Dr. Billy Colfer: A Celebration of his Life and Work
Curated by Karla Sánchez O’Connell and Rosemary Hartigan
Wexford Arts Centre is pleased to present an exhibition celebrating the life and work of Dr. Billy Colfer. Curated by Karla Sánchez O’Connell and Rosemary Hartigan, the exhibition will run in the new Billy Colfer Gallery. Director Elizabeth Whyte states “We are delighted to be launching a new gallery in Dr. Billy Colfer’s name as part of the completion of new capital works. Billy was instrumental in the establishment of Wexford Arts Centre and contributed greatly as a board director, artist, historian, teacher, set designer, and advisor over the years. This exhibition celebrating his life and works will be an inspiration to our visitors on how to make a positive creative impact within the local Wexford community. We are very grateful to the Colfer family for their support for this exhibition and for the naming of our new gallery in their late father’s name to inspire future generations visiting Wexford Arts Centre.”
A native of Slade on the Hook Peninsula, Dr. Billy Colfer (1939-2013) was the author of many publications that are now classics of Wexford history such as “The Hook Peninsula” (2004), “Wexford: A Town and its Landscape” (2008) and “Wexford Castles: Landscape, Context and Settlement” (2013).
A graduate of St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra, Colfer taught at the CBS in Wexford until his retirement in 1997. He then continued with the history studies he had started earlier and finished a Ph.D. at Trinity College, Dublin. His research on Medieval Wexford now constitutes a must for anyone interested in the history of this area. Billy Colfer was also a keen photographer, having taken most of the images that illustrated his many books, and a prolific watercolourist.
This exhibition aims to celebrate Dr. Colfer’s life and work by offering a glimpse into his working process including all the research, writing, editing, drawing, mapping and photographing. At the same time, the exhibition presents some of the treasured watercolours and drawings that belong to the Wexford County Collection, and the private collections of Dr. Colfer’s five sons: Paul, Eoin, Donal, Eamonn, and Niall.
A man of many talents, Dr. Colfer was an active member of the Wexford Historical Society, being president from 2007-2010 and editor of their journal from 1984-1991. He was both an actor and set designer for Wexford Drama Club; his beloved wife Noreen was the lead actress for many years. Dr. Colfer was key in the establishment of Wexford Arts Centre and the National Heritage Park in Wexford, and his involvement in other organisations such as the Wexford SubAqua Club and Wexford Golf Club left a positive and indelible mark.
Dr. Colfer touched the lives of many people in Wexford and further afield:
“Billy Colfer was a great Wexfordman – down-to-earth, rock solid, utterly dependable, hardworking, committed to his family, community and county. He could turn his hand to anything – raising a family, being a good hurler, footballer and golfer, building a boat and a house with his brother George, catching mackerel or pollock, painting a picture, writing a book. His Wexford trilogy meets the demanding criterion of Italo Calvino about what constitutes a classic: ‘A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.”
– Professor Kevin Whelan, Director, University of Notre Dame’s Dublin Global Gateway
“On the many committees and the various Chairmen under which he served, Billy Colfer contributed the wisdom, logic and practicality, all of which he had in abundance. When he spoke he had the undivided attention and the well-deserved respect of the avid listeners. He seemed to be always calm, certain in his convictions and really practical and dependable in his perspective. You couldn’t but learn from and admire this man of words and deeds.”
– Pat Hackett, Chair, Wexford Historical Society
“He was a wonderful man and an incredibly versatile scholar. There was nothing that Billy couldn’t do. While working with him on his four magnificent books I learned that he had many other remarkable gifts. If one of his books required a reconstruction of a destroyed church, Billy could paint a beautiful watercolour that was informed by the archaeology of the site. If he needed a photograph, he would return again and again to the same place, at all times of the day, until the light was just right and he could get the perfect shot. He would produce maps that revealed his true appreciation of the Irish landscape and a deep understanding of all periods of Irish history, not just the Medieval which was the main focus of his research. When I was with Billy anywhere in Wexford I felt like I was with a star, and of course, I was.
– Dr. Matthew Stout, Lecturer, School of History & Geography. Dublin City University
While researching elements of this exhibition I spoke to numerous people about Billy. Former students remembered him as a favourite teacher, no mean feat when one considers the hundreds of small boys that passed through his classroom. He is remembered as someone who ignited a love of Wexford, of history, and of art; someone who gave young imaginations space to explore and expand.
I feel a suitable by-line for this exhibition might be ‘we didn’t mention….’ as to cover all the aspects of Billy’s talents would be nigh impossible.”
– Chairwoman of WAC and Co-Curator of the exhibition Rosemary Hartigan
“It was a pleasure to work on the monographic exhibition of a man who showed so much passion and love for Wexford. Dr Billy Colfer had a true Renaissance spirit, a man of a keen intellect, he had a deep interest and belief in education.”
– Karla Sánchez O’Connell, Curator
This exhibition will run in the Dr. Billy Colfer Gallery from Tuesday 15 November to Friday 23 December 2022. Opening hours are Tuesday – Saturday from 10am to 5pm.
Wexford Arts Centre and curators Karla Sánchez O’Connell and Rosemary Hartigan would like to thank the Colfer family for their contributions to the exhibition, and the Arts Department of Wexford County Council, Wexford County Archive, and Wexford County Library.
Dr. Billy Colfer: A Celebration of his Life & Work is supported by Wexford County Council and the Arts Council of Ireland.