Exhibition links friends who shared cell in Kilmainham
A MAJOR exhibition currently taking place in Kilmainham Jail has
strong Carlow connections.
Kilmainham Suite, an exhibition of paintings by Sally
Smyth, which was opened by Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands
Minister, Sile de Valera, on October 20, features works by the well
known painter, whose mother, May Gibney, was a prisoner in the jail
during the Civil War in 1923.
As a child, in l938, Sally was brought round the East Wing of the
prison by her mother who pointed out her Civil War cell on the first
floor. Sixty years later the memory of Sallys mother became
the catalyst for the exhibition.
A large number of people from Carlow attended the opening of the
exhibition, including Mr. Michael Purcell, son of the late Esther
Purcell (nee Snoddy), who shared a cell in Kilmainham with the artists
mother. Following her release in 1923, May travelled to Carlow to
meet with Mrs. Purcell and fellow Cumann na mBan members. On one
such visit she met Lar ONeill, an officer in the Carlow Brigade
of the IRA, whom she had previously met during the Easter Rising.
In 1929 they married and moved to Dublin.
Over the years she lost touch with Mrs. Purcell and another Carlow
woman, Bridie Ryan (nee Brophy), Tullow Street, who had also been
imprisoned in Kilmainham. It wasnt until 1981 that Mrs. Purcell
and May Gibney, met in Carlow for the first time in 58 years.
That came about following a chance meeting in the National Museum
between Mrs. Gibney and another Carlowman, Padraig OSnodaigh,
the then keeper of antiquities in the National Museum. She had gone
there to correct the 1916 Roll of Honour for those who had occupied
the GPO during the Easter Week Rising.
Shortly afterwards, May died and the Cumann na mBan flag made in
Kilmainham jail by Mrs. Purcell and others during their imprisonment
was used during her military funeral. Six years later Mrs. Purcell
died, thus ending the living link with those who had been imprisoned
there during the Civil War.
Also at the launch of the exhibition was Carlow historian Seamus
Murphy and his daughter, Ann. For many years Seamus was custodian
of the flag before he presented it to Kilmainham Jail in 1996 where
it now hangs alongside Sally Smyths exhibition