Sculpture Journal

Neither Irish nor British: the identities of sculpture in Northern Ireland, 1921-1951

Sculpture Journal (2012), 21, (2), 145–156.


This article examines sculpture, in the form of war memorials, architectural carving for state institutions and fine art works, in addition to an analysis of the exhibiting patterns of local sculptors, in order to explore the complications of Northern Ireland's identity and political relationships from 1921-51. The example of Northern Ireland, physically connected to the south of Ireland yet politically located within Great Britain from 1921, is illustrative of the effect of circumstance, nationality, identity and politics on art. State sculptural commissions were continually awarded to British, rather than Northern Irish artists - from the erection of First World War memorials during the 1920s, to the construction of Northern Ireland's Parliament Buildings - according to the dominant political agenda, epitomized by Leonard Stanford Merrifield's (1880-1943) statue of Lord Edward Carson erected in 1933. Officially Northern Ireland and its citizens were British, yet local sculptors such as Sophia Rosamond Praeger(1867-1954), Morris Harding (1874-1964) and Anne Acheson (1882-1962) struggled to identify with either a ‘British’ Britain or an ‘Irish’ Ireland, remaining somewhere between the two. The 1930s, however, also saw the emergence of a new, regional, identity, initiated by the painters and sculptors of the ‘Ulster Unit’, and expounded by the carving of George Galway MacCann (1909-67). An approach which ultimately lead to the greater appreciation of regional art, sculpture, and identity, in Northern Ireland post-1951.

If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here
If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here


Author details

McVeigh, Emma