The Irish Times, 9 September 1922

The late Mr. John Fergus O'HeaEdit

Mr. John Fergus O'Hea, the well-known artist, died on Saturday in London, after a somewhat lengthy illness.

Mr. O'Hea, who was better known to the general public by his nom-de-plume of "Spex", was one of the most original caricaturists Ireland has produced. Like several other distinguished artists, he was a Cork man by birth. His father was a graduate and Scholar of Trinity College, Dublin, and a leading member of the Munster Bar. O'Hea received a good school education in Cork, but at a very early period turned his attention to art. Coming to Dublin, he soon found work on the Press, and in the early 'seventies was employed by the late Mr. A. M. Sullivan as the principal artist on his comic paper "Zozimus," which, at that time, was edited by Mr. Richard Dowling. His drawings at once took the public taste. He contributed a number of sketches of leading Irishmen, which were admirable as likenesses, somewhat in the manner of the "Vanity Fair" cartoons. Somehow, comic papers have never had a long run in Dublin, and "Zozimus" was not an exception to this rule. When it ceased publication O'Hea went to London, and was for some time connected with a very brilliant little paper, which was run by Irishmen, under the title of the "Tomahawk," but, as the "Tomahawk" did not pay, it ceased publication after a few numbers. O'Hea then returned to Dublin, and "Ireland's Eye" was started by Mr. Christopher Smith, of Dame street. The late Edwin Hamilton was editor, and supplied most of the letterpress. The cartoons in "Ireland's Eye" were, in the opinion of many judges, the best things that "Spex" ever did. The paper was well supported, and was paying well, when, unfortunately, the proprietor died, and with his death it came to an end.

O'Hea then was manager of the pictorial department of the Evening Telegraph, and he was commissioned by the late Mr. Dwyer Gray to do a large cartoon every week for the Freeman's Journal. This cartoon was in colours, and published on a separate sheet. The Parnellite split resulted in his severing his connection with the Freeman's Journal, and taking up his residence in London. He remained there until his death. He had many friends in artistic circles in London, including the late Phil. May, with whom he was on intimate terms. Some of O'Hea's smaller drawings appeared in Punch, but none of his later work was equal to the early efforts on the Dublin comic journals. That he was obliged to leave Dublin was a very great cause of disappointment to him, for he much preferred life here to the more strenuous life across the Channel. O'Hea's painting of Punchestown in 1868 was sold for £700. Many prints of the original were to be seen years ago in all parts of the country, and it is a picture that has quite historical interest.

John Fergus O'Hea was a man of charming personality, and there was no more popular man of his day in Dublin. He knew every person, and certainly made no enemies. As a raconteur he had few equals, and the news of his death will be read with extreme regret by his many friends and admirers in Ireland.

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