Micheál was an extraordinary man when you consider he came from a family with a business background and as the eldest would have been expected to follow his father into the firm. But Thomas and Madge gave him the freedom to follow his dream into art.
At the age of 28 Micheál was appointed to the position of Acting Director of the National College of Art. Becoming Director in 1941, what an achievement for him, having a Minister for Education with the guts and belief to appoint someone so young to such a vast job showed great confidence in Micheál.
We would love to hear more about this period in Micheál’s life, the only reference we have found is the article “The Thorn and the Rose”.
Great credit must go to Micheál O’Flanagan, senior civil servant in the TIB (Technical Instruction Branch) of the Department of Education and Michael Cafferkey who both gave huge support to Micheál de Burca in his career as an Art Inspector and as Director of the College.
To consider that during the Emergency (as World War II was known in Ireland) Micheál organised a travelling art exhibition in 1943/44 to take art by rail, around the country, to the people. This was no mean achievement by any measure. We have some newspaper clippings of this time on the Career Articles page.
Another legacy was his desire to reintroduce the more unusual forms of art that had fallen by the wayside in previous years, including bringing jewellery making, stained glass, screen printing, weaving and metal work back into the curriculum of the College. For example Micheál encouraged Paddy McElroy, a blacksmith (and WWII RAF veteran) with CIÉ (the public transportation corporation in Ireland) to lecture on enamelling and fine art metalwork therefore ensuring that an expert would guide new students’ creative potential.
Micheál was also instrumental in rewriting the art teacher’s curriculum in the late 30s to early 40s for all the secondary schools in Ireland.
This is not to say that there were not setbacks in Micheál’s tenure. He must have felt utter frustration towards certain Ministers for Education because of a refusal to give necessary funds to the College in order to function and develop. (A common phrase at the time was: “There are no votes in Art.”)
Micheál’s work as a Secretary and Trustee of the RHA (Royal Hibernian Academy) which included the building of a new Art Gallery ,heretofore all RHA exhibitions were held at the National College of Art- this was not an easy task.
Micheál and his RHA colleagues did manage to get agreement from Matthew Gallagher of the Gallagher Group and the government to fund this new gallery but with the collapse of the Gallagher Group in the 1970s there was a very long wait for the completion of the unfinished gallery at Ely Place the tensions during this period must have been very difficult. The first exhibition at the new gallery was in 1985.
Research is needed to cover the history of what was achieved by all the staff of the College of Art during Micheál’s tenure as Director. Should anyone wish to take up this task please get in touch with us using our contact us page.
The same goes for anyone who has a painting or paintings by Micheál and would like them added to the galleries on this site.
If you have any information, suggested links, comments etc. please don’t hesitate to get in contact with us.
This website is very much a work in progress.
Thank you for viewing our website,
Aodh, Joe & Clora Bourke.