Cultural Identity & Famous Irish Art

From early illuminated manuscripts from the Middle Ages to contemporary styles from today's art scene, Ireland has a wealth of art. This article will introduce you to a few of Ireland's most well-known and lesser-known artists, as well as the cultural significance of their work.

Cultural Identity & Famous Irish Art

There are many beautiful artworks and sculptures in Ireland, created by both famous and lesser-known artists. This article aims to introduce you to a few of them and their cultural significance.

While most international tourists head to Dublin for the major sights, be sure to check out some of the magnificent art collections and heritage sites around the country.

The History of Ireland’s Art

Irish art history is a rich and varied one, with a long and illustrious tradition that has seen the country produce some of the worlds’ most celebrated artists.

The history of Irish art is a long and proud one, dating back to the early medieval period. From the early illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages to the European styles of the contemporary art scene.

The island of Ireland has a wealth of art to offer, and its artists have often pushed the boundaries of what is possible.

Mythology – for the Dreamers

Irish history and culture is complex, unique and influenced by a variety of sources, including the mythology of the Vikings, Finns, Normans, Germans, Danes and Anglo-Saxons.

Ireland has a history rich in culture, myth and legend. One of the most consistent aspects throughout history is the fine art produced by Irish artisans. The themes depicted in much modern art tend to be lively, full of action and detail.

Irish Literature

Irish Literature is one of the most celebrated in the world steeped in poetic mythology and anachronisms. Irish Literature has given us many world’s most famous authors, such as George Bernard Shaw, William Butler Yeats, and James Joyce, Oscar Wilde

Themes in Irish Art

One of the dominant themes a lot of famous Irish art is the depiction of the rural landscape. This is most famously seen in the work of Jack B. Yeats, who often used lush landscapes of scenes from his native County Sligo.

The Influence of Religion on Irish Art

The Irish have a long and proud history of producing beautiful art. Much of this art is inspired by their religious beliefs and traditions. From intricate Celtic crosses and Celtic knotwork to stunning stained glass windows, the influence of religion on Irish art is unmistakable.

The Book of Kells

The Book of Kells is housed in the Long Room, Trinity College, and is arguably one of Ireland’s most famous works of art. It is an illuminated manuscript Gospel book in Latin, containing the four Gospels of the New Testament.

Celtic monks created the Book of Kells around the year 800 AD, and researchers believe that it was originally produced in a monastery on the island of Iona off the coast of Scotland.

When Vikings attacked Iona, the surviving monks relocated to Kells, Co. Meath, to a sister monastery. Some scholars believe that the Book of Kells was completed here.

It appears to have been created by three artists and four scribes, and contains lavish decorations and illustrations, including a famous portrait of the author, Saint Matthew.

The Secret of Kells

Based on the origins of Ireland’s most famous illustrated manuscript, The Secret of Kells is a 2009 Irish-French-Belgian animated fantasy film about the making of the Book of Kells.

The film was created by award-winning Irish animation film, short film and television studio, Cartoon Saloon based in Kilkenny.

The National Gallery of Ireland

The national collection of Irish and European artwork is kept at the National Gallery of Ireland. It is situated in Dublin’s city center and has two entrances, one on Merrion Square next to Leinster House and the other on Clare Street, and is home to a number of famous Irish paintings. It was established in 1854, and ten years later it opened its doors.

The Chester Beatty Museum

The Chester Beatty Library, now known as the Chester Beatty, is a museum and library in Dublin. It was established in Ireland in 1950, to house the collections of mining magnate, Sir Alfred Chester Beatty.

The museum is home to manuscripts, rare books, and other treasures from all around the world, with the aim of promoting the appreciation and understanding of world cultures.

Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA)

The Royal Hibernian Academy is an artist based and artist orientated institution dedicated to developing, affirming and challenging the public’s appreciation and understanding of traditional and innovative approaches to the visual arts. The Academy achieves its objectives through its exhibition, education and collection programmes.

Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA)

IMMA connects audiences and art, providing an extraordinary space where contemporary life and contemporary modern Irish art connect, challenge and inspire one another.

