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Modern Ireland in 100 Artworks: Ardnacrusha Hydro Electric Scheme

31 January 2015

1927, Ardnacrusha HydroelectricScheme

This week’s Irish Times Modern Ireland in 100 Artworks entry is the Ardnacrusha hydroelectric scheme by Gabriel Hayes.

According to Ellen Rowley ‘Ardnacrusha was seen as heralding a brave-new-world of engineering, reinforced-concrete architecture and early Free State aspirations’.

The hydroelectric scheme, which is found on the Shanon in Co Clare was initiated by the Cumann na nGaedhael government, with the work carried out by a team of Irish and German engineers.

The scheme led to the foundation of the ESB in 1927 and brought electricity to thousands of predominantly rural homes by the end of the 1920s.

Read more about the scheme and its significance in volume 4 of the Art and Architecture of Ireland.

Read the Irish Times article in full here.

Read Gabriel Hayes – the man behind the scheme’s – biography from the Royal Irish Academy’s Dictionary of Irish Biography.

Gabriel Hayes, by Carmel Doyle

Hayes (Ó Ríordáin), (Mary) Gabriel (1909–78), sculptor and painter, was born 25 August 1909 at Holles St. hospital, Dublin, eldest of three children of Jeremiah Hayes, an RIC member who worked on maintenance in the prison service, and was resident at 23 Mountjoy St., Derry city, and Gertrude Hayes (née Lawlor). Reared primarily by her aunt, she was educated at the Dominican college, Eccles St., Dublin, and studied French at a school in Montpellier for three years. While there, she took drawing lessons at a provincial académie-des-beaux-arts, an experience that determined her interest in art. On her return to Dublin, she enrolled in the Metropolitan School of Art (1930–35). She studied anatomy on her own, and spent her summer holidays in France and Italy. In her second year she was awarded the teachership-in-training scholarship, and in 1934 won the Taylor scholarship for her sculpture ‘Prodigal son’. In her masters certificate she came first in Ireland. She began exhibiting at the RHA in 1932, a portrait ‘Anna’, and continued to exhibit there until 1947. Her illustrations appeared in Tales of Tara (1934), a book of folklore by Ethel Boyce Parsons, and in The long-tailed hen, and other stories (1935) by M. F. MacGeehin. She was commissioned by the Irish Sisters of Charity in 1934 to place a painting of St Brigid and stations of the cross in the Children of Mary Sodality chapel at the Hospice for the Dying, Harold's Cross; the stations, carved in low relief in plaster, were later coloured to suit the needs of the congregation.

In the mid 1930s Hayes resided with her father at 74 Kincora Rd, Clontarf, Dublin. She married (1936) Seán P. Ó Ríordáin (qv), an archaeologist and lecturer in UCC, and moved with him to Monkstown, Co. Cork; they had one son and one daughter. Thereafter, she signed work sometimes with her married, sometimes with her maiden, name. She painted portraits of Caitriona MacLeod (1935) and Archdeacon John Begley MRIA (1941). In 1941 she completed the ‘Three Graces’ – a sculpture depicting figures respectively sweeping, spinning, and sewing – for the exterior of the College of Catering, Cathal Brugha St., Dublin. Her ornamental carved panels for the exterior of the new Department of Industry and Commerce Building, Kildare St., Dublin, were executed in limestone in 1942. From a wooden cage raised by a steel derrick to a height of some eighty feet (twenty-five metres), she carved two keystones in situ, showing Éire (above the main entrance) and St Brendan (qv) the navigator. A relief panel on the entrance lintel depicted Lugh, the Celtic god of light, animating a fleet of airplanes – an apt contemporary reference, as the airport at Collinstown, Co. Dublin, was under construction at the time. Her representations of the milling, iron, tobacco, shoemaking, and cement industries, and of the Shannon hydroelectric power station, were executed as art-deco panels for the ministerial balcony.

In 1943 Hayes moved with her family to Newbridge Lodge, Celbridge, Co. Kildare, after her husband had become professor of Celtic archaeology at UCD. She painted four portraits and executed two large bronze reliefs – a ‘Sacred Heart’ and a ‘Madonna and Child’ – for the side altars of Holy Cross church, Glanworth, Co. Cork (1944). Her limestone Madonna figure was placed in the grounds of the Servite priory, Benburb, Co. Tyrone, in 1950. After a back operation in 1950 she spent a year convalescing in hospital. She contributed to the inaugural exhibition of the Institute of the Sculptors of Ireland (1952). In partnership with the architect Basil Boyd Barrett (qv), who designed churches in Cork, she executed such sculptures as the ‘Ascension of Christ’ for the church of the Ascension, Cork city. Her Madonna figure was placed in the church of the Black Valley, Co. Kerry, in 1954. She won a competition to design trophies for the 1954 Tóstal festival, but produced only two, the emblems for art and sport, as the procedure proved too costly. In 1955 her nine-foot (2.75-metre) bronze Madonna was placed over the Franciscan friary, Merchant's Quay, Dublin. She began work on life-size stations of the cross for Galway cathedral in 1957, a challenging undertaking that took eighteen years to complete. Her memorial to Luke Wadding (qv) (d. 1657) was placed on the quay near Reginald's Tower, Waterford city, in 1957. For St John's church, Tralee, Co. Kerry, she executed sculptures in Portland stone of ‘Christ carrying his cross’, and a stone rendering of St Brendan (1959). She placed a bronze figure of ‘Our Lady’ over the entrance to St Mary's Church, The Mall, Westport, Co. Mayo (1960), and carved a ‘Holy Family’ in Portland stone for the Holy Family post-primary school, Newbridge, Co. Kildare (1967).

In 1969 Hayes received the important commission to supply the designs for the bronze decimal coins to be issued as the new Irish currency in 1971. Receiving technical instruction at the Royal Mint in London, she adapted a bird design for the new halfpenny from an ornamental bird detail in a manuscript in the cathedral library, Cologne. She based the new penny design on an illumination from the Book of Kells, and adapted a bird detail from the second bible of Charles the Bald in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, for the twopence. After suffering a broken collar-bone in 1970 she was unable to carve for a while, and spent her time researching and drawing coins. Her commemorative silver medal, showing St Patrick (qv) arriving in Ireland, was presented to Jeremiah Newman (qv), president of St Patrick's College, Maynooth, in 1972. She designed seven medals illustrating the life of St Patrick, which were made from Irish silver at the Franklin Mint, Pennsylvania, USA, each year from 1972. With painting becoming difficult for her, as the technique differed from sculpting, she decided to carve some pieces of timber that she had acquired over the years. In 1977 she won the oireachtas gold medal for her walnut sculpture ‘Grainne Mhaol looking towards the sea’. After a long illness she died 28 October 1978 at St Vincent's hospital nursing home, Elm Park, Dublin, and was buried in Donoughcomper cemetery. A beechwood carving of Manannán Mac Lir was left unfinished at her death. Her ‘Cork bowler’ painting, shown at the RHA in 1941, was sold at Christie's auction, London, in 2000.

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