The lack of a municipal art gallery, with proper facilities to house highly valuable art work such as the Daly Collection, which controversially was handed back to the owners, has been described this week as a major infrastructural deficit that must be addressed, with councillors calling on premises such as the historic Lynch’s Castle to be given back to the people of Galway for such a use.
At last Monday’s meeting a motion, proposed by Cllr Hildegarde Naughton (FG ), was carried calling for Galway City Council and Galway County Council to put together a delegation to approach the public interest directors of AIB with the proposal that Lynch’s Castle be given back to the people of Galway for the purpose of creating a regional municipal arts centre. The issue came to the fore again during a heated discussion over the city council’s decision to hand back a collection of paintings and sculptures known as the Daly Collection to the current owners. The collection had been held by the council since 1989, for much of that time stored in the basement, under a loan agreement from Peter Daly and more recently the estate of Mr Daly, Maitland Trustees Limited, which received the collection back in April 2012.
In proposing the motion, Cllr Naughton said that the return of the collection demonstrated complacency and failure to realise more needs to be done to compete in the tourism industry. She noted that many other cities and towns have a municipal art centre and that Lynch’s Castle, one of the finest medieval town houses in Ireland steeped in Galway tradition and folklore, is an ideal location.
“AIB are currently going through a major rationalisation programme and bearing in mind that the Bank of Ireland amalgamated their Eyre Square branches it is highly likely that AIB will shortly do the same with their Eyre Square and Lynch's Castle branches. There are over 200 people working in AIB Galway and many of them give great service to this town and what I propose is in no way to take away from this fact. They know that there is a shift from traditional bank services to on-line services and I believe now is an ideal time to give Lynch's Castle back to the citizens of Galway,” said Cllr Naughton.
Councillors brand council’s decision as disgusting, ignorant, and a major disservice to the city
It was in January of this year that it came to light the council had handed back the Daly Collection to the owners. Public attention was drawn to the matter after the Maitland Trustees decided to sell the works at auction, with two being sold in Christies in December - one a Paul Henry piece going for €100,850, and another a John Lavery piece going for €79,250. Since news broke the council has been heavily criticised for its decision and for not informing elected representatives that the collection had been in the council’s posession.
Director of services, Thomas O’Connell, told councillors this week that the collection had been on loan to the council for 23 years with the priviso that they be on public display. “Over the years there have been no adequate facilities to hold the collection. To put on a display would require significant upgrading and the council didn’t have the funding. There was also security issues. We had to make the decision to give the collection back to the owners.”
“This left councillors in a state of shock,” said Cllr Catherine Connolly (Ind ) who added that councillors learnt of it through the media. “It begs the question, what else we don’t know about. I expect an apology from the top table and a written report on what else we have.”
A particularly damning criticism came from Cllr Pádraig Conneely (FG ) who told council officials: “This is the greatest disservice to the city. As chairman of the SPC I received no phone call about this, I was treated with contempt, the people of the city were treated with contempt by the council. It is absolutely disgraceful, contemptible, and embarassing that the collection has been plundered in this way. What research was done? In the middle of the night, in the secret of darkness, the collection was driven from the city. You stand condemned for this disservice to the city.”
Also highly critical was Cllr Billy Cameron (Lab ) who described how there had been paintings by Jack B Yeats, Paul Henry and other greats, one fetching more than €1 million. “That gives the idea of what we disposed of, of what we lost forever. The decision was philistine in nature, short-sighted, and ignorant,” said Cllr Cameron.
“I am gobsmacked the councillors didn’t know it existed and we have the neck to call ourselves a city of culture,” said Cllr Frank Fahy (FG ). “It’s disgusting that we should hear about this in the papers. That we as councillors don’t even get a phone call. Whose head should be on the block for this? What else is in storage?”
A further motion was carried calling for a report outlining the deficit in exhibition space in the city and to include a catelogue of all existing pieces held by the council.