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The Minihan Gallery and Reading Room:

Athy Community Library is located within the restored 19th century Town Hall. The library and Minihan Gallery and reading Room are situated on the first floor of the building. Period details such as double height walls and large feature windows enhance the spaces. The gallery and library are fully wheelchair accessible, by ramp to the building, and by lift to the first floor.

Born in Dublin in 1946, John Minihan was raised in Athy from the age of four months.  His father died before he was born; his mother abandoned him to the care of her sister before emigrating to England.

"My aunt, Mary Collison, reared me, and I've always regarded my aunt and uncle as my parents," says Minihan.  "Now deceased, I saw her only twice, the last time when I was 11.  That was never a disruptive thing in my life, because I had so much love from my aunt and uncle".

At the age of 11, Minihan went to live in London, leaving school to work as an office boy at the Daily Mail, where he began his career as a photographer. "I was one of 10 runners on the editorial floor of the evening news,'' he says. "'Part of my job involved going up to the darkroom; I got to know the technicians there. After three months, an opening in the darkroom came up and my five-year apprenticeship there began my life as a photographer."

On trips back to Athy with his Rolleiflex, he began to photograph subjects there, starting with the wedding of a friend.  According to Minihan, "By the mid-1960s I was becoming aware of the importance of the work I was doing documenting life there."

A style began to emerge, influenced at first by the work of Edward S Curtis, who documented the lives of Native Americans, and the work of the Hungarian Andre Kertesz, who pioneered the photography of the candid moment.  The crucial event that pulled Minihan's Athy work together came in February 1977, when a local woman, Katie Tyrrell, died.

Minihan asked a publican friend, Bertie Doyle, to ask her family for permission to photograph the wake. The family agreed, and for two days and three nights Minihan photographed the events from Tyrrell's deathbed to her grave.

His photographs of Athy have been exhibited throughout the world and the critic Harold Hobson was moved to call them ‘sad, poignant and sublime’.

In between documenting Athy on visits home, Minihan continued his career on Fleet Street, which included the iconic snap of a 19-year-old Lady Diana Spencer in the garden of the nursery she worked at, the morning sun to her back, her legs in silhouette through her skirt.

Kildare County Council formally acknowledges the international importance of The Minihan Archive of artists, writers and the people of Athy town.  Therefore Kildare Library and Arts Services has dedicated The Minihan Gallery and Reading Room in Athy Community Library to his work.  It houses a range of significant works, kindly donated by Minihan to Athy Library, as well as recent acquisitions made by Kildare County Council for the Municipal Collection. 

The Minihan Gallery and Reading Room   

Paintings, prints, photographs and digital artworks from Kildare County Councils Municipal Collection can be viewed in libraries countywide, in Áras Chill Dara, Naas and on www.kildare.ie/artsservice