Housed in the 17th-century Royal Hospital Kilmainham, developed to conserve the Irish National Collection of Modern and Contemporary Art. It consists of over 3,500 works by Irish and international artists.

National Museum of Ireland

The National Museum of Ireland collections are housed across four sites: three in Dublin city centre, and one in the west of the country. The museums are free to enter and all have a large collection of items from both prehistoric to contemporary time periods.

  • Decorative Arts & History – Collins Barracks, Dublin 7
  • Country Life – Turlough Park, Castlebar, Co Mayo
  • Natural History – Merrion St Upper, Dublin 2
  • Archaeology – Kildare St, Dublin 2

Irish Travellers: A Unique Culture

Have you ever wanted to explore Ireland? Whether you are a crafts person or not, travelling to Ireland is an incredible opportunity. If you are a crafts person, you can find inspiration and experience traditional artisanship in Ireland.

Irish Travellers have a unique culture with their own distinct language, music, and customs. They are a nomadic people who have been travelling around Ireland for centuries.

History & Culture

Cultural values are the deep-seated norms that shape our understanding of what is right or wrong, beautiful or ugly, admirable or worthless. There are many cultural similarities between travellers, including shared languages, customs, and unique traditions.

Irish Travellers

In Irish, travellers are known as an lucht siúil, which means ‘the walking people’. Also known as Pavees, or Mincéirs (Shelta: Mincéir).

Travellers have a distinct identity and culture, based on a nomadic tradition and outdoor life, which distinguishes them from sedentary populations or ‘settled people’.

Clusters of Genes

It has been documented that Irish Travellers have been a part of Irish society for hundreds of years.

Irish Traveller origins have long been a subject of considerable discussion, and the lack of documentation that can reveal the truth about their history only complicates the issue.

Although the origins of their population are unknown, it probably diverged from the settled Irish population in the early 1600s, when the Cromwellians conquered Ireland.

DNA analysis has revealed that the Traveller community contains four genetic clusters or subdivisions. Their social groupings and language use tend to correspond to these patterns.

There is a cluster associated with the “Rathkeale group” of Travellers. Two other clusters are tied to whether Travellers speak the Cant or Gammon dialect of Shelta, the Traveller language.

A study showed that Roma Gypsies did not significantly contribute to Traveller DNA, disproving a belief held by some that the two groups were genetically related.

After many years of campaigning the 1st March 2017 was an historic and momentous day for the Irish Traveller community, as they became officially recognised as an ethnic group within the Irish State.

Travellers Outside of Ireland

In England, there are several different groups of Gypsies and Travellers, including Romany Gypsies, Irish Travellers, New Travellers, and Circus’s and Fairground families.

Some cultural values and traditions are shared, including a nomadic lifestyle or heritage.

The other thing that they share is a high level of discrimination and prejudice in their daily lives, as well as great difficulties maintaining their way of life and heritage.

These groups face many other disadvantages as well, such as access to health care, education, and secure housing. This has resulted in life expectancy being significantly lower than the national average.


You may not realise it, but a number of common words in the English language have actually originated from Romany Gypsies.

The Romany language, also known as Romani, is an unwritten language believed to have originated in Northern India, particularly from the Hindi, Sanskrit and Punjabi languages.

There are words that are used every day that actually come from the Romany Gypsy language. For example, the very familiar name for a sweet ‘Lollipop’ actually comes from Romany ‘loli phabai’ that means red apple. It was first a Roma tradition to sell candied apples on a stick.

The term cushty actually comes from the Romany word ‘kushitipen’ or ‘kushti’, which means ‘very good.’ This phrase was popularized by David Jason’s character Derek ‘Del Boy’ Trotter in the famous BBC TV series Only Fools and Horses.

Traveller Culture, Crafts and Traditions

The traveller culture has a long and varied history, but one of the defining features of a traveller is a love of wanderlust. Many travellers travel alone, but their rich culture also embraces travelling in groups or family units.

