Since its founding in 1785, the walls of the Royal Irish Academy, Ireland’s leading body of experts in the science and humanities headquartered in Dublin, have been lined with powerful portraits of leaders in these fields and disciplines… all men. But thanks to Women On Walls, a creative initiative designed to address “systemic and deep rooted inequality,” history was made yesterday when 5 portraits featuring 12 leading women in the sciences and humanities, past and present, were unveiled. They are the first portraits of women to be featured on the Academy’s walls in its 230-year history.
The Women On Walls campaign is a collaboration between the Royal Irish Academy and Accenture, a global professional services company. It originated when “Accenture executives were attending a meeting in the Royal Irish Academy to discuss addressing the gender gap in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths (STEM).” Upon leaving the meeting, they asked “Where are the women?” as they surveyed the hall dominated by traditional male portraits.
That one question sparked an important conversation between the two groups, which led to the development of a plan intended to have lasting cultural impact. The Royal Irish Academy and Accenture designed Women On Walls “to change what people see, to better represent the diversity of contributions in science and humanities,” and ultimately to help more girls and young women develop an interest in STEM subjects.
The five Women On Walls portraits include four individual portraits of the first four women Members of the Royal Irish Academy, elected in 1949, who were pioneers in their respective fields – mathematical physics, Irish art history, plant viruses and classical Irish literature. Vera Klute was the chosen artist for the four works of art.
The fifth portrait is a group portrait (lead image above) of eight women scientists, who are recipients of the European Research Council Starter Grants 2012 – 2015 and have been chosen as representatives of a generation of outstanding young women 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.
Meet The Women You Should Know of Women On Walls
First Women Admitted to the Royal Irish Academy
Sheila Tinney (1918 – 2010)
A pioneering academic in mathematical physics, Sheila Tinney was described by Nobel Laureate Erwin Schrödinger as ‘among the best equipped and most successful of the younger generation of physicists in this country’.
Françoise Henry (1934 – 1982) Françoise Henry was one of the most important twentieth-century historians of Irish art. She trained at the École du Louvre and the Sorbonne, establishing herself as an expert on very early forms of sculptural decoration, particularly in Early Christian Irish Art.
Phyllis Clinch (1901 – 1984)
Award winning scientist Phyllis Clinch, was one of the greatest female inventors of her generation and world renowned for her innovative research into plant viruses.
Eleanor Knott (1886-1975) Eleanor Knott was a “pathbreaking” researcher of classical Irish literature. Having taught herself to read modern Irish, she went on to study old Irish at the School of Irish Learning in Dublin and won a scholarship to continue her studies in 1907.
Group Portrait: Recipients of the European Research Council Starter Grants 2012 – 2015
Professor Sarah McCormack (TCD)
Professor McCormack’s research explores photovoltaic panels which convert solar energy into direct current electricity.
Professor Aoife McLysaght (TCD)
One of Ireland’s leading geneticists and was on the team that analysed the initial sequence of the human genome in 2001. She was also involved in a major discovery about how genes are formed.
Associate Professor Aoife Gowen (UCD)
Associate Professor, Aoife Gowen is an expert in hyperspectral imaging. Her ERC project Biowater, aims to uncover new knowledge
Professor Lydia Lynch (TCD and Harvard)
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.
Professor Debra Laefer (UCD)
Professor Laefer’s research aims to prevent damage to buildings above tunnel excavation, by developing a 3D modelling system that can predict what buildings are most likely to sustain damage during tunnelling.
Professor Emma Teeling (UCD)
Professor Teeling is a world authority on bat genetics. She studies bats for insights into human diseases such as blindness and deafness as well as aging.
Dr Maria McNamara (UCC)
Dr McNamara and her team of researchers, have made a landmark dinosaur discovery: designated ‘Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus’, it is the first example of a plant-eating dinosaur that had both scales and feathers.
Professor Catríona Lally (TCD)
Professor Lally is the principal investigator on a project focusing on developing a means of early diagnosis of degenerative cardiovascular diseases. These studies are highly relevant to stroke patients and those with vascular disease.