Art of Strength – a new exhibition of portraits by photographer Emily Quinn celebrating Irish women past and present

Each portrait features a notable Irish woman dressed by an Irish designer and portraying an iconic Irish woman in history, resulting in a project that pays homage to the strength and power of Irish women throughout the centuries

by Alison O'Hanlon
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This March sees a unique celebration of Irish women ahead of International Women’s Day, as photographer Emily Quinn unveils her Art of Strength portrait series. The exhibition debuted at Atelier Now and follows a project that began in 2019 which has seen Quinn photograph 11 Irish women portraying various inspiring women in Irish history, from Queen Maeve to Constance Markievicz. 

“The idea for Art of Strength came about as a female pal of mine had to make a big life decision,” says Emily Quinn. “At the time, I admired her for her strength, her courage and it got me thinking of all the decisions us women have to make in life, and quite often it’s our strength that keeps us moving forward. I started to research a little bit more and learned so much about so many strong women from our past and from that I picked the ones that really resonated with me.” 

“I’ve always loved Irish fashion and Irish design,” adds Quinn. “My mother used to hand knit Aran jumpers for Shannon Airport so the idea of craft was always something I wanted to insert into a project and to me, my mother is a world of strength, so the project came to be. I read a beautiful and powerful poem by Eavan Boland called ‘Art of Empire’ and from that came the name Art of Strength for the project.”

The first portrait in the series is of the late Vicky Phelan portraying suffragette Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, with the help of make-up artist Leonard Daly and hairstylist Jenny Crawford. “A few years ago, I had the honour to photograph Vicky for the cover of her book, Overcoming. When I read it, I knew we had to have her in the project. Hanna fought for women’s rights, as did Vicky, and education was so important to both, so we decided to shoot this shot where Vicky had studied – the University of Limerick. On the day of shooting, we were told we could only shoot in one room, as exams had started; that room was the newly-built Courtroom; it all felt so apt! The books in the image were my grandfather’s – he was the assistant general secretary in the Department of Education.”

Very soon after, the Covid-19 lockdown happened and the project was temporarily put on hold. “We waited, I considered the project again, had another baby and then sadly, Vicky passed away in November 2022, and with a heavy heart, I knew we had to complete this project for International Women’s Day 2023.”

Emily visualised the images and picked locations and sitters but after speaking with stylist Catherine Condell, she knew this visually would be impactful with her vision and input. “Catherine has the depth and knowledge to understand the strength and power these women have and how we could bring them to a new generation of strong women. I had decided from the beginning I wanted a connection with each woman I had chosen… So each sitter was carefully considered.”

For St Brigid, Emily chose model Aine O’Gorman. “On a car journey coming home from Kilkenny, we chatted for two hours, and Aine told me all about her climate activism, her passion for the earth and nature – it’s a passion that flows through every fibre of her being, so I knew she had to be St Brigid. I then learned she is a great-granddaughter of stained-glass artist Harry Clarke, so we chose a chapel in Belvedere College, where some of Clarke’s stained glass is on display, as he went to school there. Peter O’Brien dressed Aine, and it made for a very dramatic and captivating shot.”

“I wanted Anne Devlin portrayed by someone that I felt had two parts to them. We chose Felispeaks, as I felt as a poet she had a great voice in herself, but I loved that idea of Felicia being the voice of the new generation of Irish and a new powerful voice for Black and Irish. With Felicia we shot her with two Irish Wolfhounds, as Anne Devlin was buried with Wolfhounds on her grave as a sign of loyalty to Robert Emmet. We dressed her in Helen Steele, with strong green tones to represent that new Irish voice.”

The exhibition is proudly sponsored by POWERS Irish Whiskey, Fairstone, vStream and CKS Finance. 

Speaking about the sponsorship Jessica Norris, Marketing Director Ireland at Irish Distillers commented: ‘We’re delighted to sponsor the Art of Strength project. Powers is an iconic Irish brand with a rich and storied heritage. Our new campaign ‘Old But Gold’ is all about championing life experience, confidence and self-assuredness which we feel is reflected by all of these women, past and present, featured in this beautiful exhibition”. 

For further exhibition dates please visit and

Pictures Brian McEvoy

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