The trades for the men were mainly seasonal work. This could be harvesting crops, mending pots and pans and general labouring. The trades for women could be telling fortunes, selling lucky heather or picking wild flowers to sell. Women and children would also help with summer work like picking fruits.

Travellers take pleasure in meeting other travelling community and sharing stories of their adventures. Some travellers make a living by trading goods. A sense of community is at the core of traveller culture. The traveller will always make space for another traveller to join them.

Irish Horses

Horses have always been considered very important and highly respected animals in Ireland.

Historically one of the most famous horses is the Byelerley Turk (c. 1680 – c. 1703), (also spelled Byerly Turk). He was a fighting horse in the Ottoman cavalry, which would be captured by the English during the Siege of Buba.

The Byerley Turk would be ridden across Europe in various campaigns, winning the resurrected King James II Plate in the lanes of Co. Down, before fighting in the bloody Battle of the Boyne.

Upon his retirement to Yorkshire in England, the horse became the first of three stallions that were the founders of the modern thoroughbred horse racing bloodstock (the other two are the Godolphin Arabian and the Darley Arabian). These horses are known for their naturally precocious behaviour, as well as their athleticism and beauty.

Established by Colonel William Hall-Walker (later Lord Wavertree) in 1906-1910, the British National Stud and the Japanese Gardens, in Tully, Co. Kildare, were presented to the Irish ‘nation’ in 1915.

The intervening years and Irish War of Independence, left the farm in a somewhat level of obscurity. With the properties having formally returned to the Irish Government in 1943, the Irish National Stud Company was founded in with the purpose of preserving the Irish Horse breed.

It used to be that every young man had to learn to ride. The horse not only served as a mode of transportation, but also as a valuable agricultural tool, such as ploughing.

During the twentieth century as mechanization became more commonplace, horses were no longer in such high demand for many work purposes.

Irish horses have gone on to be some of the most sought after in the world, particularly in the sports of racing and show jumping. In addition to riding schools, trail riding, and hunting, the equestrian industry employs many people. 

This is especially noticeable at the Dublin Horse Show, which is one of the highlights of the Irish summer and takes place every year for five days in August. The show is regarded as one of the world’s top equestrian events, is the pinnacle event for the Irish sport horse industry and a major draw for international equestrian competitors. Ultimatley it is a celebration of Ireland’s love of horses.

Hunting with hounds is a tradition in Ireland that goes back to ancient times and features strongly in Celtic literature and legend. Despite this, many people believe that fox hunting is a cruel and barbaric blood sport that is happening openly and legally in the Republic of Ireland.

Horses and Horse Traders

Horses are one of the most commonly traded livestock, and horse traders act as middlemen between buyers and sellers. Traders can be either independent or specialise in certain types of horses, such as racehorses, ponies, workhorses, donkeys.

Horses have been a part of Irish culture for centuries, and are still used today, the horse is often an emblem of strength and power.

In Ireland, horse-trading was a big part of everyday life. In order to get a good horse, the trader had to win the horse in a race. After the race, the trader had to then sell the horse. It was a very time-consuming process. In the late 1800s, the horse became a symbol of Irish nationalism, and this sentiment can still be found in the modern day.

Many Irish artists have created works of art, including sculptures, paintings and murals, which are focused on the horse. For example, Jack Butler Yeats ‘In The Whistle of a Jacket’ painted in 1946, use of high impasto (exuberantly applied paint) which emphasises the painting’s essential theme of unmitigated freedom. Painting itself was an emotional release for Yeats.

There are many different types of horses in Ireland, including trotters and saddle horses. A trotter is a horse that is built for speed, and a saddle horse is a horse that is built for riding.

Smithfield Horse Market, Dublin

This area is known for the historical Horse Fair that used to take place every month, for the best part of 400 years. A by-law passed on January 14, 2013 reduced it to twice a year and this established some new rules and regulations.

The main causes for the change were some violent incidents and objections of nearby residents who are uncomfortable with its atmosphere, noise, perceptions of animal abuse and neglect.

