Louis Lang, "Return of the 69th (Irish) Regiment, NYSM, from the Seat of War," 1886, Oil on canvas.National Gallery of Ireland / Collection of New York Historical Society. Photography by Williamstown Art Conservation Centre.

A new exhibition in the National Gallery of Ireland entitled “Pathos of Distance” looks at the visualization of the Irish diaspora and the way in which they were portrayed in art and popular media in the late 18th and early 19th centuries with over 40 illustrations, cartoons, portraits and paintings, sourced from around the world.

Formed around 42 historical images of Irish migrants dating between 1813 and 1912, the collection was compiled by artist and curator Sarah Pierce in collaboration with the National Gallery’s ESB Centre for the Study of Irish Art (CSIA).

Photographed and reproduced to their original scale, the images have been arranged in an exhibit accompanied by second-hand domestic furniture including chairs, tables, desks, drawers and other items of seemingly little cultural significance that hold important historical significance in the context of the Irish migrant’s story.

From the normal Irish stereotypes and disapproving images to those of sentimentality, "Pathos of Distance" focuses on the themes of displacement and hybridity among the Irish diaspora, challenging the image we have of the historical migrant.

The exhibition is on display over three rooms in the National Gallery in Dublin, but we’ve been lucky enough to get a sneak peek at some of the images featured if you won’t be in Dublin before it closes next May.

Let us know what you think in the comments section, below.

1. Duval and Hunter after John Reid, St Patrick's Day in America, 1872, Lithograph. 

Image: National Gallery of Ireland. Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society.

Image: National Gallery of Ireland. Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society.

Depicting an Irish family in the US, the print shows a young boy in his home waiting patiently as his mother pins shamrock on his lapel in preparation for the annual celebration of St Patrick’s Day. The Irish family's pride in their Irish roots and their new homeland – America – can be seen in the two flags in the background: the Stars and Stripes and the Irish adoring a portrait of a Civil War soldier.

2. Brig. Gen. Michael Corcoran, of the Irish Brigade late Colonel of the Gallant NY Sixty Ninth,1860s. 

Image: National Gallery of Ireland. Courtesy of Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-08409.

Image: National Gallery of Ireland. Courtesy of Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-08409.


An influential figure among Irish immigrants and one of the founders of the Fenian Brotherhood in America.

3. Thomas Eakins (1844–1916), The Veteran (Portrait of George Reynolds), c.1885, Oil on canvas. 

Image: National Gallery of Ireland. Courtesy of Yale University Art Gallery.

Image: National Gallery of Ireland. Courtesy of Yale University Art Gallery.


An American Civil War veteran of Irish heritage.

4. Frederick Burr Opper, The Irish Declaration of Independence that we are all Familiar With, Chromolithograph, Puck, 9 May 1883. 

Image: National Gallery of Ireland. Courtesy of Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-28386.

Image: National Gallery of Ireland. Courtesy of Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-28386.


5. Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, March 13, 1880, New York City: Irish Depositors of the Emigrant Savings Bank withdrawing money to send to their suffering relatives in the old country.

Image: National Gallery of Ireland. Courtesy of  Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ds-01486.

Image: National Gallery of Ireland. Courtesy of Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ds-01486.

The well-known tradition of sending money back home is shown but the placement of “France” over the next teller’s desk puts the Irish diaspora in the context of the history of worldwide migration.

6. Harper’s Weekly, 1 August 1863, The Riots at New York – the rioters burning and sacking the Colored Orphan Asylum. 

Image: National Gallery of Ireland. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-106376.

Image: National Gallery of Ireland. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-106376.


Depicting one of the most shameful periods in Irish-American history, over four days, rioters clashed with police, looted and destroyed buildings, and tortured and killed.

7. Louis Lang Return of the 69th (Irish) Regiment, NYSM, from the Seat of War, 1886, Oil on canvas. 

Image: National Gallery of Ireland. Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society.Collection of New York Historical Society. Photography by Williamstown Art Conservation Centre.

Image: National Gallery of Ireland. Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society.Collection of New York Historical Society. Photography by Williamstown Art Conservation Centre.


In contrast, this vast oil painting celebrates the contribution of the Irish in the American Civil War.

8. James Pattison Cockburn, Long Island on the Rideau Canal, (1830s), Watercolour, pen and ink. Royal Ontario Museum. 

Image: National Gallery of Ireland with permission of the Royal Ontario Museum © ROM.

Image: National Gallery of Ireland with permission of the Royal Ontario Museum © ROM.


Opened in 1832, the canal created a navigable waterway between Lake Ontario and the Ottawa River. Around sixty percent of the construction work force was Irish migrants, working in incredibly dangerous conditions.

“Sarah Pierce: Pathos of Distance” is a collaboration with the ESB Centre for the Study of Irish Art at the National Gallery of Ireland and will run until May 1, 2016. Admission is free.

The exhibition is sponsored by the ESB (Electricity Supply Board) Ireland.

Further information can be found at www.nationalgallery.ie.

Do you think the history of Irish migrants is well portrayed in the above images? Are there any pieces of art you would like to add? Let us know in the comments section, below.