It’s hard to believe that it has taken 230 years to see a painting of a women on the walls of the Royal Irish Academy. Last nights RTÉ documentary Women on Walls told the fascinating story of the latest portraits to hang in the halls – all women.
There were five portraits overall commissoned consisting of four individual portraits of the first four female Members of the Royal Irish Academy, elected in 1949. Their names were Sheila Tinney, Françoise Henry, Phyllis Clinch and Eleanor Knott. Vera Klute was the chosen artist for the four works of art.
The final portrait was a group portrait of eight female scientists, who are recipients of the European Research Council Starter Grants 2012 – 2015 and who were chosen as representatives of a generation of outstanding young female scientists working in Ireland today. Their areas of expertise include light and solar panels, genetics, human aging, immunology and bio medical engineering among others. Blaise Smith was the artist who worked with the eight women to produce the portrait.
The names of the eight are Professor Sarah McCormack (TCD), Professor Aoife McLysaght (TCD), Dr Aoife Gowen (UCD), Professor Lydia Lynch (Harvard Medical School moving to TCD), Professor Debra Laefer (UCD), Professor Emma Teeling (UCD), Dr Maria McNamara (UCC) and Professor Caitríona Lally (TCD).
These women all shone in their area of expertise but it was Walkinstown woman Lydia Lynch who seemed to receive much of the praise online. Professor Lynch’s research has found that a type of anti-tumour immune cell protects against obesity and the metabolic syndrome that leads to diabetes. Lydia told how initially getting into college wasn’t the easiest of tasks with a young baby at home but how if you put your mind to anything you can achieve it;
“Going to college in the first place was a bit of a challenge I had a baby when I was 16, I was a single teenage mother. I had to get many part time jobs during college and babysitters but I had a really nice group of friends and neighbours that helped me so thats how it was possible”
From college Lydia then continued her studies which saw her travel over to Boston with her young family;
“After getting to college and studying and getting the degree I then chose to do a PHD in immunology and once in it wasn’t hard because I just loved it and then a post doc in Harvard. I am pretty proud that I got a PHD that we ended up in Harvard with my whole family that they got to live and go to school in Boston it’s just been a brilliant journey”
She spoke of not just the support from her friends and family but if that of her husband Paul;
“He’s been great, he’s very supportive of my career. He’s a electrician and he feels in the bigger picture that to be an immunologist contributes more to the world so he feels that my job is important. Obviously his job is as well but he was happy to give us his job in Dublin to move over to Boston and look after the kids. He looked after them full time for a year while we got set up there”
With International Women’s Day this week Lydia also spoke of how important women in the field of science are;
“To me it doesn’t make sense that there is not as many women at the higher level of science it just doesn’t make sense because women are just as good and just as ambitious and i don’t see how being a women would stand in your way but there obviously is obstacles and reasons why there is not as many women in science”
If you would like to catch the RTÉ One Documentary Women on Walls you can watch it on the player today. The five paintings are on view to the public at Academy House, 19 Dawson Street, Dublin 2.