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Henry O’Neill Biography

Henry O’Neill (1798–1880) was an Irish artist and antiquarian. O’Neill himself was a very interesting person but his story is rather a tragic one.

Henry O'Neill
Henry O’Neill

Early Life And Career Of O’Neill

Henry was born in 1798 in Clonmel. He was the only child of his parents. In his early age, he lost his parents and was looked after by his father’s sister Sarah O’Neill who was a haberdasher. She made all efforts to provide him with a good education.

Henry O’Neill Artist

As well as being antiquarian, he was an artist of considerable merit from childhood. In 1815 he was placed as a pupil in the Dublin Society’s Schools.

Henry O'Neill

He always stood in the first rankers in every class he competed as he was passionate about his work and dedicated himself totally towards it. For some time in his initial years, he worked as a teacher of drawing in Dublin.

The first Exhibition in Royal Hibernian Academy

He was also awarded a silver medal for his talents and work. His first exhibition was at the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1835. He exhibited nine drawings after which he became a  regular exhibitor till 1847.

Henry O'Neill
Royal Hibernian Academy

In 1837 he was also elected an Associate of the Academy. One of the events that had made a special impression on O’Neill’s style of work was the popular contemporary political movements.

He was not only a member of the Repeal Association but also during the imprisonment of O’Connell in Richmond Gaol he painted a group of the Liberator and his fellow-prisoners. He later painted series of lithograph portraits of the Young Irelanders, Smith O’Brien and others.

Henry O’Neill’s Awards

In 1842 The Royal Irish art Union awarded him cash prize For his lithograph of “Gandsey, the Kerry Minstrel. He also worked with and contributed drawings, with G. Petrie and Andrew Nicholl which were published in Dublin in 1835.

Henry O'Neill
“The Pre-Raphaelite”, a satire on the Pre-Raphaelites painted by O’Neil in 1857

His study of Irish antiquities led him to produce his work “Descriptive Catalogue of Illustrations of the Fine Arts of Ancient Ireland,”

In 1855 which was followed by his great work,”Illustrations of the most interesting of the Sculptured Crosses of Ancient Ireland, Drawn to Scale and Lithographed by Henry O’Neill” in 1857.

Henry O’Neill Biography

In 1868 he published a brochure, “Ireland for the Irish,” attacking landlordism. O’Neill was a studious and industrious worker but he was a man of a difficult and contentious nature.

His conflicts with others in his field left him penniless at the end. His published works were magnificent but O’Neill was no businessman and he failed to gather market and his expenditure did not meet his anticipation.

Henry O'Neill
A Portrait of a lady, Oil On Canvas

Thus disappointment and the straitened due to his financial conditions, his health deteriorated. He died at 109 Lower Gardiner Street on the 21st December 1880 and was buried at Glasnevin.

Works Of O’Neill

  • The Round Towers of Ireland
  • a lithograph of the Cross of Cong
  • John Cornelius O’Callaghan, 1874
  • The Gap of Dunloe
  • The Return of O’Rourke,
  • A drawing of Bartholomew Lloyd, D.D.
  • a pencil portrait of Zozimus, the Dublin beggar.

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