Limerick event raises €45,000 for Ukrainian refugees

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John Shinnors photographed with his painting “Trapeze”.


An informal group of artists from Limerick have raised nearly €50,000 for Ukrainians displaced by war, in a surprising wave of support that has stretched across the Atlantic.

“The first piece was sold to someone in America, I took his power of attorney over the phone,” said Moya Ni Cheallaigh, who is an artist herself and one of the main organizers of Limerick Artists for Ukraine.

An art exhibition and auction held on April 28 at the Limerick School of Art and Design was the main event, but fundraising continues online until the end of May.

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About 20 of the 110 donated artworks are still available for purchase at www.limerickartistsforukraine.com. The collection consisted mainly of paintings, with some engravings and photographs.

Exhibitors ranged from locally hosted 18-year-old Ukrainian refugee Valeria Borisova to John Shinnors, a septuagenarian from Limerick who is also one of Ireland’s best-known painters. And another top artist, Donald Teskey, donated a painting to the show.

“They are internationally renowned artists, who have had exhibitions in America,” said Ni Cheallaigh.

Shinnors’ painting, “Trapeze”, specially completed for the auction, sold for €25,000. “And it’s worth about double that,” Ni Cheallaigh said, noting that if it were sold in a gallery, about half of the asking price would go to commission.

Moya Ni Cheallaigh, second from left, is pictured with her daughter, Cara, left, and fellow Limerick Artists for Ukraine organizer and Lebanese entrepreneur, Samira Kaissi, and her daughter, Sara.

More than 200 people attended the auction and likely another 100 attendees, either as proxy bidders or local supporters, Ni Cheallaigh reported.

“There was great interest,” she added. “The Irish are late for everything, but they were queuing outside half an hour before the doors opened!”

By the end of the auction, €45,000 had been raised for the Irish Refugee Council.

All proceeds went to the Refugee Council and there were effectively no fees. “We didn’t pay anything except the rental of wine glasses and some of the wine.

“Our goal now is to reach €50,000,” Ni Cheallaigh said, though he was still surprised at how the humble idea grew.

“Moonknight1”, a work submitted to the Limerick Artists for Ukraine exhibition by 18-year-old Ukrainian digital artist and refugee Valeria Borisova.

Shortly after Russia’s full military invasion of Ukraine on February 24, a neighbor asked Ni Cheallaigh to organize an art sale to help the Ukrainian people. Neighbor Nuala Reddan occasionally sells her own work for charity in her house but didn’t want to this time due to Covid.

“I said yes, thinking it would be nice to have a little local event!” laughs Ni Cheallaigh – after two months of unpaid work, including several 18-hour days.

“Everyone I called said ‘yes’ and gave me someone else’s number – damn data protection! Soon I called John Shinnors.

Ukrainian artist Kateryna Vyshemirska and Moya Ni Cheallaigh.

The show moved past the original venue Ni Cheallaigh had in mind, the Shannon Rowing Club.

The core team of volunteers has also grown. Among those Ni Cheallaigh credits in an article on the ilovelimerick.ie blog is Samira Kaissi. Relatively new to Limerick, the Lebanese scientist turned entrepreneur grew up in Beirut. “She knows what it’s like to be bombed,” Ni Cheallaigh said.

Ni Cheallaigh, a former primary school teacher from Glasnevin, Dublin, moved to Limerick City decades ago.

“Everyone involved had a connection to Limerick,” she said.

This included the two Ukrainians whose work featured in the exhibition and the official photographer on the evening of the auction, Olena Oleksienko. They are part of a recent influx of several hundred Ukrainian refugees into the greater Limerick area, housed in both hotels and volunteer families.

Besides 18-year-old digital artist Borisova, there was Kateryna Vyshemirska, 41, whose husband is in Ukraine waiting for the army. “Kateryna says Ireland saved her life and art saved her soul,” Ni Cheallaigh said.

Around 30 locally housed Ukrainians were brought in for the preview the day before the auction. “I organized locals to drive them,” said Ni Cheallaigh, adding that “the people of Limerick were amazing”.

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