The Smithfield Horse Fair continues to draw heavy and sustained criticism from a wide range of sources, including the Garda Síochána (Irish Police) and the Dublin Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (DSPCA). There are many legal difficulties in closing down and/or moving away the market, coupled with its centuries-old heritage. Dublin City Council and the horse fair defenders are locked in an ongoing battle with no clear resolution in sight.

Ballinasloe International October Fair

The Ballinasloe International October Fair is a three-day event that is held in Ballinasloe, Co. Galway, on the last weekend of October. It is one of the largest livestock fairs in Ireland, and is attended by visitors from all over the world.

This is Ireland’s, and maybe Europe’s, oldest traditional fair and an annual gathering has taken place here since at least the time of the High Kings of Tara.

The main purpose of the fair is the sale of horses, and watching the hundreds of horse dealers gathered with their stock and doing business on the Fair Green is a highlight of the week. All sorts of horses are sold, from tiny ponies to huge hunters and more than one international show jumper was bought as a young horse at the fair.

Selling is done the old way – no auctioneers or fancy sales ring, the horses gather, the buyers gather and deals are done in cash.

Many deals are completed with a spit swear, which means you never break your word. It is a bond between two people who have just come to some sort of agreement; both spit in their palm and then shake hands with the wet hand. This is often viewed as the ‘lite’ version of a Blood Oath.

There is also lots more though, music, especially traditional music, is everywhere, there are tug-of-war competitions, bareback riding, a carnival and many street traders selling just about anything you can imagine.

Caravan Painting

At first travellers put their belongings on an open or flat cart and often lived in tents called Bender tents.

However, by the 1880s the flat cart had been developed into a wooden wagon called a Vardo. Horses pulled these wagons, inside of which there would be a double bed and underneath that a single bed. The single bed would be for the youngest child. The other children would sleep outside under tarpaulin.

Hand painted Romany Gypsy Bowtop caravans are decorated in many different ways that represent personal and unique designs.

The designs used by Gypsies reflected the countryside they travelled through. Each would be designed and was usually unique to that family.

Family horses were a particular favourite. The families also liked carvings of birds, flowers, fruit and animals. Some families liked designs from Ancient Rome that included grapes, lions, classical lines and scrolls.

The status of the Gypsy family could be seen by the decorations on their Vardo. The more intricate the design, the richer the family were, including gold leaf being used as part of the decoration. This something that still can be seen in the pride of elaborately decorated grave plots and memorials of ancestor’s past.

Canal Barges/Roses and Castles

A narrowboat is a particular type of canal boat, designed to fit the narrow locks of canal networks. During Britain’s prolonged rule over Ireland, two man made waterways were built: the Grand Cancel and subsequently the Royal Canal, built in direct competition to the former.

The canal system provided a nationwide transport network during the Industrial Revolution, but with the advent of the railways, commercial canal traffic gradually diminished and the last regular long-distance transportation of goods had virtually disappeared by 1970s.

Roses and Castles is the colourful canal folk art that was used to decorate working narrowboats in the 19th century. Although no one knows exactly where the Roses & Castles movement originated, it is most probably a combination of design influences from a variety of sources.

It is probable that the design originated from the Birmingham and Black Country area in England, along with influences that Romani people used, to types of different furniture.

There are some obvious similarities with traveller culture and their elaborately painted caravans. Historians have also identified similarities with folk art from Germany, Holland and even Asia.

Wherever it came from, the reason for its popularity and growth is certainly tied to the limited size of the boat cabin, the pride of the boat people and the competition between the canals and the railways.

Traveling Circus

Duffy’s Circus is one of the oldest Circuses in the world, dating back as far as the 18th century! Duffy’s Circus has been wowing audiences throughout Ireland over the past three centuries, visiting county by county each year.

Traveling Amusements

Although not technically Irish, I fondly remember attending the annual Stanley Thurston & Sons Family Fun Fair in Wardown Park, Luton.

I vividly remember seeing airbrushed artwork on some of the rides as a child. This also included hand painted Roses and Castles style decorative elements added to enhance the appearance of rides and vehicles.

