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Women on Walls

07 December 2016


PDF icon About women on walls

First female portraits to hang on Royal Irish Academy walls unveiled.

12 Portraits of women leaders

Portraits of 12 female academic leaders,  the first to hang on the walls of the Royal Irish Academy, were unveiled on 7 December. Women on Walls features individual portraits of the first four women to be admitted to the academy alongside a group painting of eight of today’s leading female scientists. 

Bringing the Women on Walls campaign to life

Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald TD unveiled the portraits at an event hosted in Academy House, where the academics and family members of all the portrait subjects gathered to celebrate.  The finished artworks, by Vera Klute and Blaise Smith, are the first portraits of female subjects to be featured on the Academy’s walls in its 230-year history.

Speaking at the event the Tánaiste said

 “The Government is committed to encouraging women into Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths and we are very aware of the importance of delivering on this to ensure Ireland's place at the forefront of the global digital economy. Accenture and the Royal Irish Academy are to be commended for bringing the Women on Walls campaign to life. Sometimes the most powerful and effective ideas are the simplest and most importantly this campaign challenges us to ask where are the women across all aspects of Irish society."

Addressing the gender gap

The campaign originated when Accenture executives were attending a meeting in the Royal Irish Academy to discuss addressing the gender gap in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths (STEM).   On leaving the meeting, they asked “Where are the women?” as they surveyed the hall dominated by traditional male portraits.  

“The Accenture Women on Walls campaign was born at that moment,” said Alastair Blair, Country Managing Director, Accenture in Ireland.  “As part of Accenture’s commitment to supporting and making female leaders visible, we partnered with the Academy to commission these portraits.  We have long been committed to tackling gender inequality and increasing the profile of women within Accenture and throughout the business community. In this centenary year, this initiative was a natural extension of that work.  After all, you can’t be what you can’t see.”

Creating role models

Laura Mahony, Chief Executive of the Royal Irish Academy said:

“The Academy wants to create role models to inspire our future generations. The people of Ireland should know of, and be proud of the twelve extraordinary women whose portraits will hang on the walls of Academy House for years to come. We hope that people will come into Academy house to see these portraits and find out about these women and their work.”

She went on to say,

“I would like to thank Accenture for working with the Academy to create Women on Walls and hope that this is the start of a much bigger campaign to make women leaders more visible.”

The portraits are now available to view by the public at Academy House, 19 Dawson Street, Dublin 2.  They can also be viewed online at, along with the full story of the campaign and background on the academics, scientists and artists.  

About the Paintings

The five portraits consist of four individual portraits of the first four female Members of the Royal Irish Academy, elected in 1949 who were pioneers in their respective fields which included mathematical physics, Irish art history, plant viruses and classical Irish literature. Vera Klute was the chosen artist for the four works of art.

The fifth portrait is a group portrait of eight female scientists, who are recipients of the European Research Council Starter Grants 2012 – 2015 and have been chosen as representatives of a generation of outstanding young female scientists working in Ireland today. Their areas of expertise include light and solar panels, genetics, human aging, immunology and bio medical engineering among others.  Blaise Smith was the artist who worked with the eight women to produce the portrait.

Meet the women – First Females Admitted to the Royal Irish Academy

Sheila Tinney (1918 – 2010)
A pioneering academic in mathematical physics, Sheila Tinney was described by Nobel Laureate Erwin Schrödinger as ‘among the best equipped and most successful of the younger generation of physicists in this country’.

Françoise Henry (1934 – 1982)
Françoise Henry was one of the most important twentieth-century historians of Irish art. She trained at the École du Louvre and the Sorbonne, establishing herself as an expert on very early forms of sculptural decoration, particularly in Early Christian Irish Art.

Phyllis Clinch (1901 – 1984)
Award winning scientist Phyllis Clinch, was one of the greatest female inventors of her generation and world renowned for her innovative research into plant viruses.

Eleanor Knott (1886-1975)
Eleanor Knott was a "pathbreaking" researcher of classical Irish literature. Having taught herself to read modern Irish, she went on to study old Irish at the School of Irish Learning in Dublin and won a scholarship to continue her studies in 1907.

Group Portrait: Recipients of the European Research Council Starter Grants 2012 – 2015

Professor Sarah McCormack (TCD)

Professor McCormack’s research explores photovoltaic panels which convert solar energy into direct current electricity.

Professor Aoife McLysaght (TCD)

One of Ireland’s leading geneticists and was on the team that analysed the initial sequence of the human genome in 2001. She was also involved in a major discovery about how genes are formed.

Associate Professor Aoife Gowen (UCD)

Associate Professor, Aoife Gowen is an expert in hyperspectral imaging. Her ERC project Biowater, aims to uncover new knowledge 

Professor Lydia Lynch (TCD and Harvard)

Professor Lynch’s research has found that a type of anti-tumour immune cell protects against obesity and the metabolic syndrome that leads to diabetes.

Professor Debra Laefer (UCD)

Professor Laefer’s research aims to prevent damage to buildings above tunnel excavation, by developing a 3D modelling system that can predict what buildings are most likely to sustain damage during tunnelling.

Professor Emma Teeling (UCD)

Professor Teeling is a world authority on bat genetics. She studies bats for insights into human diseases such as blindness and deafness as well as aging.

Dr Maria McNamara (UCC)

Dr McNamara and her team of researchers, have made a landmark dinosaur discovery: designated ‘Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus’, it is the first example of a plant-eating dinosaur that had both scales and feathers.

Professor Catríona Lally (TCD)

Professor Lally is the principal investigator on a project focusing on developing a means of early diagnosis of degenerative cardiovascular diseases. These studies are highly relevant to stroke patients and those with vascular disease.

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