by jdurney on May 11, 2012

Gabriel Hayes, sculptor and artist

James Durney

When Irish currency went decimal in 1971 a little-known fact of the process was that several of the coins were designed by the Kildare sculptor and artist, Gabriel Hayes. The design of the halfpenny coin was based on a ornamental bird detail in a manuscript in Cologne Cathedral; the penny on an illumination from the Book of Kells; and the twopence from a bird detail from a Bible in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris.
Born at Holles Street Hospital, Dublin, on 25 August 1909, Gabriel was the daughter of Jeremiah J. Hayes, and Gertrude Hayes (née Lawlor), of Bridgehouse, Monasterevin, Co. Kildare. At the time Jeremiah Hayes was an RIC member who worked on maintenance in the prison service, but later worked as an architect with the Board of Works. Reared primarily by her aunt she was educated at the Dominican College, Eccles Street, Dublin. Gabriel wanted to be a painter and spent three years studying French in a school near Montpellier. While there she attended art classes at a provincial académie-des-beaux-arts. On her return to Ireland she enrolled in the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art, spending her summer holidays in France and Italy. In her second year at college she won the teachers-in-training scholarship, and in 1933 she had five works exhibited at the Royal Hibernian Academy. In her masters certificate Gabriel came first in Ireland. She began exhibiting at the RHA in 1932 and continued to exhibit there until 1947.
In 1936 Gabriel married Seán P. Ó Riordáin, an archaeologist and lecturer in UCC, and moved with him to Monkstown, Co. Cork. They had one son and one daughter. Thereafter, she signed work sometimes with her married name and sometimes with her maiden name. However, it is as Gabriel Hayes she is widely known. In 1943 Gabriel moved with her family to Newbridge Lodge, Celbridge, after her husband had become professor of Celtic archaeology at UCD. In 1953 she exhibited in the inaugural exhibition of the Institute of the Sculptors of Ireland. Most of her commissions were completed before starting on the life-size Stations of the Cross for Galway Cathedral. Work began in 1957 and took twelve years to complete. (Seán Ó Riordáin became ill in the summer of 1956, and died on 11 April 1957, in Dublin, at the age of fifty-two. He was buried in Donoughcomper cemetery, Celbridge.) In 1967 Gabriel carved a life-sized group of the Holy Family in Portland stone for the Holy Family Post-Primary School, Newbridge.
Soon after Gabriel received the important commission to supply the designs for the bronze decimal coins to be issued as the new Irish currency in 1971. After suffering a broken collar bone in 1970 she was unable to carve for a while, and spent her time researching and drawing coins. She designed a series of seven medals, in silver, depicting incidents in the life of St. Patrick for the Franklin Mint, Pennsylvania, USA. In 1977 Gabriel won the Oireachtas gold medal for her walnut sculpture ‘Grainne Mhaol looking towards the sea.’ Examples of her work can be seen locally at Clongowes Wood College, Clane, and the Holy Family Post-Primary School, Newbridge. After a long illness Gabriel Hayes Ó Riordáin died on 28 October 1978 at St. Vincent’s nursing home, Elm Park, Dublin, and was also buried in Donoughcomper cemetery.

When Irish currency went decimal in 1971 a little-known fact was that several of the coins were designed by the Kildare sculptor and artist, Gabriel Hayes

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