Detail from statement listing the duties of NGI staff, 24 December 1863
Over the course of a century and a half, the transformation of the Gallery, under the Directorship of twelve enterprising and passionate individuals, has been supported by committed men and women who have worked in the institution since its foundation. From the original six care takers of the building and the collection in 1864, the Gallery staff has grown to 118 people working in a wide variety of roles contributing to the successful operation of the Gallery.
In 1863, as well as the Director and the Registrar, Henry Killingly, four other staff members were employed in the Gallery. Two porters lived on the premises and were responsible for the supervision and care of the building. The Head Porter was responsible for the building and its safety; observing visitors as they enter, taking ‘charge of all umbrellas and sticks’, the delivery of letters and selling gallery catalogues. The Second Porter cared for the antique casts, sculptures, pictures and frames, ensuring their safety and dusting them. A single housemaid was in charge of ‘the entire cleaning and dusting of the Galleries, the Board room and the Ladies Waiting Room’. She was helped by a charwoman who was to see to ‘the scrupulous cleaning of the furniture’.
In 1942 attendant Thomas O’Leary accompanied twenty-four cases, containing the best artworks from the collection, to the Preparatory College of Tourmakeady, County Mayo, for safe-keeping during the Second World War. He hated the cold and isolated location, and his request for a pair of boots was rejected as, at that time, the distribution of rubber boots was only sanctioned for members of the Air Raid Precautions unit. O’Leary was despairing of his situation and requested that he be released from his duties in Tourmakeady. In time, however, his resolve strengthened and he declared that he would ‘hang on’ in his post until the end. He wrote on 1 January 1945 to Brinsley MacNamara, Registrar, ‘I would like to fight it to the end. I came with the pictures and I would like to go back with them.’ After three years watching over the priceless collection of paintings, without a holiday, O’Leary received word that the 224 paintings would be returned to Dublin. After his stalwart service to the Gallery, O’Leary resumed his post in Dublin as an attendant and the best works were re-hung in the galleries.
The last resident attendant (formerly porter) in the Gallery, Jim Geiran, retired just before the arrival of the Beit and MacNeill Sweeney pictures in 1986. He took up his position in 1948, when he was twenty-five years old; he was married and had a six week old baby. He retired thirty-eight years later, having raised seven children in the Gallery, two of whom were born on the premises.