Stanley Thurston, born in 1898, was a well-known showman in the east of England. He grew up among fairgrounds, learning the tricks of the trade, before eventually inheriting several old attractions from his father. Modern lightweight machines, such as the dodgems came on the scene in the early 1930’s, and would be passed onto the next generation of the business.

Nevertheless, it portrays another type of traveling lifestyle, and some of the commonalities of the ornamentation.

The Craft of the Tinsmith

The craft of the tinsmith is one that has been around for centuries and was a common occupation in pre-industrial times.

A tinsmith is a skilled artisan who transforms metals into beautiful and useful objects. Tinsmiths have a long history of fabricating items such as: tin pots, kettles, pans, lanterns and mousetraps.

Unlike blacksmiths, who use a hearth to heat and help shape their raw materials, tinsmiths do the majority of their work on cold metal. All forms of metalworking are skills that take a lot of practice and patience to perfect.

Famous Irish Artists

There are many beautiful artworks and sculptures in Ireland, created by both famous and lesser-known artists.

Charles Jervas

Charles Jervas was an Irish portraitist who was born in 1675 and died in 1739. He was a well-known artist during his time, and many of his portraits still exist today.

Daniel MacDonald

Daniel MacDonald, a notable 19th-century Irish painter, is best remembered for his striking representations of Ireland’s Great Famine in the late 1840s. ‘An Irish Peasant Family Discovering the Blight of Their Store,’ one of his most famous works, shows the catastrophic effects of the famine on ordinary Irish families.

In this moving painting, MacDonald depicts a family gathered together in anguish after discovering that their potato stock had been devastated by blight. As they face the brutal reality of their situation, the emotions on their faces indicate both shock and anguish.

This picture is a stunning monument to the anguish faced by countless families during this awful period in Irish history, thanks to MacDonald’s attention to detail and ability to communicate real emotions through his brushstrokes. Through his painting, he sheds light on the misery of individuals afflicted by famine and serves as a reminder of the Irish people’s fortitude and strength in the face of hardship.

Today, ‘The Irish Peasant Family Discovering the Blight of Their Store’ is a significant historical document that not only pays tribute to those who suffered but also serves as a warning to future generations of the necessity of empathy and compassion in times of distress. Daniel MacDonald’s contribution to art transcends aesthetics; it serves as a visual story that aids in understanding and remembering one of Ireland’s darkest moments.

Harry Clarke

Harry Clarke was born in Dublin, in 1889. Even today, he is considered to be one of Ireland’s foremost symbolist artists and its foremost stained glass window artisan. Clarke’s designs sometimes incorporated intricate Celtic motifs that were both ethereal and otherworldly.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin and Bewley’s Cafe on Grafton Street, which has been an institution in the city ever since it opened, are known for his work.

Of particular note, there are six windows at Bewley’s Cafe, four of which depict the classical orders of Greek architecture: Doric, Corinthian, Ionic, and later Roman architecture. The remaining two windows The columns are decorated with vases of flowers. The reaming two decorative glassworks, known as the “Swan Yard” works, were added to a second wall in a commission by the original Bewley-family owner in 1927.

During the pandemic lockdowns, the ownership of the windows was contested because of rent owed by the tenants. According to Bewlys, the windows cannot be considered landlord property because they were ordered by the original tenant from Harry Clarke in the 1920s, have been in the tenant’s possession, and are tenant’s fixtures. 

However, Mr. Justice Denis McDonald of the Irish High Court ruled that the landlord is the rightful owner of the four stained-glass panels depicting the classical orders.

William Percy French

William Percy French (1 May 1854 – 24 January 1920) was an Irish songwriter, author, poet, entertainer and painter.

Jack Butler Yeats

Yeats lived between 1871 and 1939. He was a poet and painter who is credited with creating some of the most famous Irish art.

Yeats’ early style was that of an illustrator; he did not begin working regularly in oils until 1906. His early works are simple depictions of landscapes and figures, mostly from Ireland’s west, particularly Sligo, where he grew up. 

Yeats’ work contains elements of Romanticism, of which he would later adopt the Expressionism style.

