The History of Connemara
Aloysius O’Kelly was a Dublin-born illustrator, journalist and painter who trained in London and Paris.
Born in 1853, he achieved some success in his lifetime, counting Vincent Van Gogh amongst his fans, and today his pieces are critically acclaimed, some selling for huge sums.
O’Kelly was also strongly linked with Connemara in the late 1870s and spent several years living here on and off.
It is thought that O’Kelly stayed in Lugnanaugh, in a cottage nestled below Garraun Mountain on the shores of Lough Fee near Leenane.
O’Kelly painted both the people and the scenery of Connemara and even managed to learn some Irish on his visit.
O’Kelly ultimately departed Connemara in 1884 having painted many incredible paintings including this one ‘Mass in a Connemara Cabin.’
The painting appears to be set in the same cabin as some of O’Kelly’s other works, and features people from Connemara in prayer as the priest says a station Mass in one of their homes.
Some suggest that it might even have been O’Kelly’s own rented lodgings and that the painting is a symbol of his growing sense of Irish nationalism.
This painting was the only Irish painting ever exhibited in the famous Paris Salon and it featured in various other exhibitions in cities around the world before disappearing mysteriously around 1895 when the artist emigrated to America.
It re-emerged in 2002 in the presbytery of St. Patrick’s Church in the strongly Irish Cowgate district of Edinburgh. James Connolly, the Irish rebel who led the 1916 rising was a parishioners there.
It had been hanging on the wall of a priests’ house for decades, its value unnoticed by the occupants of the house until an eagle-eyed visitor urged them to consult an art expert who confirmed it was an original O’Kelly.
Some sources suggest that the painting had been a present from the artist to a former priest, Canon Hannon, who had helped the Irish nationalist cause, and was one of the founders of Hibernian FC. It now hangs in the National Gallery of Ireland, left, and is believed to be worth over half a million pounds.