© 2019 by Esther Murbach

  • Esther Murbach

MIGRANTS by John Behan in Galway

In the Kenny Gallery in Galway a very special exhibition opened on 3 February, 2020.


None other than Michael D Higgins, President of Ireland, accompanied by his wife Sabina, presented the show of John Behan’s new bronze sculptures. The President and the artist are old friends, the former being a son of Galway, the latter born in Dublin, now living and working near Galway city. No wonder the showroom was packed with an excited audience like never before!

From left to right: Tom Kenny, John Behan, President Michael D Higgins, Sabina Higgins


For President Higgins this was also an occasion to meet and reconnect with old friends who turned up in the dense crowd. A pat on the shoulder here, a hug there, a few friendly words, posing for photos with beaming fans. Being relentlessly watched and guided by vigilant bodyguards of both sexes.

John Behan’s magnificent exhibits were nearly drowned in the masses. The Broighter Boat and the Famine ship have always been motifs in his work. Recently he has added the Mediterranean Dinghy, the makeshift vessel carrying refugees fleeing Africa and the Middle-East to death or to an uncertain future. Most sculptures in the Kenny exhibition are combined with pictures, Behan’s drafts of the haunting figures and scenes later realised in bronze.

Humans in distress and mortal danger, overloaded boats, ghost ships. On his many journeys to Greece and Cyprus the artist has had personal encounters with refugees.

In his opening address President Higgins pointed out the parallels between the history of Irish emigration and the present misery of African and Arab migrants who see no future in their own countries.

This event in Kenny’s Art Gallery and Bookshop is the first of more to follow for the Galway 2020 European City of Culture program. I also marks the Kenny’s 80th Anniversary year.

But most important – John Behan’s work deserves being viewed with undivided attention! The show runs until February 29.

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