Review: Black and Tans at the Kevin Kavanagh Gallery

Contributed by Frank Bouchier Hayes

As a child, I spent quite a lot of time playing toy soldiers where the Germans were always victorious over the British and Americans because their uniforms were so attractive to my juvenile imagination. Such childhood play forms the basis for a collection of paintings by Mick O’Dea currently on display at the Kevin Kavanagh Gallery in Dublin. O’Dea’s work is derived from photographs of combatants and politicians taken during the Irish War of Independence and attempts to understand the conflict from the British perspective. Those wishing to preview the exhibition can access a few images from the gallery website, or pick up a copy of the latest issue of the Irish Arts Review. Catherine Morris contributes a contextual essay available at the gallery to the intriguing collection of 26 portraits entitled ’Black & Tan’ which greatly assists one’s enjoyment and appreciation of the fruits of O’Dea’s research.

I would however take slight issue with a comment she makes about the men wearing “their guns in a way that anticipates John Wayne in the cowboy movies”. A Scottish veteran of this conflict named Bill Munro remembered that “some of us were influenced by Western films and wore our revolvers in holsters low slung on the thigh which looked very dashing but were the cause of quite a number of shot-off toes – as the enthusiasts attempted to emulate the cowboys of Texas”. Interestingly, much of what is featured can be seen in original photographic display at another exhibition previously reviewed on this blog.

The title of the exhibition may seem slightly misleading as it mainly consists of members of the Auxiliary Division of the Royal Irish Constabulary , ex-officers recruited from the summer of 1920 to fight the IRA. These men were given the rank of temporary cadet, organised in military style companies, and paid £1 a day. The Black and Tans were mostly composed of ex-soldiers who arrived in Ireland as constables posted to various police barracks from March 1920 onwards. In practice, then as now, both groups of men were described as black and tans and this is reflected in the title.

Black & Tan runs from March until 3 April, entrance is free. Opening Hours: Mon – Fri 10.30 – 5.30, Sat: 10.00 – 5.00

Frank Bouchier-Hayes is a UCD librarian and freelance writer.

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