Maev's second meeting with Fergus, illustration from The Táin by Mary Hutton, 1924

More On The Artist Seaghán Mac Cathmhaoil Or John P. Campbell

My post yesterday on an eyewitness account of the Easter Rising of 1916, published some three months after the insurrection by the New York Times Magazine, drew a good response and I’m glad so many of you enjoyed it. However quite a few readers enquired about the Irish artist, John Patrick Campbell, who normally signed his work as Seaghán Mac Cathmhaoil, occasionally using Ogham or the native inscribed script to personalise his signature. Campbell was born into an aspirant and literary Belfast family in the spring of 1883, his older brother, Joseph Campbell (Seosamh Mac Cathmhaoil), becoming a noted poet, playwright and lyricist whose most famous work is probably the ballad, “My Lagan Love”. Though he was a fine illustrator of books, magazines and newspapers, John’s first passion seems to have been the theatre, and following his emigration to the United States in 1912 he split the rest of his career between both. Like his brother he was a progressive republican, becoming a supporter of Sinn Féin and the Irish Volunteers from quite an early age. For a time, following the counter-revolutionary civil war in Ireland, his house in New York City became a refuge for political exiles from home, including Joseph, an elected SF councillor for Wicklow who was imprisoned without trial by the Free State regime in 1922-23, taking from him his livelihood and marriage.

John P. Campbell died on the 19th of August 1962, living quietly among the Irish-American community of his adopted city, his name and his works forgotten by many. However in recent years there has been some small attempt to revive his memory coupled with a new appreciation for the artistic merits of the Celtic Renaissance period that were sneered at by those who looked to Britain and the United States for their sole, whole and only inspiration. Paul Lannour was one of the first to recognise Campbell’s contribution to the arts in Ireland with an excellent piece for the Irish Arts Review in 1998 which covers his career in more detail, along with some wonderful examples of his work. (Also available here.)

Could one hope, some day, to see a collection of his illustrations in book form?

Songs from the Four Winds of Éirinn, III The Green Woods of Traugh (1906), picture by Seaghán Mac Cathmhaoil
Songs from the Four Winds of Éirinn, III The Green Woods of Traugh (1906), picture by Seaghán Mac Cathmhaoil
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2 comments

  1. Very nice piece SF.
    By the by, do you have any idea of what his religious background was? His surname and circumstances would lead you to think he was Ulster Protestant but maybe I’m reading to much into it.
    I’m very interested in Ulstermen of that period who joined the nationalist movement, Bulmer Hobson, Blythe, Bigger, etc

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