Newry.ie

The mystery of an unsigned portrait of Young Irelander, John Martin which hangs in the boardroom of Newry Town Hall marked the start of an investigation that led all the way to America. It culminates in the next few weeks when author Marjorie Harshaw Robie reveals the name of the famous artist who painted the piece, at the launch of her latest book in early October.

The oil painting of John Martin (a close friend and associate of Irish patriot, John Mitchel) has been on display for many years in the boardroom of Newry’s Town Hall.

The portrait came to the attention of Young Irelander enthusiasts, Adrian Murdock, Francis Gallagher and Michael Mc Keown but they were intrigued to find that the art- work was unsigned.

Young Ireland enthusiast - Adrian Murdock - from Loughorne pictured in front of the John Martin painting with a copy of Marjorie Harshaw Robie's new book.
Young Ireland enthusiast - Adrian Murdock - from Loughorne pictured in front of the John Martin painting with a copy of Marjorie Harshaw Robie's new book.

This led to an extensive piece of art history detective work that would not be out of place in a Sherlock Holmes novel. Their investigations stretched across the Atlantic Ocean to Ipswich Massachusetts in the USA where they were very lucky to have the  assistance of Marjorie Harshaw Robie.

Marjorie had been working on her new book Dueling Dragons: the struggle for Ireland 1849-1875, a work that has been enriched by over 26 years of research. She was therefore very familiar with the many twists and turns of John Martin’s life. She discovered that the unknown artist who painted the portrait of the famous Young Irelander, could be one of the most famous artists in modern Irish history.

Marjorie’s new book reveals the compelling story of the lives of three people from the local Newry area in the mid-19th Century – George Henderson (Unionist owner of the Newry Telegraph newspaper), John Martin (Young Irelander from Loughhorne near the Sheepbridge) and James Harshaw (farmer and diarist from Loughhorne).

Marjorie Harshaw Robie has historical family ties to James Harshaw and this kindled a passion to become a writer of these great historical works: The lives of the three main protagonists give fascinating insights into Ireland’s modern history: George Henderson, wrote skillfully in defense of the Union of Ireland with the Crown in London. He cherished the status quo and the empire.

John Martin and George Henderson were friends, John struggled to improve the well being of the people from what he believed was the tyranny of an English landed and capitalist establishment. Although he was a landowner, he used most of his resources to help the poor from his area who were dying from famine. John mother died from a fever doing similar good works and this had a great influence upon her son’s future political mission.

Beginning with his participation in the Young Ireland movement, his activism extended through years of exile. The intense divisions represented by George Henderson and John Martin, negatively impacted the lives of many Irish farmers, such as James Harshaw and his large extended family at their homestead in Loughorne. James recorded their lives in his dairies over many years.

The journals were discovered by accident in the basement of a bank in Grove City USA, brought there from County Down after the death of their author.

Marjorie has planned two book launches in separate locations associated with the lives of the above mentioned central characters. The first event will be at 7.30pm in the Carroll Gallery, the Sean Holywood Arts Centre, at Newry on Monday 1st October 2018. The second event is on Wednesday 3rd October 2018 in St. Bronagh’s Clubrooms Rostrevor at 7.30pm (hosted by Rostrevor Men’s Shed).

Refreshments will be provided.

If you are interested in the lives of these people who helped weave the complex tapestry of modern Irish history then why not attend one of these events. You will also find out the answer to the riddle of who is the artist who painted the unsigned portrait of John Martin.

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