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Portraits of people affected by Troubles in Northern Ireland inspired by 'feeling of injustice'

By Claire McNeilly

Published 05/06/2015

Jean Caldwells husband Cecil (37) was killed on 17th January 1992 when a land mine was detonated at Teebane Crossroads on the main Omagh to Cookstown Road. He and seven other colleagues died, and many others were injured, when the bomb destroyed their work van as they travelled home for the weekend. Cecil and Jean had two girls.
Jean Caldwells husband Cecil (37) was killed on 17th January 1992 when a land mine was detonated at Teebane Crossroads on the main Omagh to Cookstown Road. He and seven other colleagues died, and many others were injured, when the bomb destroyed their work van as they travelled home for the weekend. Cecil and Jean had two girls.
Virtue Dixon's daughter, Ruth (24), was killed in a bomb explosion on her birthday. A witness tells of hearing the DJ play Happy Birthday for Ruth at the moment the bomb went off
Walter Simon's son, Eugene (26), vanished on January 1, 1981. His body was found in May 1984 when a bog in Co Louth was drained. His remains were identified by the cross he wore
Mo Norton's brother Terence Griffin (24) was one of twelve people killed when a bomb exploded on a coach on the M62 in England on 4th February 1974. Mo recalls the family not knowing if Terence was caught in the bomb until they saw one of his record sleeves by the road on a lunch-time television report
Thomas O'Brien's brother, John (23), sister-in-law Anna (22) and two nieces Jacqueline (17 months) and Anne Marie (5 months) were killed by a car bomb in Dublin on May 17, 1974
Johnnie Proctor's father, John (25), was shot dead in the car park of the Mid Ulster Hospital as he was visiting Johnnie, who had just been born the previous day, and his mother. He was named after his father.
Margaret Yeaman was injured when a no-warning car bomb exploded near her workplace. She sustained facial injuries and was permanently blinded. She is now a grandmother who will never be able to see her grandchildren.
Mary Finnis’ son, Rory (21), was shot dead in June 1991. His body, displaying evidence of torture, was found barefoot and hooded in Derry. Mary still lives surrounded by photographs of him.
Paul Reilly's daughter, Joanne (20), was killed in a no-warning bomb. The sitting for his portrait took place in her bedroom, which remains exactly as she left it. The clock is stopped at 9.58am, the time of her death.
Jeff Smith was driving near Kinawley in Fermanagh in 1985 when his Ford Sierra was caught in a landmine explosion. He was left paralysed and a colleague was killed.
Stuart McCausland's mother, Lorraine (23), was beaten to death by a gang in March 1987. Eighteen years later, on July 11, 2005, Stuart’s brother Craig (20) was shot dead
Fiona Kelly's father, Gerry Dalrymple (58), was killed on March 25, 1993 when gunmen opened fire on the van in which he and his colleagues were travelling in Castlerock.
Maureen Reid's husband and the father to her 10 children, James (44), was killed when a bomb was thrown into a bar. She never remarried and raised her family on a widow's pension. She died on March 25 this year.
Anna Cachart's father, Patrick (36), was shot dead in 1975 at his home in Carrickfergus in front of his wife. His three children were asleep upstairs at the time of the shooting.
John Gallagher's father, John (29), was shot dead in 1969 in Armagh. John snr was recorded as the first official victim of the Troubles because of the fact that he died from gunshot wounds
Damien McNally's father, Paul (26), was shot on June 5, 1976 in Ardoyne, Belfast. He and a friend were crossing a road when two gunmen approached. He died two days later
Emma Anthony's father, Frederick (38), was killed in an under-car booby trap. Emma, then aged three, was in the car and sustained serious injuries. She wasn't expected to survive but now lives with her injuries
Flo O'Riordan's son, Sean, was killed in 1972 on Cawnpore Street in west Belfast. He was shot in the head and died a short time later in hospital aged just 13

Take a close look at these faces. They bear the expressions of people who have lost husbands, fathers, mothers, brothers, sons, daughters, nieces and friends. Others have been deprived of their sight, their limbs, or have sustained other life-altering injuries.

These individuals, united by pain and grief, feature in a new art exhibition that opens today at the Ulster Museum. Entitled Silent Testimony, it comprises large-scale portraits of 18 people affected by the Troubles, painted by Bangor man Colin Davidson.

And, in the artist’s words, “it’s not about being Protestant or Catholic. It’s about human loss”.

Davidson, who recently won a prestigious Oscar Wilde Award in Los Angeles, took five years to complete the project, on which he collaborated with cross-community victims’ support group WAVE.

