Vicky Phelan portait to be auctioned to raise funds for healthcare workers

Campaigner says portrait commissioned by Heroes Aid charity makes ‘the invisible visible’

CervicalCheck campaigner Vicky Phelan has paid tribute to the artist who painted her portrait for “making the invisible visible” and says she hopes the work will act as a “symbol of hope” for those who see it.

The triptych portrait by Vincent Devine, which was commissioned by the Heroes Aid charity, will be auctioned at Sheppard's Irish Auction House on Thursday, with all proceeds going to help frontline healthcare workers during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Speaking by phone from the United States, Ms Phelan said she was unsure when first approached about the portrait but that Devine "won me over".

“I could see how invested he was in his work. He’s very strong into women’s rights and advocating for women and what I really loved was the anatomical way he painted me. I really like this idea of showing my scars. We all live with scars that nobody sees and I thought it was a really clever way of making the invisible visible.”


Ms Phelan said she collaborated with Devine throughout the process and that they both agreed the painting should be situated in Doonbeg in Co Clare, a location she previously described as her favourite place on earth.

“He just got me and understood what was important to me and why. Anything he painted he ran by me, it was very much a collaboration.”

Ms Phelan, who has cervical cancer, is a patient advocate and board member of the Heroes Aid charity which was established in March 2020 to support frontline healthcare workers during the global pandemic. She is currently in Maryland in the US where she is undergoing experimental treatment to shrink her tumours.

She said the process was going well so far but that a scan at the end of March would determine whether the treatment is working or not.

“If I was at home there’s no other option, it was palliative chemotherapy and people wouldn’t be able to visit me because of Covid,” she said.

“I may as well be here trying something new on my own and because it’s the middle of Covid I’m not missing out on anything, everyone back home is locked down.”

Ms Phelan said earlier this year that she was rationalising her time abroad as “short-term pain for long-term gain” so she could spend a few more years with her children.

“At least if it doesn’t work, I’ll have no regrets,” she said. “That makes it easier to accept being here.”

The painting goes under the hammer at Sheppards' Irish Auction House at 2pm on Thursday.

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast