Art Scene

Zara McDaid

Art Scene: Portraits and landscapes ‘Erne’ artist credit

Ballyshannon artist Barry Sweeny with one of his Rory Gallagher portraits.

Ballyshannon artist Barry Sweeny with one of his Rory Gallagher portraits.

BALLYSHANNON native Barry Sweeny is a Design Graduate of the University of Ulster. He has worked extensively as a decorative artist throughout Ireland, Europe, US and now works as an artist back in his hometown.

Inspired by all that the north west of Ireland has to offer, Barry is currently building on a collection of paintings and drawings taking in the natural landscape, the built environment, the history and heritage, and of course the Wild Atlantic shore.


Also well-known over the years for his portraits of his favourite musician, the great Rory Gallagher, Barry loves nothing more than to take refuge in his studio, turn Rory up to 10 with his brushes loaded, ready for the next work of art.

I caught up with Barry recently to have a chat about what motivates this talented artist, his inspirations and future plans.
Barry prederes to work in oils or acrylics. “For the larger scale paintings and murals I get out the ‘Weathershield’ and normally work it along with a glaze medium.

“I’ve dabbled in a bit of wood carving too and even like a bit of ‘hands on’ with stone building or willow weaving,” he said.
Growing up Barry’s bedroom window faced west overlooking the mouth of the river Erne. “Many evenings I was distracted from my homework by the fantastic evening light and I loved how it ‘lingered longer’ here on the west coast like we were getting really good value out of the day! “I’d get lost imagining the great trading ships of old pulling in at the Mall Quay or the salmon leaping in their thousands at Assaroe Falls.

“So, perhaps unconsciously, in my art I’m drawn to this combination of water, light and often a place of historical interest. Where there’s a story to be told or a memory beyond what you see on the canvas,” said Barry.

024A8075 Smaller image for Zara

After a good foundation in drawing and painting in school days, Barry was introduced to many new disciplines at University of Ulster at Belfast where he did a foundation year in 1991/92 before going on to do his degree in Design.

He said: “We covered many areas of design from product, packaging, furniture and graphic design. I always had an inclination towards the hand rendered illustration work rather than the computer generated scene that was really kicking off back then.

“After graduation I hooked up with the well-known A&J Regan Specialist Painters and spent six years painting murals and applying decorative finishes throughout Ireland, Europe and the US.”


Barry returned to Ballyshannon in 2003 and set up his own business, Barry Sweeny Creative Art. In recent years he has undertaken commissions for both landscape and portraiture.

“I’m currently building up a collection of paintings of the North West which are also available as limited edition prints.
“Since 2009 I have the annual pleasure of painting a portrait of Rory Gallagher in conjunction with the Rory Gallagher Festival in May/June,” he said.

Andrea Whelan's photo

Barry finds it hard to choose his favorite piece of work. “I did a large scale portrait of Rory Gallagher a number of years ago for the festival to use as a backdrop. I like that one.
“It’s a nice almost spiritual image of Rory looking down on the bands and the audience, keeping an eye on things.

“It has been good over the years to see many great bands performing alongside this piece and then saluting him at the end of the gig.
“I also really enjoyed painting Eithna’s by the sea in Mullaghmore last summer. A great big ‘over the top’ underwater scene.”

It’s coming up to the Rory time of year again so Barry is starting out on this year’s portrait. “It’s the 20th anniversary of his passing this year so I want the painting to be special. But I can’t reveal anything until closer to the festival.”

Under Bare Benbulbin Print.

Under Bare Benbulbin Print.

Barry definitely wants to spend more time painting. “I would like to develop my style of painting, let it evolve, and build on a body of work which evokes emotion; a reaction. I like to hear comment on my work. I listen to some of it,” he laughed.

Original work and prints by Barry Sweeny are available at Local Hands Studio Shop, Main Street, Ballyshannon. “It’s a great Arts and Crafts co-op style project showcasing a fine array of creative work in the North West,” he said.

Barry Sweeny can by contacted via his website; Facebook’ Barry Sweeny Creative Art’ or by e-mail

Zara McDaid can be contacted on Facebook, search ‘Zara Mc Daid Art’,, e-mail is, Twitter @zaramcdaidart and Instragram ZARA MC DAID

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