Celebrating 100 years of giving by Ireland’s oldest arts charity

Friends of the National Collections of Ireland has been involved in the donation of more than 1,000 works to collections across Ireland

Ireland’s oldest arts charity celebrates its centenary this year. The Friends of the National Collections of Ireland (FNCI), established in 1924 by artist and activist Sarah Purser, donates works to our galleries and museums. It was incredibly forward thinking: the Arts Council would not be established for another quarter of a century, and the Hugh Lane Gallery wouldn’t move to its Parnell Square home until 1933. Purser played a part in the latter, too, persuading the government to make Charlemont House available to the recently established gallery.

Also in 1924, Purser, who died in 1943, became the first woman elected to the Royal Hibernian Academy.

FCNI, funded solely by subscriptions, donations and bequests, is run by a voluntary council and has donated, and supported the donations, of almost 1,000 works to public collections around Ireland. From a bronze sculpture, Head of WB Yeats, by Augustus John, at the Abbey Theatre; to Daniel Maclise’s The Falconer, at the Crawford Gallery, the contributions have been varied and valuable. Donations have also included items of furniture, such as a pair of Chippendale George III cabinets (originally commissioned by the Duke of Leinster for Leinster House) to the OPW for Castletown House in Co Kildare.

In 1985, the FNCI funded repairs to the Senate Casket. This remarkable piece by Mia Cranwill is now owned by the Royal Irish Academy. It was commissioned by Alice Stopford Green for the first Senate of the Irish Free State in 1924. It was described on its presentation as proving “that a really living art has no need to copy in slavish routine”, and the repairs enabled the casket to be shown at a big exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2004, and later at Boston College.


Some of the donations are new works by living artists, such as Kevin Gaffney’s video, Everything Disappears (2014) to the Irish Museum of Modern Art, although in general the Contemporary Irish Art Society (founded in 1962) has been more active in this area. Others enable the return of works to their original homes: a recent donation to Castletown was the portrait of Emily FitzGerald, Duchess of Leinster by Sir Joshua Reynolds, acquired jointly at auction in London with the OPW and the Castletown Foundation.

Now, exhibitions are taking place around the country. 100 Years of Giving ends on April 7th at Limerick City Gallery of Art; while 100 Years of the FNCI is at the Waterford Gallery of Art until July 23rd. Look out for more later in the year at the Butler Gallery, Kilkenny, and The Highlanes, Drogheda. Membership starts at €20, and as well as experiencing the warm glow of supporting the legacies of art in Ireland, there are outings and events to enjoy. Donations and bequests are also welcomed. fnci.ie