In her hands

Paula Murphy celebrates the work of Imogen Stuart over the course of her six-decade career

Imogen Stuart Photograph Amelia Stein


When members of the public in Ireland are questioned as to a favourite piece of sculpture, they will often mention works by Imogen Stuart – her Fiddler of Dooney and Children (1964–5) in the Stillorgan Shopping Centre in Dublin (Fig 5), her Group of Children (1969) in Tyrrellspass, Co Westmeath, her ‘very spectacular’ relief of St Michael and the Dragon (1973) in St Michael’s Church, Dún Laoghaire, her Monument to Pope John Paul II (1986) in Maynooth College and The Flame of Human Dignity (2005) in the grounds of the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris, to name but a few.

Vast numbers of students at University College Dublin, particularly those studying the humanities, had the opportunity to engage with her Pangur Bán (1976), which was once strategically positioned in the Newman Building on the Belfield campus. Sadly for the students, this multi-part sculpture, which is based on an early Irish poem, and with which Stuart has a special relationship, was subsequently moved to Áras an Uachtaráin. Students at Mary Immaculate College (MIC) in Limerick have been more fortunate in their engagement with her work. MIC and Stuart have a long-standing association which stretches from the early years of her career in Ireland in the 1950s to a recent exhibition of her work in their newly refurbished chapel curated by Naomi O’Nolan. The Stuart works owned by the college which were included in the temporary exhibition are more usually displayed across the campus for the staff and students. Titled ‘Imogen Stuart – In Her Hands’, the exhibition largely comprised works drawn from the MIC collection and from the sculptor’s own. The Gothic Revival chapel on MIC’s John Henry Newman campus served as a perfect venue for the mostly religious work by Stuart that formed its inaugural exhibition. Like much of Stuart’s oeuvre, the exhibits were intimate in scale.

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