An exciting summer ahead at the Crawford Art Gallery

Crawford Art Gallery registrar Jean O’Donovan talks about home, family life, and exciting times at the gallery
An exciting summer ahead at the Crawford Art Gallery
Crawford Art Gallery registrar Jean O’Donovan

Tell us about yourself;

I am from Cork and studied History of Art and German at UCC, going on to do my MA in Modern and Contemporary Art in 2009.

I started dating my husband in college (although we went to secondary school together) and after our Masters we moved to Cologne, Germany, for a few months then to Dublin for five years. We made the move back to Cork in 2015 when I took up the position of Registrar of the Crawford Art Gallery, Cork.

I am responsible for the gallery’s collection, its care, preservation and documentation and I also co-ordinate the gallery’s loans-in and out programme which keeps me busy!

I liaise with institutions seeking to borrow artworks from Crawford’s collection and co-ordinate the loan agreements, transport and insurance and do the same for all of the incoming artworks for the Crawford Art Gallery’s exhibition programme. I love the diversity of my role — every day brings something different.

My husband and I welcomed a little girl in 2017 and are expecting our second child in September, so like many women, I juggle a busy work and home life.

Where were you born?

I was born in Cork and grew up in Ballincollig, where my parents still live. I love its proximity to the city and it has changed a lot in the last few years. When we first moved back to Cork, we rented a small house in the town centre (although I still call it the village as most Ballincolligers do!) and I loved being able to cycle to work along the River Lee during the summer.

Where do you live?

My husband and I just bought his family home in Waterfall, Cork. It’s part of the green belt of Cork city and such a beautiful area. It’s along the old West Cork railway route and one of the old railway bridges is still standing. It is only a 20-minute drive from the city but it feels like being in the middle of the countryside. The house is on quite a large site, surrounded by trees with a stream running through the property so it’s quite idyllic. We are in the process of moving in at the moment. After a decade of renting we are really excited to set down roots.

We bought a new bed and mattress this week, which despite being in our 30s made us feel like proper adults!


I have two younger sisters and my parents have the house to themselves for the first time in almost 35 years as my youngest sister moved out of home at the beginning of the year. We are really close and we are so lucky that we all live in Cork and see each other all the time.

My husband and I have one little girl, Olivia, who is 20 months and another on the way — coming from a family of girls I’m delighted that she will have a sister.

Best friend?

I would have to say my husband and my sisters in equal measure. My husband and I went to secondary school together but only became friends when we both took German as an extra subject in UCC and ended up in the same German drama group and had to put on a short play for our class — something which pushed both of us outside our comfort zones.

Long chats over coffee in the O’Rahilly Building quickly became more and we have been together now for 13 years and married for four. He is a solicitor and I think his level-headedness and rational mind balances my more artistic and eccentric side.

With two younger sisters, I grew up with two immediate girlfriends and confidantes. There were periods where we killed each other growing up and definitely drove my parents insane but by the time we got to our 20s, most of that was behind us and they are two of my best friends and probably the people I confide in most.

Earliest childhood memory?

Being on holidays with my family when I was two or three years old and being on my dad’s lap going down a waterslide. No matter how tight money was, my parents made sure that we had a family holiday every year and they are some of my best memories.

From traipsing around Ireland to holiday camps in Wales or France, there was always such excitement and adventure. My parents would make up special holiday mix tapes for our long car journeys where the three of us would be packed into the back with suitcases and pillows. Garth Brooks, Elton John, The Carpenters, Gloria Estefan and Jim Croce featured heavily and hearing any of those songs takes me back to very happy memories.

Person you most admire?

I am constantly coming into contact with the most amazing people in my work and personal life that I admire and who inspire me to achieve more. I admire artists for the way in which they see the world and the gift they have for translating that vision into something tangible that can be enjoyed by others.

I always admire generous people — you know, the kind that are giving of their time and expertise and make you want to do the same.

Person who most irritates you?