William Butler Yeats

W.B. Yeats, brother of Jack Yeats, was an Irish poet, dramatist, and writer who was regarded as one of the most important figures in twentieth-century literature. He was a driving force behind the Irish Literary Revival and became a pillar of the Irish literary establishment, contributing to the establishment of Dublin’s Abbey Theatre.

If you enjoy poetry, read “The Second Coming,” one of W.B. Yeats’ most famous poems. It was written in 1919, shortly after World War I ended, and it describes a deeply mysterious and powerful alternative to the Christian concept of the Second Coming, Jesus’ prophesied return to Earth as a saviour, announcing the Kingdom of Heaven.

James Joyce

One of the most famous Irish writers and poets of the twentieth century was James Augustine Aloysius Joyce. He was born in Dublin and was widely regarded as an influential and significant writer, as well as a member of the modernist avant-garde movement.

Some of his most famous works are:

  • Dubliners;
  • A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man;
  • Exiles and poetry;
  • Ulysses;
  • Finnegans Wake.

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin, Ireland on October 16, 1854. He was a playwright and author. Wilde’s most famous works are The Importance of Being Earnest and The Picture of Dorian Gray. He was also known for his flamboyant lifestyle and his downfall resulting from a homosexual relationship.

Sir John Lavery

Sir John Lavery was a renowned painter who is well known for his wartime depictions. He was born in Belfast, Ireland in 1856 and died in 1941. Lavery is credited with helping to define the image of the British soldier during World War I.

Overall, approximately 210,000 Irishmen served in the British forces during WWI. Since there was no conscription, about 140,000 of these joined during the war as volunteers. Some 35,000 Irish died. Irishmen enlisted for the war effort for a variety of reasons.

Paul Henry

The Irish artist Paul Henry (1876-1958) is best known for his paintings that capture the light and landscape of the West of Ireland.

As a landscape painter, his unique style captures the rugged beauty of the landscape and the people who inhabit it, particularly in the Achill Island and Connemara regions. As an example, Henry designed several railway posters that achieved considerable sales and influenced the popular image of the West of Ireland.

Henry was one of the ten founding members of the Society of Dublin Painters in 1920, which sought to introduce modernism to Ireland.

His colour blindness made it difficult for him to distinguish between red and green colours, and I can only imagine how frustrating as a landscape artist that must have been. In addition, he lost his vision during 1945 and did not regain it before his death.

Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon (28 October 1909 – 28 April 1992) was an Irish-born figurative painter known for his raw, unsettling imagery. Focusing on the human form, his subjects included crucifixions, portraits of popes, self-portraits, and portraits of close friends, with abstracted figures sometimes isolated in geometrical structures.

This was Bacon’s studio at 7 Reece Mews, South Kensington in London, his home for nearly thirty years. It was deconstructed and painstakingly moved across the Irish Sea in 1998, to be installed at the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin.

William Scott

William Scott was born in Greenock, Scotland, but moved to Enniskillen with his family at the age of eleven. A still-life painter who was influenced by the work of both Georges Braque and Paul Klee.

Louis Le Brocquy

Louis Le Brocquy was an Irish painter best known for his tapestries and paintings. He was born in Dublin in 1916 and attended St Gerard’s School before going on to study chemistry at Kevin Street Technical School in 1934 and Trinity College Dublin.

Le Brocquy was a self-taught artist whose paintings drew international attention, placing him in a very select group of British and Irish artists whose works commanded high prices during their lifetimes, including Lucian Freud, David Hockney, Frank Auerbach, and Francis Bacon.

His stunning artwork has been showcased in renowned galleries and exhibitions around the world, garnering appreciation and admiration from art enthusiasts everywhere. His work has been highly sought after, with fans of his work spanning from the United States to Europe and beyond.

The Influence of Irish Mythology and Tradition on His Work

Le Brocquy is particularly renowned for his illustrations of The Táin, an ancient Irish epic poem about a war between two clans. In 1967 Louis le Brocquy was commissioned by publisher Liam Miller to illustrate Thomas Kinsella’s inspired version of the Táin Bó Cúailnge, the record of Ireland’s proto-historic past.