However, he said the original idea came about at the time of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

“I was left with a nagging sense that turned into a feeling of injustice when I thought about the section of the community that was paying the price for peace,” he added. “As an artist I wanted to comment on that. It was important to make sure we had a balanced body of work, including Protestants, Catholics and other, although that’s not alluded to.”

Individuals were painted either in his Bangor studio or at a participant’s home, with sittings lasting anything from two to 24 hours. Davidson then used the drawings he had taken to complete the work.

Although he was moved by each individual experience, some affected him deeply. “As a father of two girls, the stories of people who have lost a child are particularly harrowing,” Davidson said.

“I would like the public to engage with the people who are depicted and read their stories. Because labels such as Catholic or Protestant are stripped away, I hope people can begin to think about the whole idea of suffering and human loss.”

The collection of work not only reveals the stories of 18 individuals connected by the Troubles, it also spans various age groups, as well as victims from Northern Ireland, the Republic and England.

Maureen Reid's husband and the father to her 10 children, James (44), was killed when a bomb was thrown into a bar. She never remarried and raised her family on a widow's pension. She died on March 25 this year.
Maureen Reid's husband and the father to her 10 children, James (44), was killed when a bomb was thrown into a bar. She never remarried and raised her family on a widow's pension. She died on March 25 this year.
Anna Cachart's father, Patrick (36), was shot dead in 1975 at his home in Carrickfergus in front of his wife. His three children were asleep upstairs at the time of the shooting.
John Gallagher's father, John (29), was shot dead in 1969 in Armagh. John snr was recorded as the first official victim of the Troubles because of the fact that he died from gunshot wounds
Damien McNally's father, Paul (26), was shot on June 5, 1976 in Ardoyne, Belfast. He and a friend were crossing a road when two gunmen approached. He died two days later
Emma Anthony's father, Frederick (38), was killed in an under-car booby trap. Emma, then aged three, was in the car and sustained serious injuries. She wasn't expected to survive but now lives with her injuries
Flo O'Riordan's son, Sean, was killed in 1972 on Cawnpore Street in west Belfast. He was shot in the head and died a short time later in hospital aged just 13
Virtue Dixon's daughter, Ruth (24), was killed in a bomb explosion on her birthday. A witness tells of hearing the DJ play Happy Birthday for Ruth at the moment the bomb went off
Walter Simon's son, Eugene (26), vanished on January 1, 1981. His body was found in May 1984 when a bog in Co Louth was drained. His remains were identified by the cross he wore
Mo Norton's brother Terence Griffin (24) was one of twelve people killed when a bomb exploded on a coach on the M62 in England on 4th February 1974. Mo recalls the family not knowing if Terence was caught in the bomb until they saw one of his record sleeves by the road on a lunch-time television report
Thomas O'Brien's brother, John (23), sister-in-law Anna (22) and two nieces Jacqueline (17 months) and Anne Marie (5 months) were killed by a car bomb in Dublin on May 17, 1974
Johnnie Proctor's father, John (25), was shot dead in the car park of the Mid Ulster Hospital as he was visiting Johnnie, who had just been born the previous day, and his mother. He was named after his father.
Margaret Yeaman was injured when a no-warning car bomb exploded near her workplace. She sustained facial injuries and was permanently blinded. She is now a grandmother who will never be able to see her grandchildren.
Mary Finnis’ son, Rory (21), was shot dead in June 1991. His body, displaying evidence of torture, was found barefoot and hooded in Derry. Mary still lives surrounded by photographs of him.
Paul Reilly's daughter, Joanne (20), was killed in a no-warning bomb. The sitting for his portrait took place in her bedroom, which remains exactly as she left it. The clock is stopped at 9.58am, the time of her death.
Jeff Smith was driving near Kinawley in Fermanagh in 1985 when his Ford Sierra was caught in a landmine explosion. He was left paralysed and a colleague was killed.
Stuart McCausland's mother, Lorraine (23), was beaten to death by a gang in March 1987. Eighteen years later, on July 11, 2005, Stuart’s brother Craig (20) was shot dead
Fiona Kelly's father, Gerry Dalrymple (58), was killed on March 25, 1993 when gunmen opened fire on the van in which he and his colleagues were travelling in Castlerock.

Kim Mawhinney, head of art at National Museums Northern Ireland, who collaborated with the Co Down artist, said she hoped the exhibition would contribute to a shared and better future.

“It has been a privilege working with Colin and we hope this will allow art to continue to provide a platform for the Troubles,” she added. “We hope to tour the exhibition to reach the widest audience possible, possibly America.”

  • The exhibition is due to run until January 2016.

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