Michael Hanrahan has been living and working in Lahinch as an artist during his sixteen year career which has included producing paintings for the Queen, Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
Originally from Dublin, Michael moved to Lahinch in 2005 to begin his career as an artist having been a bank manager in AIB for nearly four decades. “I got very tired of working in an office for 38 years I just said listen I’ve had enough of that I want to follow my interest and my passion for art,” he told The Clare Echo this week.
Michael had a connection to Clare going back to his teenage years when his father worked in a bank in Ennistymon and described moving to Lahinch as “kind of like coming home”
In 2011 Michael became the official artist for Queen Elizabeth II’s historic visit to Ireland. Michael had been working on the cruise ships of Cunard line teaching water colour painting to the passengers when on the way from India to Dubai, Michael saw a Sky news Bulletin announcing the Queen would be coming Ireland.
“I knew it was going to be an important visit historically and politically and I wrote to Buckingham Palace putting myself forward as the artist for the visit,” said Michael. “Three days before she came Department of Foreign Affairs wrote to me and said ‘listen we have twelve hundred journalists and we have one artist and you’re the artist so get up to Dublin quickly and start recording what you see’”.
Michael produced a number of paintings of the event and after the visit he wrote to the Queen asking if she would like one of the artworks. Michael said he “couldn’t believe his eyes” when the Queen wrote back asking him to bring one of the paintings to Buckingham Palace.
Aer Lingus flew Michael and his family to Heathrow where they were picked up in a Bentley and taken to Buckingham Place to deliver his painting of the queen and President Michael D. Higgins laying a wreath at the garden of remembrance.
The Queen later requested two more paintings which Michael brought to her. He also received a letter from Edward Young the deputy private secretary to the Queen thanking him for his “most thoughtful gift”. His paintings now sit in the Royal Collection alongside the works of the likes of Rembrandt and Caravaggio.
“That changed my life” said the now 70 year old artist, “I’m the only Irish living artist in the Royal Collection. Seven of the paintings were put into an art auction in October 2011. There was a guide price of around €8,000 on the paintings but they made over €21,000. So people said wait a second he was the artist the only official artist so let’s buy them and then Christie’s in London auctioned another one and that sold very well also”
When President Obama came to Ireland that same year Michael again got the opportunity to paint his visit. One of the paintings was sent to the White House and in return Michael received a letter signed by both Barack and Michelle Obama saying, “We would like to extend our deepest thanks for your kind gift. Your thoughtfulness and generosity are appreciated.”
However, Obama wasn’t the only US president to get one of Michael’s paintings Donald Trump also received an artwork from Michael when he visited Clare in 2019, a painting of the 14th hole on the Doonbeg Golf Course with Trump’s hotel in the background. Michael received no letter of thanks on that occasion.
Michael had still been working as an art teacher on cruises until recently when COVID-19 brought an end to that but he describes the paintings he has been doing over lockdown as “probably my best work.”
As for what’s next for Michael, he seems to have his eye on yet another US president “I would love to paint the visit of President Biden when comes to Ireland and I have no doubt he will be in Ireland hopefully within the next twelve months,” Hanrahan predicted.