The painter and the poet

The Grove, Donnybrook, Dublin


On 19 October this year, Estella Solomons HRHA (1882–1968) was honoured with a plaque on the left-hand gatepost of the entrance to the An Taisce wildlife sanctuary, at the corner of Wellington Place and Morehampton Road in Donnybrook, Dublin. It had been a long-held aspiration of the artist that this modest plot of land, where she painted and kept her studio for thirty years, should be conserved as a green area after she died. This wish was fulfilled by her friend, the poet Kathleen Goodfellow (1891–1980), who – the year before she herself died – bequeathed the Grove, as they called it, to An Taisce. With the Upper Leeson Street Area Residents’ Association, An Taisce shares the responsibility for maintaining the site, which has become the habitat of some unusual birds.

Estella Solomons and Kathleen Goodfellow, alias Michael Scot, had been firm friends since they first met on Baggot Street Bridge in 1916, during a sniping episode. The women were both members of Cumann na mBan and, subsequently, Solomons’ studio became a safe house for republicans escaping from the Black and Tans. Solomons married the poet Seumas O’Sullivan and, when he founded The Dublin Magazine in 1923, Goodfellow not only published in it but also became involved in the editing and administration. The couple moved out to live in Rathfarnham but in 1937 returned to the city because Seumas feared for his expanding collection of rare books in their damp house, The Grange. Goodfellow, whose builder father, a Quaker, had owned the terrace of houses on Morehampton Road where she lived, offered them no. 2, next door to herself, at a modest rent.

Estella’s nephew, Michael Solomons, always recognised her importance, commissioning a small book about her paintings while she was still alive, and his daughter Susan endeavoured for years to find a place for a plaque in her memory. This has been achieved at last, and appropriately, at the Grove, which meant so much to the artist. The plaque, balanced by a similar tribute to Kathleen Goodfellow on the opposite gatepost, was launched during a thunderstorm with a generous splash of champagne.

Hilary Pyle