Colin Davidson, Silent Testimony
Silent Testimony, an exhibition of portrait paintings by Colin Davidson (born 1968), reveals the stories of eighteen people who are connected by their individual experiences of loss through the Troubles - a turbulent 30-year period in Northern Ireland from the late 1960s onwards.
Since 2010, Davidson has become internationally renowned for his series of large-scale portraits of actors, musicians, poets and writers. While painting these familiar faces, he became increasingly preoccupied, not with their celebrity, but more with their status as human beings. It is on this foundation of exploring our ‘common humanity’ that Silent Testimony rests.
Until now, the artist, who grew up in Belfast and studied art at the University of Ulster, has not responded overtly to what he witnessed or personally experienced during the Troubles. Silent Testimony is a powerful response which reflects on how the conflict has had, and continues to have, a profound impact on thousands of individuals - the injured, their families, the families of those who died and the wider community.
John Gallagher’s father, John (29), was shot dead on 14th August 1969 in Armagh. He was married with three young children, one of whom was later injured in a landmine attack in Armagh on 24th July 1990. John Jnr was six years old at the time of his father’s death.
Flo O’Riordan’s son, Sean, was killed on 23rd March 1972 on Cawnpore Street in west Belfast. Sean received a gunshot wound to the back of the head and died a short time later in hospital. He was thirteen years old and was the second of six children.
Mo Norton’s brother, Terence Griffin (24), was one of twelve people killed when a bomb exploded on a coach on the M62 in England, on 4th February 1974. Mo recalls the family not knowing if Terence was caught in the bomb until they saw one of his record sleeves by the road on a lunchtime television report.
Thomas O’Brien was bereaved on 17th May 1974. His brother, John (23), sister-in-law, Anna (22), and two nieces, Jacqueline (17 months) and Anne Marie (5 months), were killed when a no-warning car bomb exploded as the young family were walking along Parnell Street in Dublin. A total of thirty-three people lost their lives that day, in separate bombings in Dublin and Monaghan.
Anna Cachart’s father, Patrick (36), was shot dead on 1st April 1975 in Carrickfergus. Patrick, who was born in India, had married a woman from Belfast and together they had three children. He was killed at home in front of his wife while his young children were asleep upstairs.
Maureen Reid’s husband, and father of their ten children, James (44), was killed on 17th January 1976, when a bomb was thrown into the Sheridan Bar in the New Lodge district of Belfast. Maureen never remarried and raised her family on a widow’s pension. Throughout the years Maureen referred to James as ‘Daddy’. She passed away on 25th March 2015 with her family by her side.
Damien McNally’s father, Paul (26), was shot on 5th June 1976 in the Ardoyne district of Belfast. Paul and a friend were crossing Brompton Road after leaving a bookmakers in the early afternoon when two gunmen approached them. Paul died in hospital two days after the attack, knowing his injuries would be fatal. Damien was four months-old and his sister Karen was four years of age.
Walter Simon’s son, Eugene (26), disappeared on 1st January 1981. Eugene was a father of three children and had recently remarried following the death of his first wife. He was due to become a father again. Eugene’s body was recovered in May 1984, when a bog in County Louth was drained. His remains were identified by the rose gold Celtic cross worn round his neck, which had belonged to his first wife.
Johnnie Proctor’s father, John (25), was killed on 14th September 1981. Johnnie was born the day before, and his father was visiting the Mid Ulster Hospital in Magherafelt to see his wife and new born son when he was shot dead in the hospital car park. Johnnie was named after his father.
Margaret Yeaman was injured on 15th March 1982. She was working in an estate agents in Banbridge when a no-warning car bomb exploded close by. Much of the town was destroyed. Margaret sustained serious facial injuries, requiring over 100 stitches, and was permanently blinded. She was the mother of four young children at the time. Margaret is now a grandmother but grieves that she will never be able to see her grandchildren.
Virtue Dixon’s daughter, Ruth (24), died in a bomb attack in Ballykelly on 6th December 1982. Ruth was celebrating her birthday in the Droppin Well public house when there was an explosion, causing the roof to collapse. Sixteen other people lost their lives in the attack. A witness tells of hearing the DJ play ‘Happy Birthday’ for Ruth at the moment the bomb exploded. Ruth’s son, who was six at the time of her death, died suddenly when he was aged thirty.
Jeff Smith and a colleague were driving near Kinawley, close to the border in County Fermanagh, on 18th June 1985, when their Ford Sierra was caught in a landmine explosion. As a result of his injuries, Jeff was left permanently paralysed. His colleague, William Robert Gilliland, died in the attack.
Paul Reilly’s daughter, Joanne (20), was killed on 12th April 1989 in Warrenpoint. Joanne had been working in a builder’s yard when a no-warning bomb exploded beside her office. She was killed instantly. The sitting for this portrait took place in Joanne’s bedroom, kept exactly as she had left it that day. The clock on the wall is stopped at 9.58am, the time of her death.
Mary Finnis’ son, Rory (21), was shot dead in June 1991. Rory’s body, displaying evidence of torture, was found barefoot and hooded behind shops in the Creggan Estate in Derry. He had last been seen with a close friend in a city centre pub five days before his body was found on 6th June 1991. Mary still lives surrounded by photographs and mementoes of her son. Rory’s son was just eighteen months-old at the time of his death.
Jean Caldwell’s husband, Cecil (37), was killed on 17th January 1992 when a landmine was detonated at Teebane Crossroads on the main road between Omagh and Cookstown. He and seven colleagues died, and many others were injured, when the bomb destroyed their work van as they travelled home for the weekend. Cecil and Jean had two girls.
Fiona Kelly’s father, Gerry Dalrymple (58), was killed on 25th March 1993, when gunmen opened fire on the van in which he and his colleagues were travelling in Castlerock. The workmen had been carrying out building and renovation work for some months in the seaside town. Three other men died in the attack. Gerry Dalrymple lived in Rasharkin and was the father of six children.
Emma Anthony’s father, Frederick (38), was killed on 13th May 1994 in his home town of Lurgan by an under-car booby trap bomb. His family were with him in the car. Emma, then three years of age, was seated behind her father and sustained serious injuries. She was not expected to survive. Emma still lives with the impact of her injuries.
Stuart McCausland’s mother, Lorraine (23), was beaten to death by a gang on 8th March 1987. Lorraine’s body was found face-down in a stream near Tynedale Community Centre in Belfast. She was a single mother of two boys, Stuart and Craig. Eighteen years later, on 11th July 2005, Craig (20) was shot dead in front of his girlfriend and her two young children.