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Conroy’s exhibition explores challenges of motherhood

April 20th, 2024 8:00 AM

By Jackie Keogh

Conroy’s exhibition explores challenges of motherhood Image
The artist Pauline Conroy used to be a social worker.

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‘MOTHERHOOD is not all sweetness and light, and roses in the garden,’ according to Skibbereen-based artist, Pauline Conroy, who recently exhibited 28 works of art depicting the bond between mother and child.

Pauline said the inspiration behind her Honouring the Mother collection was a striking photograph of a woman sitting on the steps of a mother and baby home with a child on her knee.

She subsequently found out that the day she started painting (July 16th, 2023) was the same day that the child in the photograph – by then a woman in her 60s – had passed away.

‘A few things that happened in the last year impacted on me and I started painting images of mothers and babies,’ she said.

‘I wanted to create a group of paintings that visually said, “Motherhood is not all hunky-dory, all sweetness and light, and roses in the garden”.

The Armour of Love, which was inspired by a photograph taken in Gaza


‘There is so much more to it than that. There is the emotional side of motherhood. I have friends who went through postnatal depression and had to deal with loneliness and frustration and the loss of freedom.

‘I also wanted to represent the joy and the love. This strong kind of bond that you have never had before.’

The artist’s first solo exhibition was featured in her native county of Laois but she is hoping it will ‘travel’, starting with a show in West Cork. ‘The reason I want it to travel is because of the feedback I got,’ she said.

Art for Pauline is not about painting something pretty. ‘It has to have meaning, and it has to be personal to me,’ she said.

The Maculate Conception, inspired by young women from the Magdalene Laundries.


Her work is infused with a sense of social justice as it depicts maternal relationships, often in the face of oppressive outside forces.

One of the 28 works of art features one of Pauline’s friends, a young mother, who relocated from Ukraine to West Cork, as well as mothers in Gaza who are facing the greatest challenges of all – the need for food, shelter and safety.

As a mother of three, Pauline was already more than ‘qualified’ to create the Honouring the Mother exhibition, but she also drew on her 30-years of experience as a social worker.

She began that job while living in London with her husband Ray Conroy. ‘I did have six years out, rearing the children, and then started working here, in Ireland, supporting mothers of children with disabilities.’

When Covid began, Pauline said she stopped being a social worker. ‘I stopped on health grounds,’ she said. ‘I just could not deal with it anymore – the stress, the frustration, and the feeling of being complicit in a game.’

Pauline’s artwork speaks for itself but she also makes the point that mothers who challenge their expected role are often demonised. And she cited Sinead O’Connor, Britney Spears, and Princess Diana as three such examples.

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