‘Men of Destiny, After Jack B Yeats’ by Nuala Ní Chonchúir aka Nuala O’Connor

Nuala O’Connor, who also publishes as Nuala Ní Chonchúir, is one of 56 Irish writers who wrote responses to artworks in the National Gallery of Ireland Collection for this book. Building on the intense, tense feel of the original image, she imagined a whole world for the painting she chose. Jack B Yeats painted Men of Destiny in 1946. It’s a ghostly kind of painting, but also rich with a stark contrast between the fiery red-orange-yellow of sunlight hitting the land and the shoulders of the men, and the deep, dark blue of the sea below and the sky above. Ní Chonchúir’s story begins with a line that could serve as an open-ended, one-sentence description of the painting: “July, with its pressing light, its high note of optimism, was ending.” She brings us from the outline of the men walking on the pier to the fateful sound of two unexpected gunshots, and she does it in just three pages without missing a single step.  

First published in Lines of Vision, Irish Writers on Art edited by Janet McLean, Thames & Hudson, 2014

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