and Adoramus (We praise, We glorify and We adore). The congress was not only an act of national worship but also an opportunity for the Free State to assert itself. Rome was assured of the unchanging religiosity of the nation, and the world was impressed by the State’s technical prowess.

1933 – The Winding Stair By WB Yeats

In this long volume, bringing together 64 poems written in the late 1920s and early 1930s, Yeats is still drawn to the wild, the dark and the passionate. Many of the poems in The Winding Stair come from a period when Yeats was suffering from a “nervous illness” and beset by fears of death, and they have within them a rage against the threatened dying of the light. The collection’s title refers literally to the stairs in Thoor Ballylee, Yeats’s Norman tower in Co Galway, and figuratively to the path towards death on which the poet twists and turns.

1934 – Devoted Ladies By Molly Keane

While Yeats was mythologising the ascendancy world of the big house in The Winding Stair, Molly Keane was busy demythologising it. As so often, the insider’s view was a good deal more sceptical than the outsider’s. Yeats saw the big house as noble and its fate in a new Ireland as essentially tragic. Keane, who inhabited that world, extracted a dark hilarity from its decline. She painted it as a world in which people were better at dealing with horses than with their own tangled sexual relationships and, especially, with their children.

1935 – The Death of Cúchulainn By Oliver Sheppard

Éamon de Valera chose Oliver Sheppard’s sculpture to serve as the official memorial to the 1916 Rising in the run-up to its 20th anniversary. At the unveiling ceremony in the GPO on April 21st, 1935, he described the work as “symbolising the dauntless courage and abiding constancy of our people”. Sheppard had not created his Cúchulainn for Easter 1916; he modelled the figure in 1911-1912 and exhibited it at the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1914. The figure is similar to traditional sculptures and images of the dead Christ.

1936 – Katie Roche By Teresa Deevy

Teresa Deevy lived most of her life in her native Waterford or with her sister in Dublin, and never married. Between 1930 and 1958, she wrote 25 plays, and her work raises startlingly blunt questions about the role of women in Éamon de Valera’s Ireland. Deevy was a nationalist and intensely devoted to a mystical Catholicism, but her depiction of female lives was uncomfortable. Her book has fantasy versions of herself as a saint, a lover or the child of “great people”. But she has no fixed self; such a thing is a luxury her society will not allow her.

1937 – Come Gather Round Me Parnellites By Jack B Yeats

Jack B Yeats’s illustration Come Gather Round Me Parnellites was made for a revival of the Cuala Press Broadsides in 1937. The image shows four middle-aged men toasting a portrait of Charles Stewart Parnell. This series included musical scores as well as poems and illustrations. The form of the Broadsides imitated that of the ballad sheets sold at fairs and markets in the 19th century. In editing it, WB Yeats was pursuing the connection between poetry and song, the idea poetry should be spoken or sung rather than read in silence.

1938 – Pray for the Wanderer By Kate O'Brien

Kate O'Brien's fourth novel, Pray for the Wanderer, is set in 1937 – the year in which Éamon de Valera's ascendancy was crowned by the adoption of his new Constitution. O'Brien might have been expected to take a positive view of de Valera's Ireland. Born in Limerick, she was a scion of the prosperous Catholic middle class. Yet this is an attack on the triumphant taoiseach and the country he leads. It says a great deal about independent Ireland's capacity to alienate artists who might have been only too happy to find a place within her book.

1939 – Irish Pavilion, New York World's Fair By Michael Scott

In April 1939, the New York World's Fair opened with the theme of "a new world of tomorrow". Ireland's home there, known as the Shamrock Pavilion because of its shape, was designed by Michael Scott. Instead of round towers, high crosses and thatched cottages, Scott went for broke with a thoroughly modern architectural showcase into which art, history and commerce were seamlessly integrated; a building in which the shamrock plan was elevated by a modernist cocktail of glazed curtain walls and clean white plaster. 1940 – Tinkers' Encampment: Blood of Abel By Jack B Yeats

This large, ambitious painting was completed in 1940 and shown at the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1941. Sculpted out of paint and demanding close scrutiny, the nomadic figures represent a blend of past and present, real and imaginary. Yeats had thought deeply. He told the buyer of the work in 1942 that “although this picture did not take long to paint, it was taking shape in my mind for over two years”. What took shape was a work in which intimations of violence compete with the sense of a mysterious and humane beauty.

1941 – An Béal Bocht By Myles na gCopaleen

Brian Ó Nualláin – aka Flann O’Brien and Myles na gCopaleen – can have had few illusions that An Béal Bocht, published in Irish when he was 30, would have a wide readership. He did know, however, those readers would be steeped in the tradition of Gaeltacht autobiographies, and this would give him the opportunity to give his parody full rein. An Béal Bocht is a sharp social and cultural critique. It deflates the image of the Gael by exaggerating poverty and adversity and inverting stoic heroism and saintly tolerance.

1942 – The Great Hunger By Patrick Kavanagh

Patrick Kavanagh, who grew up on 16 acres of what he called “hungry hills” in Iniskeen, Co Monaghan, could write with great lyric power about the ordinary life of an ordinary farm, but as his voice matured he used it to evoke not just rustic pleasures but also poverty, loneliness and sexual frustration. This was never more potently the case than in his ferocious The Great Hunger. With the centenary of the Great Famine approaching, Kavanagh can be seen as mapping its long-term emotional and psychological consequences.

1943 – Three Graces By Gabriel Hayes

The school of culinary arts and food technology at Dublin Institute of Technology opened to its first students in 1941. Part of the plan for the art-deco building was to place sculpture in chamfered bays outside, at either end of the entrance facade. The contract was awarded to Gabriel Hayes in November 1943. She completed only one of the two sculpture groups for the college of domestic science. The Three Graces shows three women doing a range of the domestic activities, notably cleaning and sewing, that were taught there.

1944 - Prayer Before Birth By Louis MacNeice

De Valera’s decision to keep Ireland neutral in the second World War was popular and, arguably, inescapable. But the Belfast-born poet Louis MacNeice was deeply unhappy about it; he could not be at home with neutrality in a decisive struggle against fascism. Prayer Before Birth uses free verse, but its incantatory rhythms and hypnotic repetitions give it the ritualised quality of a prayer. The speaker is an unborn child whose demand is to be allowed to come into a world in which it can be a free person.