Una in focus

Cappagh Road

Una Watters - CappaghRoad

Cappagh Road ( 1960)

In the first of a series of occasional blogs, we are going to look at individual paintings of Una’s to showcase her work in more detail.  Here Mary Morrissy, curator of,  discusses “Cappagh Road”.

Cappagh Road is one of several oils by Una Watters that depict the new corporation estates in Finglas in 1960, where Una lived and worked.  It was used last year on the cover of a memoir, Down by the Liffeyside (Somerville Press) by Colbert Kearney (who knew Una personally) and is the perfect embodiment of the world described in the book – the migration experience of thousands of  inner-city dwellers to the outer suburbs in the 1950s.

Una Watters’ Cappagh Road (oil on canvas, dimensions unknown)  is a microcosm of  the “new” suburb in its brave infancy, when much of life was still lived out on the street, rather than behind closed doors. Look at the two burly women on the right in their heavy coats, gossiping, as one pushes a go-car (what we used to call buggies in the 1950s) in which a toddler sleeps, skewed to one side.

We know they’re gossiping from their physical gestures. The blue-scarved woman is saying something to her companion, but the tilt of her head tells us that it’s a secret or a sly aside that’s being shared. This is one of Una’s great strengths – being able to communicate emotion through gesture.  The faces here are roughly rendered yet their actions are full of character.

On the left of the scene, another young mother – or an older sister, perhaps? – cradles a bottle of milk while trying to restrain a child in a blue bonnet who’s on the brink of a tantrum.  You can see the “I want” refrain in the operatic yawn of the child’s mouth.

A boy in short trousers grabs another by the sleeve as they chase after a ball in the middle of the street.  Is he trying to hold his companion back, or pass him out? Three more take up the rear in hot pursuit of the runaway ball.  In the mid-ground of the painting, another boy is stepping off the kerb heedlessly and about to collide with a hatted man on a bicycle who is swerving to avoid him. The moment of avoided impact is rendered by a circular compass-like brush stroke.

A young blade – a university student or a clerk? – is waiting for the bus.  He stands, debonair, slightly louche-looking, one hand around the pole of the bus stop, the other hand thrust into his pocket. The bus is coming though he doesn’t see it. There it is at the vanishing point of the painting, as green and solid-looking as the trees it emerges from.

It is a winter’s afternoon – a weak sun braves the chilly sky; the street lights are already on, the shop (the local chipper) is warmly aglow, the people are rugged up. Only the eerily precise black dog, padding softly across the foreground, sniffing out his territory, tail alert, seems intent on his own business. (Una’s husband, Eugene Watters, superstitiously saw this dog as darkly prophetic.)

Una often slyly inserted herself into such crowd scenes, often as a watchful observer, but there’s no sign of her here.

Cappagh Road was one of three paintings Una made of Finglas in the early 1960s.  The two others – Schoolbreak (1960) and Building Scheme (1961) have not been traced.  Perhaps, on the evidence of this painting, someone out there might recognize its companion pieces?

If you do, or think you may have in your possession any Una Watters painting, please use the contact page on this site.