‘I was amazed at all they had achieved, and I wanted to portray that’

A VERY special portrait unveiling which took place in Navan Library last week, celebrated the positive contributions migrants make to the local community.

There was surprise and delight as the three subjects of the paintings by Ratoath artist, Mary Duffy, saw their paintings unveiled.

Minister Helen McEntee unveiled the portraits which were very well received by the three subjects - staff members of Cultur Migrants Centre in Navan, Reuben Hambakachere, Tinu (Atinuke) Achioya and Joanna Fitzsimons.

Mary Duffy was commissioned by Meath County Council to produce the portraits as part of The National Integration Fund which was launched by the Minister in 2020.

“When I was asked to paint these portraits, I was delighted that I would get to meet the sitters to get to know them and how they came to be in Ireland.

“The portraits aim to celebrate the positive contributions of those who have come to make Ireland their home and show the active parts that they play in our communities.

“I went to meet them in Cultúr, the Migrants Centre in Navan where all three of them work.” Mary took some photos and did some sketching but mostly listened to their fascinating stories of what they had done since coming to Ireland.

“I was amazed at all they had achieved, and I wanted to portray an element of their fascinating stories in their portraits.”

Through her empathetic style of painting, Mary has created portraits the tell the story of each subject.

Reuben Hambakachere is a community worker with Cultúr.

“After experiencing Direct Provision for eight years on arrival from Zimbabwe, Reuben became a human rights defender and a community influencer,” Mary explains.

“He was the campaign co-ordinator for the 'End Institutionalised Living Campaign' and has worked to help immigrants to gain the rights to work and contribute to Irish society.”

In his portrait Mary has represented him as a leader of people who can advocate on their behalf at policy level and facilitate real changes to improve their lives. He is portrayed outside Dáil Eireann with the protesters in the background as he shoulders their problems.

“Tinu Achioya is the Program Manager in Cultúr,” says Mary.

“She was born in Nigeria and has strong family roots there.

Her culture is important to her and she believes in integration rather than assimilation. She is a skilled mediator and works to help support cross cultural dialogue.”

In her portrait, Mary has shown her holding a photo of her 80-year-old mother on her mobile to show the importance of her heritage.

“It’s been a difficult time over the last while with travel restrictions, and the mobile has been the only means of keeping in touch. “She is wearing her traditional clothes which she wears for family celebrations and for her weekly church attendance.”

Joanna Fitzsimons is a Project Worker in Cultúr.

“She was born in Lithuania in a Polish family and first came to Ireland when she was a student of Polish Philology in Warsaw University.

“She met her future husband then and returned the following summer after graduating.

“She set up a Saturday School for Polish in Navan to enable Polish families to teach their children Polish language and culture.

“Joanna has worked in the Citizens Information Centre in Navan supporting migrants in accessing their rights. She now works in Cultúr to support migrants with educational and community projects.”

In her portrait, Mary has portrayed her with the backdrop of the Polish flag and coat of arms. There is also a bookcase to represent her love of teaching and her passion for passing on the Polish language to the next generation.

“It was truly an honour to create portraits of these three remarkable people and I hope the portraits will highlight their wonderful contributions to Irish society.”

“It as very important to me that they liked their portraits and they ere very pleased.”

The Portraits of Integration will be on display until the end of April. Mary is a graduate of the National College of Art and Design and has been working as a portrait artist for over 20 years.

“After college, I worked for a time at St Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre, painting portraits.

“During that time I received commissions from An Garda Siochana and ESB as well as the people of Dublin and beyond.” Mary took some time out to have her children and recently attended Trinity to complete a course in Cultural Entrepreneurship. She has rejuvenated her career with an online business, Mary Duffy Portraits where she continues to create portraits and produces limited edition prints of her drawings.

“I had time during the pandemic to set up the businesses and my website and I was at home all the time.

“At the time people weren't able to visit their loved ones and sending portraits was a nice gift and a way to connect,” she says.

Mary's work can be seen at www.maryduffyportraits.ie