Artist Biographies

José Irwin 1888 - 1975

José Irwin was born in 1888 to Henry and Constance Irwin, into a family of three girls and three boys, whose home was Mount Irwin, Co. Armagh. Henry Irwin was an Oxford graduate who had been born in India where he worked in the Indian Civil Service and eventually retired as a judge. On his retirement, the family returned from India to live at Mount Irwin. Mount Irwin demesne is on record as having been in the Irwin family for 280 years, the original house being a plantation house from the 1690’s. Constance Irwin’s alterations and extentions in the 1890’s, on return from India with her young family, firstly with the help of an architect and, on his dismissal, under her own steam, significantly altered the nature and outline of the house. She was responsible for the addition of bay windows to the drawing and dining rooms and the creation of the library wing, linking the original house with the servants’ hall, dairy, coach-house and harness-room beyond. Following the death of their parents in the 1920’s, the three girls, José, Joyce and Alison continued to live at Mount Irwin, and maintained the house as it had been in their parents time. For the next 50 years the drawing-room (which was their mother’s domain) and the library (their father’s study) were kept exactly as they had been in the 1920’s. The library, always shuttered, so that daylight would not fade the book bindings, was as last used by Henry Irwin, and everything in the room was just as he had left it. The three girls, José, Joyce and Alison had a life tenancy of Mount Irwin and lived there for the rest of their days. It was Joyce who had the kitchen Aga installed in 1938, its funding being the alternative to a planned trip to Canada. Overhead was the “schoolroom” where the young Irwins had been taught by their Governess. José attended the Byam Shaw Art College in London, before returning to live in Co. Armagh. None of the girls married, and indeed, Alison died at a relatively young age. It was a proud boast of José as to the number of servants there used to be - seven in the house, seven gardeners and sundry others doing farm work. Some of the lower yard buildings were home to the farm workers, while the house staff lived in the attic bedrooms, and in the old “pepperpot” gate lodge. Some of José’s watercolours are inspired by trips to Europe, and the family’s time in India, but most show the countryside of County Armagh. Mount Irwin itself, atop its flat drumlin, lay in a delightful rural setting surrounded by mature parkland and woods, and the tennis court and walled garden were frequently the scene of croquet and tennis parties. José died in 1975 and Joyce in 1982. The house contents and some of José’s paintings were dispersed when Hamilton Osborne King conducted a dispersal sale at Mount Irwin in 1999. However, much of her work was kept intact and the collection on offer in this sale, provides glimpses of Irish country life of a bygone era.
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