Anthony Ruby’s Pana Shuffle mural in Mutton Lane dates back to Cork’s tenure as a European City of Culture in 2005 and is arguably the first example of street art supported by Cork City Council.
Ruby, a fine arts graduate from Crawford College of Art & Design, proposed the 90′ x 10′ artwork to the city council the previous year when there were plans to spruce up the various lanes of Patrick St under the Catalan architect Beth Gali. €13 million for the redevelopment of the city centre.
“I met with city council officials a few times to show them my drawings,” says Ruby. “They liked what I had done and were very happy that the project was moving forward.”
With Council support, Ruby began work on the mural in June 2004. “My friend Joe O’Leary helped with the preparations,” he says. “We hosed down the wall and painted it white. And after that, I worked solidly for six or seven months.
Ruby was lucky that Benny McCabe, owner of the Mutton Lane Inn, gave her a room above the bar to store her materials. everyday. There was quite a bit of back and forth, but at least I had everything in one place.
Many of the characters Ruby portrayed were based on those he had seen around Patrick’s St or in the English market. “The market has always been a big melting pot, so I painted different people who worked there. One day one of the butchers came out and gave me a pig’s head, so I used that too, like main source.
It designates different characters. “There’s the Spoons Man, who beat spoons with a radio, and Mick O’Regan, who sold the Echo on Patrick’s Street. And there’s Benny McCabe, who deals the cards and watches everything that happens in the alley.
He also included members of his own family. “My father is in there, playing the flute, with my niece Sive on his shoulders. And there is my grandmother Margaret.
The only damage the mural has ever suffered is the theft of an ancient key which he embedded in the small mosaic at the entrance to the alley. “I got this from Willie Crowley of Callaghan’s Bar on George’s Quay. He was gone the next day and I would still love to get him back!
The mural has a caption, dedicating it to “everyone but George Bush”.
“I guess that was also a sign of the times,” says Ruby. “Bush was President of the United States when they invaded Afghanistan, so that put the project in context at the time.”
Ruby remembers the big social element of working on the mural. “I had people coming in every day, there was great interest in what I was doing. The one idea I wanted to get out of the project was that people would basically see that there was an open mentality in Cork, an acceptance of diversity. I thought diversity was something that needed to be embraced, it was such a positive thing.
One day, Beth Gali was brought to meet him. “They were still paving St. Patrick at the time, but her streetlights were already on, and I had put them in the mural. It must have been amazing for her to see all that activity come to fruition.
Ruby completed the project in early 2005 when all eyes were on Cork as a city of culture. “The exhibit was amazing. There was a lot of interest from newspapers, and my mural inspired a film by Peter Gleeson which was shown at the Cork Film Festival in 2006.”
Ruby immediately began working on another project, a cycle of paintings he called Fall of the Rebel Angels. “I showed them at the Launderette Gallery on McCurtain St, I think it was October 2005. It’s been a very, very busy few years. In terms of the creative arts, obviously there was a lot going on and there was funding from Europe. It just shows that if funds are invested in things, it has a ripple effect. There is a kind of chain reaction. People bounce off each other. It certainly fueled the entire laundromat exposure. So many people came to this, and it was a big event for me.
Ruby remained in Cork, painting and teaching part-time for the VEC, until 2008. When the recession hit he moved to London, completing a Masters in Painting at Wimbledon College of Art and working at various jobs until until he decided to return to Cork in 2013. He now teaches art at North Mon High School, but continues to paint and play the uilleann flute, his other great passion. He has done another mural, The Third Wave, in Ballydehob this year, and he plans to release his debut album, tentatively titled Blackwater Rising, in spring 2022.
He is, he says, delighted with how his Pana Shuffle mural is holding up, given the human traffic that passes through it every day, and looks forward to celebrating its twentieth anniversary in a few years.
“I plan to do some touch-ups on the mural itself and perhaps produce some engravings to commemorate it. And I hope we can spend an evening at the Mutton Lane Inn to mark the occasion.