RHA Gallery, original home

Photogaph of plaque with black text on grey granite. The text says ROYAL HIBERNIAN ACADEMY OF ART baile bunaidh original home 1826-1916

This plaque marks the site of the original home of the Royal Hibernian Academy, at 35 Abbey Street.

Locate this plaque on Google maps.

The RHA was founded in August 1823 and from 1825 to 1916 had its home at 35 Abbey Street. The building was designed by the architect Francis Johnson, the second President of the Royal Hibernian Academy.

As architect to the Board of Works from 1805, Francis Johnson worked on several of Dublin’s major public buildings, including the Chapel Royal and Record Tower in Dublin Castle, the vice-regal lodge (now Arás an Uachtárain) in the Phoenix Park, and the GPO and Nelson’s Pillar on O’Connell Street.

Johnson was a great support of the Academy and designed and paid for the gallery building himself; it cost around £15,000. He laid the first stone in a ceremony on 29 April 1824, and the first annual exhibition opened in the gallery on 23 April 1826.

Built in the neo-Classical style as a four-bay, three-storey building, the building was destroyed in 1916 but the front façade was retained and largely rebuilt around 1920. For many years it was the premises of CIE Travel.

The plaque was unveiled by Cllr Vincent Jackson and the President of the RHA, Dr Abigail O’Brien, on 6 October 2023.

Whelan, Leo – artist

Photograph of Dublin City Council plaque honouring Leo Whelan

On Friday, 2nd October 2015, a Dublin City Council commemorative plaque honouring artist and portrait painter Leo Whelan was unveiled near the Mater Hospital.

The plaque is located at 65 South Eccles Street, where Whelan’s parents operated a small hotel and the artist lived most of his life. This residence is today occupied by ARC Cancer Support Centres. The plaque was unveiled by the then President of the Royal Hibernian Academy, Mick O’Dea, with Councillor Nial Ring speaking on behalf of Dublin City Council.

A prolific and successful artist, Whelan attended the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art after leaving school and was a student of Sir William Orpen, who had a significant influence on his artistic style. Exhibiting annually at the Royal Hibernian Academy from 1911 until his death in 1956, he became primarily known for his portraits of nationalist leaders and other leading figures from the spheres of academia, religion, society, medicine, and law. Among his political portraits were Michael Collins, Arthur Griffith, Kevin O’Higgins, Douglas Hyde, Seán T. O’Kelly and Éamon de Valera.

Whelan never married and died in a Dublin nursing home on 6th November 1956, at the age of 64. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery.

Those wishing to learn more about the artist’s life can consult Wanda Ryan-Smolin’s article, ‘Leo Whelan (1892-1956)’ in the Irish Arts Review Yearbook (1994) when Dublin City Library and Archive reopen. 

You can also watch the presentation below by Dr James Curry, Dublin City Council historian in residence, which is part of a Plaques of Dublin online lecture series.

Submitted by Historian in Residence, James Curry.