The art of soldiering: ‘The Turner Gallery was my old army quarters’

Michael Irving pictured in the barracks .
Michael Irving pictured in the barracks .

Michael Irving was more than a little shocked to find an eight foot naked man peeing in his bedroom.

David Shrigley’s ‘Life Model’ is probably the Turner Prize’s most talked about piece of art.

Michael Irving paints a picture in his old quarters at Ebrington. DER4713SL020 Photo: Stephen Latimer

Michael Irving paints a picture in his old quarters at Ebrington. DER4713SL020 Photo: Stephen Latimer

But ex-soldier Irving’s first encounter with the unusual sculpture was more than a blast from the past.

The Cumbrian man’s dorm when he was stationed in Derry in the 1990s was actually in the Shrigley room where thousands of people have now walked through.

Now a baker running Harlequins in Ebrington Terrace, Michael looks down on the Square every day where he spent many years stationed with the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment.

And he got the shock of his life when he visited the gallery to find one of the nominee’s pieces exhibiting in his old dorm.

“The room looks a little bit different from when I was there,” laughed Michael.

“I knew they were using this building for the Turner Prize so I came down one day after I closed the shop and had a look about. My interest was more inside the building and not so much the art exhibition.

“When I first came into the Shrigley room I thought, how weird is it that there’s an eight foot man standing in the middle of the room where I used to sleep, it is unbelievable?”

“I looked about and thought, that used to be my bed space, and that was where we had a shower. I could pinpoint all the areas. Walking about you would never believe the actual transformation of the building itself.

“I mean, we’d never have seen a glass staircase in this building and you’d never have seen a lift, never mind the two lifts that are there now. We had nothing like that, no nice stuff, this place was somewhere to sleep for us.”

And there wasn’t much space for the ten men who shared the dorm in the 1990s

“In this room you had a ten foot by eight foot bed space,” explained Michael. “A single bed, a wardrobe, bedside locker and maybe a wee shelf where you could put a TV or a HiFi on, whatever you wanted to do.

“But for eating you had to go out of the building to the catering block and for a shower you had to go down the corridor.

“My army mates would never believe that the building is now being used for the Turner Prize,” he said. “I think they’d think it was just a derelict building that would never be used again. The ones I’ve told about it are all intrigued.”

And always one to play his part Michael’s drawn his own picture of ‘Life Model’ which now has pride of place on the wall of the gallery.

“It’s weird to think thousands of people have trailed through this room,” he said.

“When I was here we were always working and the only time we got to see the city was when we were walking around, we never actually got out in the city centre, that was out of bounds to us.”

Michael left the army in 1994 after meeting a local girl and deciding to settle down.

He’s been in Derry almost 20 years and says he’s thrilled to see the building used as a gallery.

“I’d like to see the building used for cultural arts or a place where people can come and learn about stuff, such as history,” he said.

“I wouldn’t like to see the gallery turned into office space that would ruin it altogether, especially considering the amount of work that has gone in to the building.”