I lived in Ireland for 13 years, during that time I had a wonderful commission from Foras as Gaeilge to paint the portraits of several of their past Presidents. Of the six persons I got to meet and paint the two most memorable were Sean O’Tuama and T.K. Whitaker.
Sean O’Tuama was an Irish poet, playwright and academic and I met him at his home one morning in the countryside near Cork city to talk with him and shoot some photos for the commission. I had free reign on the piece and after some initial research I thought to leave it up to my impressions as I spoke with him. Upon arriving at his place he offered me tea or a Paddy and even though it was still the morning I went with the whiskey “just to be sociable.” He seemed delighted at my choice and then let me know that one of his favorite things to do was walk along the Lee River outside is home so that’s where we went. I was blessed with some great lighting as the morning sun was still low.
I was a little nervous to meet T.K. Whitaker at his home in Dublin as I was told that it’s his signature (at the time) on the Irish currency being Governor of the Irish Central Bank. But he was a formal quiet man who said very little so I was left go with what I knew about him and set up the portrait by seating him with items that spoke of him in his living room. A few years later he gained even further recognition as he received the “Greatest Living Irish Person” award in 2002, just after the national media voted him the “Irishman of the 20th Century,” beating Michael Collins and other revolutionaries in the process. Just as well I did the portrait first, it was nerve wracking enough!