The Sculptor And The IRA Leader 1973

From RTE Archives

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Sculptor Helen Hooker O’Malley Roelofs talks about her first husband Ernie O’Malley.

At her home on the shores of Clew Bay, the American sculptor tells Cathal O’Shannon about her art and meeting her first husband Ernie O’Malley.

Opposites attract, as is evident in the case of Helen Hooker and Ernie O’Malley.  On one side, an artist from an old established New England family in Connecticut.  On the other, a former soldier, revolutionary and writer, born in Castlebar.

Ernie O’Malley had been travelling in the United States of America for some years before Helen Hooker met him in 1933.  She was impressed by his knowledge of American history and his at that time unconventional connection to Native American people,

He looked on them as almost holy men, with a tremendous tradition, and a minority that had been abused by the white race, as the Irish had been abused by the English.

She asked him to sit for her, and that sealed their fate,

I’d never met an Irishman.  And his absolutely dedicated face that I’d never seen, like a cliff, or the prow of a ship.  Hungry, lean I caught it in the portrait. I think I caught it in the portrait. But it was simply fascinating to me.

Parental disapproval meant that the couple eventually married in London, and then moved to Ireland.  Helen sculpted many well-known and famous Irish people.  She was delighted to meet the writer Frank O’Connor, as his short story ‘Guests of the Nation’ was the first work that Ernie O’Malley had read aloud to her.

Other works by the sculptor include actress Siobhán McKenna, Agnes O’Flaherty and Maud Gonne.

The one person who stands above all others in the memory of Helen Hooker O’Malley Roelofs is an old seanchaí,

He met me at the stile of the house I interviewed him, as graciously as though he’d been royalty. He came in he couldn’t see he had been blind for fifty years.

This episode of ‘Tangents’ was broadcast on 24 October 1973.  The reporter is Cathal O’Shannon.

A Modern Eye – Helen Hooker O’Malley’s Ireland

From Mayo Books

American artist, Helen Hooker O’Malley’s (1905-1993) most important source of inspiration for over half a century was Ireland. Her decades-long love affair with the landscape, history and people of Ireland was ignited by her tumultuous relationship with revolutionary and author, Ernie O’Malley. Having met Ernie in the US in 1933, Helen braved family opposition to elope and marry him in London, 1935. The couple established homes in Dublin and Mayo and had three children together. Despite divorcing Ernie in 1952, Helen’s love of Ireland endured undiminished. The book presents her explorations made during expeditions with Ernie into the Irish landscape, her observations of Irish rural life particularly in County Mayo, and her portraits of artists and friends, and includes a record of her travels in Russia and East Asia. The photographs within include iconic Irish landmarks, such as Croagh Patrick, portraits of Helen’s artistic circle, including Paddy Moloney and Mary Lavin, in addition to spontaneous images of everyday life in 1970’s Ireland.


Artistic License: Helen Hooker O’Malley


From The Gloss

A new retrospective on the 20th-century American photographer Helen Hooker O’Malley shows her fascination with Irish people and Irish life …

The National Library of Ireland’s National Photographic Archive and the Gallery of Photography Ireland have jointly curated “A Modern Eye: Helen Hooker O’Malley’s Ireland” which is presented in two complementary exhibitions in the two Temple Bar venues. Hooker O’Malley’s frequent subjects were scenes of urban and rural daily life and portraits of artists and friends. The Director of the NLI, Dr Sandra Collins shares her insight into the formidable female artist.

Tell us a little about Helen Hooker’s background and her love of Ireland?

Helen Hooker O’Malley was born into a wealthy American family in 1905, and travelled widely throughout her life. Her first exhibition was in 1929, showing paintings she had produced during a stay in Russia, and over her lifetime Helen’s creative practice spanned painting, poetry, sculpture, and theatre and interior design.

Her fascination with Ireland began when she met Irish revolutionary and writer Ernie O’Malley in America in 1933; they fell in love and married in 1935, despite her parents’ disapproval. Although she and Ernie divorced in 1952, her love of Ireland endured, and we can see it throughout the compelling photographs of people and places across the country.

Read more…