Painter of the Docks

Painter Mairéad M. Cullen talks about her Dublin roots and how she became a painter of the history and heritage of Dublin Port.


I was born on the South side of Dublin. My family moved to Sheriff St. on the North side when I was four years old. I attended St. Laurence O’Toole’s Girls’ Primary School until age 13. I began working in the kitchen of the Brown Thomas store and, one year later, I started work in the Textile’s Knitwear factory in East Wall. At age 19, I went to London where I met my future husband. Three years later, we returned to Dublin and married. We have three sons, one daughter, and six grandchildren. I moved back to the South side in 1997, where I still live today.

In 1996, my friend Susie gave me a gift of a set of paints and paintbrushes. As a Christmas gift, my son Neil gave me an easel. In 2004, I joined a local community painting class, which I thoroughly enjoyed. When the classes ceased, I continued to paint at home. I also took up photography and I did some paintings of my photographs. My son, Rory, was an inspirational critic. When I was doing a painting, he would look at it and say if it was looking good or not. Although he annoyed me at times because I would have to redo some of the painting, he was usually right; he was an immense help to me.

My dad, Tommy Byrne (‘Glimmer Byrne’) and my uncle, James Treacy (‘Heckor’), were both dockers. My dad was a buttonman, my uncle was a non-buttonman. Some years ago, I joined the Dublin Dockers Preservation Society which endeavors to keep the history of the dockers alive. I have painted some of the photographs I captured on the docks.

One of my favorite paintings is of the refurbished Number 11 ferry known as the ‘dockers taxi’; it had so many great memories for me. My dad travelled on it to work on the north or the south quay, depending on which quay the ship on which he was to work was berthed. Two of my sisters and a brother also travelled on it twice daily to work, and I was on it on so many occasions, too.

I have many memories from the Dublin dockland. My memories include seeing herds of cattle being brought through the streets around where I lived, the sound of cattle hooves and mooing as they were herded into the sheds on Mayor Street to await getting herded onto the boats on the quays. Often one or two cows would escape and run wild around the flats; it was great entertainment for us children seeing the herders trying to get them back into the sheds. I remember a cow ran into one of the flats; it was mayhem trying to get it out!

From the area where I grew up, my childhood memories, taking photographs of the activities and scenery of the docks, to painting some of those photographs, the Dublin dockland has been a huge part of my life.