Rudeness in general irritates me. People may be having a tough day but it’s no excuse. It takes so little to be nice but makes a world of difference to the person on the receiving end.

Where was your most memorable holiday?

My husband and I took a delayed honeymoon to New Zealand in 2017 and it was amazing. We had been all set to go at the beginning of 2016 but three days before we were due to fly to Queenstown I found out that I had a large ovarian cyst that required emergency surgery so we had to cancel the whole thing at the very last minute! We spent the next year re-planning and made it bigger and better than the first-time round.

We spent four weeks driving the South and North Island and everything about the country was spectacular. We love hiking and outdoor activities and New Zealand has so much to offer. We explored fjords, waterfalls, rainforests, glaciers and vineyards on the South Island and bungee-jumped over and white-water rafted down the Kawarau River. On the North Island we hiked the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, skydived over Lake Taupo, surfed in Raglan and finished the trip in Auckland.

Favourite TV programme?

A work colleague recommended the Australian comedy-drama Offspring to me when I was pregnant with my first child, and the attachment I formed to the protagonist Nina and her wacky family during those first few weeks of night feeds was possibly unhealthy — I got very upset when I finished all seven series. In general, I don’t watch much television, I much prefer films.

Your signature dish if cooking?

I love having friends over for dinner and I usually try to keep the menu as uncomplicated as possible so there is more time for chatting.

A dish that I have made a few times is Jamie Oliver’s Pork Marsala — it’s one of his 15-minute recipes but it involves flambéing the pork in Marsala wine so it has a bit of wow-factor and the end result is tasty.

Favourite restaurant?

I love trying different restaurants and pop-up food events and festivals. I do love Monk’s Lane in Timoleague — they have a fantastic seasonal menu and a gorgeous beer garden that catches the sun in the summer.

Last book you read?

This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay. It had been on my list of books to read for a while. It’s laugh out loud funny while at the same time paints a worrying picture of how junior doctors are treated under the NHS.

Best book you read?

Two childhood favourites that I have revisited over the years are Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and Stephen King’s The Eye of the Dragon. Some of the most moving books I have read over the past few years are The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara and We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler.

Last album/CD/download you bought?

George Ezra’s Staying At Tamara’s.

Favourite song?

Blackbird by Paul McCartney. I love its simplicity — just two verses repeated but the melody is just gorgeous.

Your proudest moment?

I always dreamed of having research published and that came true when an essay I wrote on the art of the Weimar Republic was included as a chapter in the book, The European Avant-Garde: Text and Image, Cambridge Scholars Press, 2012. I’d love to do more writing in the future.

Spendthrift or saver?

A bit of both. I love to shop, although my passion has moved from fashion to interior design and art over the past few years. I also love a bargain and would rarely spend money on anything without deliberating over it at length beforehand.

Name one thing you would improve in your area in which you live?

I’m definitely a fair-weather cyclist but better cycle paths in and out of the city would be great. Some roads have them, but they tend to appear and reappear at random.

What makes you happy?

Lazy mornings in bed with a large mug of coffee and a good book. And Haribo or any kind of confectionary really — I have a serious sweet tooth.

How would you like to be remembered?

With a smile.

What else are you up to at the moment?

We have some wonderful projects coming up in the Crawford Art Gallery. One I am particularly excited about is The Fig Reveal, which is part of the Cork Midsummer Festival, which runs until June 23. We have been working with sculptor conservator, Eoghan Daltun, over the past three years carrying out restoration projects on the gallery’s Canova Casts. Some of these casts have plaster fig leaves ‘protecting their modesty’ and we plan to carefully remove these leaves (which were not part of the original casts) to bring them in line with their marble originals. Every part of the process will be documented and photographed and the fig leaves themselves will be kept and preserved as part of the history of the works.

It runs from June 17 to 21 and June 24 to 28 from 10am to 5pm.

More in this section

Sponsored Content


Catch up on the latest episode of Annie May and the Hit Brigade written and read by  Mahito Indi Henderson.

Add to your home screen - easy access to Cork news, views, sport and more