Portrait of ‘Queen of Leith’ on display in revamped theatre

The painting of colourful landlady Mary Moriarty will be hung in Edinburgh's Leith Theatre.

Portrait: The 'Queen of Leith' Mary Moriarty. <strong>Sarah Muirhead</strong>
Portrait: The 'Queen of Leith' Mary Moriarty. Sarah Muirhead

A portrait of a colourful landlady dubbed the ‘Queen of Leith’ will be hung in a local theatre undergoing a transformation.

For 25 years, Mary Moriarty was the landlady of one of Edinburgh’s most colourful bars, the Port O’ Leith on Constitution Street.

She used to walk on barrels in high heels and where the clientele saw judges, writers, sailors, working girls, actors and labourers come together to drink side by side.

Mary Moriarty’s associations with Leith started before she moved to the port area in the 80s, renting a warehouse in which she stored antiques before shipping them to her brother-in-law in America.

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Witness to the transformation still ongoing in Leith, Mary, now in her 80s, is a key force behind the popular Leith Festival.

Commissioned by Ms K Hamilton to paint Ms Moriarty, Edinburgh based artist Sarah Muirhead’s portrait will hang pride of place in Leith Theatre, as work is under way to bring the full theatre back into regular use.

Mary Moriarty said: “I am honoured and delighted that a portrait of me will hang in Leith Theatre, how thrilling and exciting.

“Both the theatre and myself have shared exciting times in Leith. I have very fond memories of 25 years in the Port O’ Leith Bar meeting lots of lovely Leithers and of course workers in the docks and crew members of ships docked in Leith.

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“Credit should go to the lovely young talented artist Sarah Muirhead – it was great to be able to chat to her when she was preparing the painting, also a big thank you to those who commissioned the portrait.”

Sarah Muirhead said: “I was delighted to be asked to paint such an extraordinary woman.

“It was important to me that Mary was honoured and represented as someone who is so loved and respected in her community and known quite rightly as Queen of Leith.

“A nod to her status as elected monarchy is the formal composition of the painting. I wanted to optics in the bottom left corner to look like jewels but to refer to her trade and background.

“I thought it right to make her halo a scene of Leith Links and to include a photograph of her husband who still feels like a very present figure in her life and that of the community of Leith.

“I included various objects in her home which she was kind enough to show me around and tried to communicate her warmth, character and nature which I think is distinct and unique.

“It was a pleasure painting someone I would have liked to paint regardless of the commission because she is fascinating and has a powerful presence.”

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Lynn Morrison, executive director of Leith Theatre said: “We are so grateful to be the permanent home for this amazing piece.

“Not only to have the work adorn the walls of our original 1930’s tiled Crush Foyer for all to appreciate for years to come, but it is such a great opportunity to bring our local residents and visitors into the theatre and allow us to share with them the work and transformations that are happening within.

“There is so much potential for the future of this building but we have a huge amount of money to raise to fully realise this.

“We are always keen to find creative and innovative ways of bringing people in and embedding the identity in Leith and this wonderful portrait of Mary is so fitting.”


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