(Protohistory is the time between prehistory and written history, during which a culture or civilization has not yet acquired writing, but other cultures have acknowledged the existence of pre-literate groups in their own writings).

The Táin Bó Cuailnge (táin, signifying a gathering of people for a cattle raid) is a written work  that serves as a culmination of the cycle of Ulster heroic myths. The Táin describes a war against Ulster waged by Queen Medb of Connacht and her husband, King Ailill, in order to capture the Brown Bull of Cuailgne. This was after Medb discovered that Ailill was one powerful stud bull richer than her.

Due to a curse on the king and warriors of Ulster, the invaders are confronted only by the young Cú Chulainn, a warrior hero and demigod in in the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology, as well as in Scottish and Manx folklore.

This story has been passed down through generations, both orally and in writing, and remains an important element of Irish culture today. Therefore, it is a valuable resource for scholars studying Irish history and mythology.

Nevertheless, it is important to bear in mind that Christian monks likely created the chronology of early Irish historical tradition in an attempt to align native traditions with classical and biblical history.

Recognising le Brocquy’s Legacy and Contribution to Irish Art

Le Brocquy’s work has been praised for its unique style which combines traditional Irish themes with modern techniques to create powerful images that capture the essence of Ireland’s culture and history.

Throughout his career Le Brocquy created a number of different series of works. This includes portraits featuring tinker people from Ireland’s Traveller community, and Portrait Heads series which feature iconic figures such as James Joyce, W.B Yeats, and Samuel Beckett.

Le Brocquy was an iconic Irish artist who left behind a legacy of incredible artwork and his influence on generations of artists has been immense. His recognition as one of the most important figures in contemporary Irish Art is undeniable and unparalleled, leaving an indelible mark on the history of art in Ireland.

Barry Flanagan

Barry Flanagan OBE RA (11 January 1941 – 31 August 2009) was an Irish-Welsh sculptor. He is best known for his bronze statues of hares and other animals.

Rita Duffy

Rita Duffy is an artist who was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1965. Duffy’s art is based on the idea of found objects and the reuse of materials. She often uses everyday objects in her work in order to create a connection between the viewer and the work.

Duffy describes herself as a Republican, a nationalist, a pacifist and a feminist. She uses irony, wit and humour to interrogate Irish history and politics. Her work is also influenced by surrealism and magic realism

Norah McGuinness

Norah Allison McGuinness (7 November 1901 – 22 November 1980) was an Irish painter and illustrator.

Willie Doherty

Willie Doherty is a contemporary artist who was born in Derry, Northern Ireland in 1959. As a child, he witnessed Bloody Sunday in Derry, and many of his works deal with The Troubles. Some of his pieces take images from the media and adapt them to his own ends.

He is known for his video, photography, and installation artworks that often explore political and social themes. Doherty’s work explores political and social themes of the places where he has lived, including topics of identity, territoriality and surveillance. He challenges the viewer’s assumptions and prejudices through his thought-provoking work.

Sean Scully

Sean Scully was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1945, but his family relocated to London when he was young.

Scully is best known for his large-scale geometric abstract paintings. His work has been exhibited throughout the world, and is in major public and private collections worldwide.

Besides printmaking, sculpture, photography, and writing, Scully has taught at several universities. Furthermore, his writings have been collected in a book entitled Inner: The Collected Writings and Selected Interviews of Sean Scully.

Contemporary Visual Arts

Contemporary Irish artists are making a big impact on the art world. They are creating unique and innovative pieces that are gaining attention from all over the globe. Their work is inspired by their culture and the landscape of their homeland.

Irish painters are some of the most creative and innovative in the world. They use a variety of mediums to express their unique perspectives on life, culture, and the world around them.

Conor Harrington

Conor Harrington is a graffiti artist who specializes in fine art. His work is characterized by its intricate detail and often features historical and literary references.

James Earley

James Earley is a street artist who is known for his creative and unique style. He often uses bright colours and interesting patterns in his work, which has won him a following among Dublin’s art community.


