Henry O’Neill is best known as an artist, archaeologist, publisher and polemicist as seen through his various books – The Sculptured Crosses of Ancient Ireland, Ireland for the Irish and The Round Towers of Ireland (Co. Dublin only). But they give a mere inkling of the impressive compendium of work that O’Neill produced throughout a long and active career spanning forty years and more. We find out a lot more through the sketch-books of his that survive, and realise what an incredible amount of travelling and sketching he did through his interest in castles or tower-houses, though he also covered a wide variety of other monuments from prehistoric times almost up to his own day.
These sketch-books and note-books have fortunately been preserved in Glenstal Abbey. O’Neill must – along with Petrie, G.V. Du Noyer and W.F. Wakeman – be ranked very highly among Irish antiquarian artists of the late Georgian and Victorian periods, hence the need to restore his reputation in this volume.
Written by well known art-historian and archaeologist Dr Peter Harbison, this book sets out to provide if not a full catalogue of the work of Henry O'Neill, but a representative sample of his best painting and sketching.
Dr Peter Harbison is perhaps best known for his Guide to the National and Historic Monuments of Ireland but over a long career he has published widely. Among over 30 titles might be mentioned: Irish High Crosses, William Burton Conyngham and His Irish Circle of Antiquarian Artists (Studies in British Art), The Crucifixion in Irish Art, Pre-Christian Ireland: From the First Settlers to the Early Celts, Spectacular Ireland and at least three volumes on the eighteenth century antiquarian and artist Gabriel Beranger.