Visual Arts & Culture in Ulster
Art in Antrim, Armagh, Derry, Down, Fermanagh, Tyrone, Cavan, Donegal & Monaghan.

The Broighter Gold Collar (Close-up)
One of the great historical treasures
of Irish art.

Ulster Visual Arts

Ulster is the northernmost province of the island of Ireland. It includes the six counties of Northern ireland - Antrim, Armagh, Derry, Down, Fermanagh and Tyrone - and three which are part of the Republic - Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan. Hence the term Ulster is not a synonym for Northern Ireland. (Donegal contains several Gaeltacht (Irish speaking) areas, except the dialect here is of West Ulster.) The province has a population of about 1,993,000 while notable urban centres include Belfast, Bangor, Derry and Lisburn.


For details of exhibitions & shows
in galleries across Ireland, see:
Irish Art Exhibitions.

For a personal view about the
top 20 or so painters in the 32
counties of Ireland, see:
Best Irish Artists.

Early Arts and Culture

In the history of Irish art, Ulster was an early centre of culture and visual arts in Ireland, a fact reflected by the wide variety of prehistoric earthworks and ruins across the province. In addition, its strong link with Celtic culture and Saint Patrick, its ancient monasteries and the selection of Armagh as the religious centre of Ireland, all endow Ulster with a rich heritage of Celtic art and Christian history. Given the strong role of the Church as a patron of Irish art and scholarship during the Dark Ages - that is, between the sack of Rome (c.350) and the European Renaissance (c.1450) - Ulster would have witnessed a high degree of artistic activity in the field of Irish metalwork, illuminated religious manuscripts and public High Cross Irish sculpture. Sadly, very few examples of early Ulster art have survived. One exception is the Broighter gold collar - one of Ireland’s greatest examples of Celtic metalwork art from the late Irish Iron Age. Named after its place of discovery at Broighter, a village in County Derry, it was part of a hoard of exquisite gold items made by Celtic goldsmiths about the first century before the birth of Christ.

For facts about top prices for
works by artists in Ireland, see:
Most Expensive Irish Paintings.

For a list of monuments of
cultural or artistic interest, see:
Architectural Monuments Ireland.
Archeological Monuments Ireland.

Later Visual Arts

If West Galway and Mayo in Connacht exert a fascination for landscape artists, something similar can be said for Ulster. The wild scenery of Tory Island off the Donegal coast, the Glens and coastline of County Antrim and the loughs and waterways of inland Ulster have inspired plein air painters for centuries. This is reflected in the large number of talented Irish artists - including those working on portraits, still lifes and genre scenes as well as landscapes - that continue to emerge throughout the province. This natural reservoir of talent is now being encouraged by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, at least in respect of the six counties within its purview.

Tory Island

This isolated Gaeltacht area of Ulster has a unique tradition of Irish painting, being home to the Tory Island Primitive School of Art. Its members include: James Dixon, Patsy Dan Rodgers, Rory Rodgers, Anton Meehan and Derek Hill.


Ulster's Most Famous Visual Artists

Celebrated Ulster painters and sculptors include:

Paul Henry, (Preeminent Landscape Artist);
Stephen McKenna, (Classical, Still Lifes, Interiors and Landscapes);
F E McWilliam, (Ulster's foremost sculptor);
William Conor, (Working Class Scenes, Portraits);
Gerard Dillon, (Landscape and Figure Paintings);
Markey Robinson, (Landscape, Figure Painter and Sculptor);
Basil Blackshaw, (Portraits, Figure and Genre Paintings);
Tom Carr, (Landscape and Figure Artist);
Gladys MacCabe, (Watercolourist);
Brian Ballard, (Colourist, Genre Painter, Landscape Artist);
James Humbert Craig, (Landscapes);
Colin Davidson, (Landscapes and Portraiture);
Arthur Armstrong, (Landscapes and Still Lifes);
John Butler Yeats, (Portrait Artist) (father of Jack B Yeats);
Hans Iten, (Swiss Landscape Artist and Flower Painter);
John Luke, (Landscape Painter and Figure Painter);
Frank McKelvey, (Landscapes and Portraits);
Colin Middleton, (Landscape, Figure Painter and Surrealist);
Martin Mooney, (Academic Landscapes and Still Lifes);
Andrew Nicholl, (Watercolourist and Sketcher);
Dan O'Neill, (Romantic Landscapes);
Maurice C Wilks, (Landscapes);
Nora McGuinness, (Landscape Artist, Graphic Designer and Illustrator);
Felim Egan, (Contemporary Abstract Art).

Ulster's Most Famous Art Venues

Among the province's numerous art galleries, the foremost arts centre is the Ulster Museum, in Belfast, which is famous for its collections of Irish antiquities, paintings and sculpture, including works by Thomas Gainsborough, Joshua Reynolds, J.M.W. Turner, various Dutch, Flemish and Italian Old Masters, as well as paintings by Irish artists like James Arthur O'Connor, the Impressionist Roderic O'Conor, Walter Osborne, John Lavery, John Luke and William Conor. Other Belfast visual arts venues include the Naughton Gallery at Queen's University and Gormley's Fine Arts (Belfast & Omagh)

Cavan County Museum, Cavan town
The first council-funded museum in the Republic of Ireland, this award-winning art museum and heritage centre presents a wide array of artifacts, paintings, prints, drawing, miniatures and sculpture, featuring works by Irish and UK artists.

Tyrone Guthrie Centre, Annaghmakerrig, Co Monaghan
This unique venue situated in 450 acres of forest offers artists studio space and accomodation for up to 12 months.

Ardara Heritage Centre and Art Gallery, Co Donegal
Located on the south-west coast of Donegal, Ardara village has become a centre for Donegal arts and crafts, with a wide range of displays, workshops and studios.

Ulster Folk and Transport Museum
A faithful reconstruction of Ulster life in the early 1900s, including exhibitions and displays of domestic and work life, rural and religious interiors and artifacts, plus steam trains and a Titanic exhibition.

Other Notable Arts and Culture Centres in Ulster

- Armagh County Museum in Armagh Town
- The Tower Museum, Derry City
- Enniskillen Castle and Heritage Centre, Co Fermanagh
- Saint Patrick Centre and Cathedral, Downpatrick, Co Down.

See also Art schools in Ulster.

• For information about painting and sculpture in Ulster, see: Homepage.

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