Maser started painting graffiti on the streets of Dublin in the 90’s. He rapidly was noticed for his unique abstract style that today goes from murals to canvas to video and large-scale 3-D installations.

Typography, letterforms and sign painting strongly influenced Maser’s early graffiti work. After studying Visual Communication in Dublin, he could establish himself as one of Ireland’s most important artists working in the open urban space. His artworks concentrate on opulent graphic representations, geometrical forms and intense colours.

Maser is a prolific artist that has been active around the globe with his works. Today, he also includes mixed media into his oeuvre, ranging from canvas to video. In addition, he uses cars, furniture and whole rooms as backdrops for his geometrical paintings.

Celtic motifs, tapestries, and illuminated manuscripts are all examples of traditional Irish art with detailed and beautiful designs. The Book of Kells is one of the most well-known illuminated manuscripts, with borders and small images to complement the text.

Monasteries created sculptures such as Celtic High Crosses and Round Towers during the Middle Ages. These are still among Ireland’s most well-known monuments and sculptures.

Celtic art is a unique and beautiful form of art that originated in the Celtic regions of Europe. The Celtic nations are largely considered to be Brittany (Breizh), Cornwall (Kernow), Ireland (Éire), the Isle of Man (Mannin, or Ellan Vannin), Scotland (Alba), and Wales (Cymru).

Celtic art is associated with the people, known as Celts, who spoke the Celtic languages in Europe from prehistory to the modern age. In addition, there is the art of ancient peoples whose languages are unclear but have cultural and stylistic connections with Celtic speakers.

The intricate designs and patterns and the vibrant colours that Celtic art uses make it stand out.

The Book of Kells housed at Trinity College Dublin is arguably one of Ireland’s most famous pieces of art. However, there are many internationally renowned masterpieces housed in the Irish galleries for you to discover.

Two of the most well-known examples are:

  • Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, (1571-1610) The Taking of Christ, 1602 Oil on canvas.
  • Jack B. Yeats, (1871-1957) The Liffey Swim, 1923. Oil on canvas.

An artist’s life does not resemble a job, it is a vocation. Creating art isn’t what you do for a living; it’s what you live for. For most artists, earning a living is not easy, over decades of training, work, sometimes failure, and only occasional success.

Like many others, Irish artists face a number of challenges, including a lack of support and funding. Many Irish artists must also work other jobs in order to support themselves, which can detract from their creative process.

In April 2022, a dedicated pilot research program was launched in Ireland to address the unpredictable nature of the arts. An initiative named Basic Income for the Arts (BIA) seeks to address the earnings instability of artists, whether they work in traditional or contemporary disciplines.

For those without a stage or means to speak, the arts and creative practitioners should be supported to provide a voice for people who do not have access to a platform or a method of expression.

Map of the world pointing to Ireland. Featured image for Famous Irish Art and Cultural Identity Blog Post by Adrian Reynolds.


I hope you enjoyed my blog on famous Irish art. I know you may have heard of some of these artists, but this was just a quick guide to introduce you to some of the most significant artists and artwork in the country and the cultural significance behind it.

There are many beautiful artworks in Ireland, created by both famous and lesser-known artists. From the fine arts to the decorative arts, all play a significant part in the cultural history of Ireland.

This article gave you the chance to learn a little bit more about these influential Irish artists, without requiring you to travel.

If you would like to learn more about how cultural identity affects other regions of the world, you should check out the main article on this topic, and by clicking on the links below:

I hope you get the opportunity to discover the wonderful variety of art that Ireland has to offer first-hand one day.

If you enjoyed this article, please subscribe to my mailing list and share it with your friends, family, and business associates if you think they would be interested. As an independent artist, this kind of support is invaluable.

The time you spent reading this blog is greatly appreciated, thank you.

Title: The Byerley Turk: The True Story of the First Thoroughbred
Author: Jeremy James
Publisher:Merlin Unwin Books; Reprint edition (12 Mar. 2007)
Paperback:368 pages
ISBN-13 :978-1873674987

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