Freedom of Roscommon conferred on artist Brian O’Doherty

‘Last thing I expected, God knows. Then the unexpected has been a great part of my life’

The Freedom of Roscommon has been conferred on artist, author, doctor, art critic and academic Brian O’Doherty (89) who was born and grew up in Ballaghaderreen.

He has lived in New York City for more than 50 years.

The ceremony took place at the Irish Museum of Modern Art (Imma) at the opening of the 'Brian O'Doherty Language and Space' exhibition, which continues until September.

The decision to award him the freedom of the county was made at a meeting of of Roscommon County Council last January.


A letter had been sent to Roscommon County Council cathaoirleach Cllr Orla Leyden last October, asking that the honour be conferred on the Booker-shortlisted author.

In an interview with The Irish Times the previous month, Mr O'Doherty said: "Ireland does not appreciate its foreign achievers. It's kind of an insult if you achieve. You're supposed to fail and then you'll be adopted."

Making the presentation at Imma, Cllr Leyden said the award had been “unanimously supported by all of the councillors in recognitionof Brian O’Doherty’s incredible contribution to Co Roscommon, nationally and internationally.

“He’s a world-acclaimed visual artist, he’s a writer, he’s been a film maker, he has, through his art made political points of view. He has used his art to influence,” she said.

Ballaghaderreen mafia

Receiving the honour Mr O’Doherty said it was “the last thing I expected, God knows. But then the unexpected has been a great part of my life.”.

He was, he said, "very intimately related to Ballaghaderreen because I am part of the Ballaghaderreen mafia" which "has generated so many people of distinction like Garry Hynes, the theatre lady, and (installation and video artist) James Coleman.I'm sure more will come out of Ballaghaderreen, in time."

Born in Ballaghaderreen in 1928, he studied medicine at UCD, Cambridge, and Harvard before moving to New York where he devoted himself to the visual arts.

In the 1960s, he was arts critic for the New York Times but today his own works are on display in New York's Museum of Modern Art and Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Pompidou in Paris, Imma, and the Hugh Lane in Dublin.

He is probably better known in this country as Patrick Ireland. In 1972, at Dublin's Project Arts Centre he was reborn as "Patrick Ireland" in protest at the Bloody Sunday killings in Derry that year.

Dressed in white, he was ceremoniously doused in green and orange pigment by fellow artists Robert Ballagh and Brian King before an audience of 30 invited witnesses in a 'baptism' ceremony.

In 2008, due to the peace process, he ceremoniously buried Patrick Ireland at Imma in Dublin and resumed his birth name.

Earlier this month the centrepiece on a bare dark stage in the production Here All Night at Dublin's Abbey Theatre was a sculptural installation by Mr O'Doherty, in which a petrified body was suspended mid-air like someone laid to rest in a display case.

Last weekend, he attended the opening of an exhibition of his murals at the Sirius Arts Centre in Cobh, Co Cork while a presentation of his film work at the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork city continues until July.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times