Charcoal drawing returns home – from America to Mitchelstown




This time last year, The Avondhu published an article, which forged a link between Mitchelstown and America through charcoal drawings. We were looking to trace the roots of a drawing, which had been bought in a New York garage sale and was thought to have been drawn by a Mitchelstown woman. Now, the story has come full circle and the painting has been brought back to Araglin, to the home place of Helena (Lena) Clifford, the original artist.

The story began when a man from Long Island contacted Kayren Hayes Brennan of Bunscoil na Toirbhirte and there was speculation that the picture may have been connected to pieces, which were once displayed in the school.

The picture, bought in America, is called ‘The Shepherd’s Grave’, showing a dog at the grave site of a shepherd named James Ryan, signed by S. Clifford, Convent School, Mitchelstown. The artist, Helena Clifford, grew up in Kilglass and she passed away in 1986. It was her grandson Tom O’Donoghue who recognised the drawings from The Avondhu’s coverage.


Lena (as she was fondly known by those who knew her well) grew up in Thornhill Lawn, Kilglass and she would have gone to school in the Presentation. Tom said that when he was growing up, he remembers seeing a lot of her drawings at home, but over the years the collection has dwindled down to a precious few.

In e-mail correspondence with the man who bought the drawing, Tom said that his grandmother never pursued a career as an artist and many of the drawings she did would have been during her time in school.

From this, the story developed, as Miko O’Grady and his sister Molly McKinney – who lives in the States with her husband Junior – realised that they too held some of the threads which weaved this tale together. Molly is an avid reader of The Avondhu and Miko often brings her bundles of newspapers so that she can catch up on months of news from home. It was from one of these papers that she spotted the charcoal drawing and recognised it from a picture she had taken in the 70’s.

In an e-mail, Molly outlined the part they played in the story, as their mother was an old school friend of a woman named Kathleen Clifford and it seems that she brought the picture Lena painted to America. When Peggy O’Grady visited her in the 70’s, they are photographed admiring ‘The Shepherd’s Grave’ picture in Kathleen’s home in Brooklyn. This was a pivotal moment, as it provides the missing link and tells us how the picture found its way from Mitchelstown to America.


However, there is yet another twist… In June, the American gentleman who first bought the painting in 2012, contacted Molly by e-mail saying that he was considering selling the drawing, in case anyone with connections to it was interested in buying it.

As the picture was done by Tom O’Donoghue’s grandmother, they were eager to get a hold of it and keep it within the family. So his sister who lives in Australia purchased it and it is now back where it belongs. The charcoal drawing is now in the home of Tom’s mother, Lena’s daughter. It travelled a long road, but it’s here and somewhat thanks to the readers of The Avondhu.