Bronze by sculptural artist John Behan an antidote to hype of NFTs

Maquette of well-known public sculpture Arrival among works in Morgan O’Driscoll art sale

Words used by the late Seamus Heaney to describe sculptural artist John Behan really resonate this spring with the recent frenzy of NFT (non-fungible tokens).

Over the past month – in the name of art – a print was burned and sold as an online video and now a robot named Sophia has sold her first ever artwork for $700,000 (€589,610). She may be one of the world’s most advanced robots, and her moniker may originate from the word wisdom, but is robotic art not an oxymoron? Is all this hype a cloak and dagger effort to catapult the notion of cryptocurrencies into everybody’s lexicon?

Describing John Behan as a “psychic bedrock”, Ireland’s Nobel Laureate for Literature went on to say: “There is no game playing, no artsy role-playing, no temperamental swank or masquerade. You meet the man, not the mask, the inner soul rather than the social exterior.”

Indeed Behan's work speaks for itself without the need for pomp, stunts or hyperbole. Now aged 83, he is best known for his public sculptures, most notably the colossal National Famine Memorial in Murrisk, Co Mayo, and Arrival, at the United Nations building in New York. His work is in the private collections of Bill and Hillary Clinton and Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and is displayed in the public collections at the National Gallery of Ireland and the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery.


Morgan O'Driscoll's art sale which is currently open and ends on Monday, April 19th has some lovely works by the Galway-based artist, two of which echo his large public installations.

Famine ship

Lot 66, is a limited edition bronze maquette of Arrival; the monumental work gifted by the Irish people to the United Nations, who say, “it celebrates the contribution of the Irish people in their new lives among the nations of the world”.

This year the monument is particularly significant, as Ireland now sits on the most powerful body in the UN system since we took our seat on the United Nations Security Council in January (€8,000-€12,000).

Behan describes sculpture as "dirty, heavy, filthy work and not for the fainthearted", and his National Famine Monument - commissioned by the Irish Government - at Murrisk, outside Westport, serves as a reminder of the many emigrants who died in the appalling conditions aboard the coffin ships fleeing the famine in the mid 1800s. Lot 118, Western Famine Ship, signed and dated 2020, is listed at €5,000-€7,000.

The views from the foot of Croagh Patrick, where Behan’s monument stands, overlook the shores of Clew Bay, which is one of the most interesting bays in Ireland not only for its 365 drumlins, but for some past residents on the larger islands.

Besides Beatle frontman John Lennon, a rake of hippies, a religious sect and an Egyptian millionaire, the most famous resident to live in the bay was the bald-headed pirate queen Granuaile, or Grace O'Malley. The 16th century heroine who remains an inspiration for women today, is portrayed in lot 75, Grainne Ui Mhaol, a beautiful fluid-like bronze by Sandra Bell (€1,000-€1,500).

O'Driscoll's sale of almost 200 works include Louis le Brocquy, Paul Henry, Sean Scully and Hughie O'Donoghue along with lithographs, etchings and silkscreens by Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst, David Hockney and Bridget Riley.

Fergus O’Ryan Studio

Also currently running and ending on April 21st is Adam's of St Stephen's Green sale: Travels: Painter and Palette, which is the studio collection of Fergus O'Ryan RHA, who died in 1989. Described at one time as Ireland's most popular painter, the proceeds of O'Ryan's studio collection which includes watercolours, sketches and oils – some dating back to the 1940's – will go to Our Lady's Hospice. A lecturer in the College of Art, and a well-respected member of the Royal Hibernian Academy, O'Ryan was a member of both the selection committee, and the hanging committee, for the annual exhibitions for many years, as well as being a regular exhibitor himself. With no reserves, the reasonable estimates from €100-€800, take into account that many of these works are simply mounted, while some are framed.

Rosslare Community Development Charity Sale

Also running, and closing this Monday, April 12th is Rosslare Community Development Association online charity sale. To give the committee their due, they have collected quite an impressive array of art and crafts for the sale.

"Asking for donations was difficult because I knew that closure of galleries and art shops had caused a lot of heartache. However, far from getting refusals, I was astounded by the generosity of the artistic community," says artist Anne Marie Kearns of the auction committee.

Featured alongside an oil portrait of Brian O'Driscoll clad in his Lions captain jersey by Billy McAndrew, and a portrait of Samuel Beckett by Colm Maye are works by Bridget Flannery, Frances Ryan, Neal Greig, Bob Lynn, Margaret Kent, and Elsie Nolan to name a few. Also featured are some lovely wool rugs and throws made by local craftspeople, and there's even a decorative old bicycle to hold garden plants made from recycled bicycle parts.