Portrait, Somhairle MacCana ARCA (1901-1975), 'John J. McHenry'

2 Feb 2021

Painting in oil on canvas, framed, of Professor John J. McHenry (President, 1964-1967).

Ref: UCCHS.Portrait009 © University College Cork

Portrait, John J. McHenry. Somhairle MacCana ARCA, Northern Irish. Oil on canvas, 1967. Signed ‘MAC CANA’, bottom right. University College Cork.

Professor McHenry (President, 1964-1967) is seated, wearing the President’s gown with hands clasped together at the front. There are some books visible in the background left.

Artist: Somhairle MacCana ARCA (1901-1975).

Provenance: Presented to Dr John J. McHenry on Friday, 10 June 1967 by the staff of UCC (UCC Record, vol. 43 (1968), 35-36, photo p.34; ‘Outgoing UCC President presented with oil portrait’, Cork Examiner, 12 June 1967, p.9, with photo). The presentation was made by Professor G. T. Pyne, Acting President, UCC. At a special meeting on Saturday, 11 June, the Governing Body unanimously passed a resolution in appreciation of the service given to the College by the retiring president.

Read about John J. McHenry here.


More about the artist

Samuel McCann was born in Belfast on 23/11/1901 to John and Mary Jane (née Riddell) McCann. He was apprenticed in 1915 as textile designer to Joseph Mathews Ltd, damask and linen manufacturers, Belfast. MacCana attended Belfast Academy of Art, studying embroidery design, on a part-time basis. During the War of Independence he joined the IRA and was arrested in 1921. After being court-martialled and sentenced to death, he spent seven months in prison at Belfast, before the general amnesty. It was probably during this period that he began to use the Gaelic form of his name.

Somhairle (Soirle) MacCana resumed his studies at the Belfast School of Art, where he won the Sorella scholarship in 1923 and began teaching the following year. Securing the Dunville scholarship in 1925, he was enabled to study for three years at the Royal College of Art, London, from which he received an honours degree, Associate of the Royal College of Art (ARCA). Returning to Belfast, he taught for a year there before being appointed art master at Galway Technical School in 1929. MacCana exhibited for the first time in the Royal Hibernian Academy. Then in 1935 he was appointed art inspector in the Department of Education, Dublin, and two years later he became principal of the Crawford Municipal School of Art, Cork, where he remained until retirement in 1967. MacCana exhibited infrequently, and showed only three more times at the RHA (1943, 1945, 1946). He also showed at the Oireachtas exhibitions between 1944 and 1957. In 1956 he produced a book, Ceárdachas Gaelach: Irish craftsmanship, based on a series of advertisements for Irish Hospitals' Trust during 1947 published in provincial and daily newspapers. This short book includes a further six crafts added to the series. (The booklet was reproduced in 1979 by the printing students, Cork Regional Technical College, on the occasion of the XXV International Apprentice Competition, September, 1979.

MacCana worked in a variety of media as a figurative painter of portraits and landscapes. He also produced etchings and engravings. Much of his work was religious, including the ‘The Holy Family’ (CAG.1625), an oil painting, and ‘Nativity’, a woodcut, both in the Crawford gallery. The Irish sculptor Desmond Broe's 3 m (10 ft) high ‘Coronation of Our Lady’ in Cork was designed by MacCana. In 1964 MacCana completed his ‘Stations of the Cross’ for the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Coolagown, Castlelyons, Co. Cork. A retrospective exhibition was held in Crawford Art Gallery in 1967. MacCana died on 25 November 1975 in St Stephen's hospital, Glanmire, Co. Cork and is buried at St Finbarr’s cemetery, Cork. He was survived by his wife, Mary Teresa (Maisie) (née Taylor). The couple had five children.

Soirle MacCana also painted the portrait of Dr Henry St J. Atkins (President, 1954-1963). 


Sources birth of artist Lurgan, Group Registration ID 11129185 (not the cancelled registration in 1885, Group Registration ID 10710571; death of artist: Dublin South, Group Registration ID 2247482, aged 60 (sic).

Diarmuid Breathnach and Máire Ní Mhurchú, ‘Mac Cana, Somhairle (1901-1975)’, 

Bridget Hourican, ‘Mac Cana, Somhairle (Soirle)’, Dictionary of Irish Biography

‘Soirle MacCana’. Online at

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