Literary Gems among The Moderns


I made it on the very last day. The Moderns – the major exhibition of the Arts in Ireland in the 20th century at Dublin’s Irish Museum of Modern Arts (IMMA).

It covered modernity in Ireland from the 1900s to the 1970s through the visual arts mainly, but with photographers, film-makers, composers, architects, designers – and writers – all featured in a major interdisciplinary collection.

I was interested in the smattering of exhibits connected to Irish writers and showing the crossover of the literary and the visual arts. These were some of my highlights:

Samuel Beckett’s ‘Film’, written in 1962 and filmed in New York in 1963. It can be viewed here on YouTube.

John Millington Synge’s Photos from Aran, Connemara, Wicklow and Kerry. Synge bought his first camera from a fellow visitor to Aran in 1898 and it became a constant on his travels along with his bicycle.

Jack Yeats’ Book Illustrations.  He and Synge spent a month together in 1905 on a tour of the Congested Districts in the west, Synge writing his series of articles for the Manchester Guardian and Yeats providing the illustrations.

Robert Flaherty’s film documentary Man of Aran (1934)  The work was inspired by Synge and the wheel has come full circle with Martin McDonagh’s drama The Cripple of Inishmaan – currently on tour with Druid Theatre – set against the backdrop of Flaherty’s film.

Paul and Grace Henry Paintings of the West. The couple stayed in Achill for close to a decade and most of Paul’s autobiography An Irish Portrait (1951) centred on the island.

Elinor Wiltshire’s Photo of Patrick Kavanagh picking potatoes in Inishkeen in 1963.

Pity the exhibition is over. Another visit, I feel, would have revealed many more gems. And I loved this TV commercial for the exhibition:-




  1. Michael Farry on 15 February 2011 at 4:00 pm

    I missed this I’m afraid. Hope to get to the Jack B Yeats exhibition in Sligo which has just opened.

  2. Heather Sheane on 15 February 2011 at 4:11 pm

    I visited the exhibition twice and just scratched the surface… there were such a multiplicity of pictures,sculpture, book illustrations, photographs, film and other artefacts to get your head around. I meant to go back again but the time sped by. I loved the Paul and Grace Henry works too but there were so many treasures it’s hard to pinpoint just a few. Well done to IMMA… I hope the IMF dominated years that lie ahead don’t put paid to exhibitions like this that are on such a grand scale!

  3. mpbyrne on 16 February 2011 at 8:43 am

    Pity you missed it Michael. You would have enjoyed the mix of paintings, film, photos and music. Yes, I would love to get to Jack Yeats exhibition in Sligo. I am fascinated by the story of librarian Nora Hiland’s efforts at buildling up the Yeats collection there. P

  4. mpbyrne on 16 February 2011 at 8:50 am

    Thanks Heather, I share your sentiments. As I walked around I kept thinking how wonderful it would be if The Moderns could have remained as a permanent exhibition in the city. It told the Irish story from 1900s to 1970s in such an accessible and exciting way. Patricia