October 06, 2010

Joe McKinley, Moscow Joe's outsider art environment

facade of the house (2000), picture by Peter Haining
(item not available anymore on the internet)

Above pictured decorated house, one of the few art environments in Northern Ireland, doesn't exist anymore.

Life and works

Joe McKinley (1931-2003) from Carnlough, Northern Ireland, bought the house  in 1964. He lived there with his wife and the couple would have three children.

He earned his money by running a company which delivered milk from a milk factory to households in the area.

Friends and people around would not see him as an easy going personality, he had his peculiarities, maybe because of a personality disorder. He was active in the creative field, making paintings in a naive style and decorating the garden with arches and mosaics from pebbles and shells.

But Mrs McKinley, who liked a tidy household, was not very happy with her husbands probably somewhat messy creative pastimes. 

The year 1990 was a turning point: Mrs McKinley left the house, the milk delivering company had to be sold to a former partner who had started his own business. Eventually McKinley was on himself, no company to run, no family around.

picture by Peter Haining

In the following years McKinley began abundantly decorating his house. Inside he had his paintings and he covered the walls with lots of collages. At the outside he filled the garden with a variety of junk articles. He composed texts in a very personal style on posters he displayed around the site

picture by John Matthews, Blackflash
(item on internet not available anymore)

The site got some fame. Local TV came along and students and experts with an interest in outsider art visited and interviewed him.

Peter Haining, an artist who made a trip by bike to make an inventory of outsider art in Ireland, was one of them. He first met McKinley in 2000. In an essay that was available on the internet, he not only related McKinley's life history, but he also described the rather messy and filthy interior of the house.

picture from website rte.ie

McKinley liked to call himself  Moscow Joe McKinley. 

He made some three trips to Moscow indeed and used to wear a baseball cap with all kinds of Russian badges.

His walking stick also was covered with badges.

picture from the website Catalyst Arts

This walking stick is one of the few items that has been left after McKinley died in may 2003.

The site has been demolished

After McKinley's death the family decided to remove all decorations and to demolish the building. It was replaced by a decent two storey house.

"There's not much of Moscow Joe's stuff left in Carnlough. 
 This sign is almost obscured by ivy and is quite close to where his house used to be" .
Picture and comment courtesy of Zoe Bowyer, march 2008 (item on Flickr not available anymore)

So most of the creations have disappeared. A number of his paintings are in private collections, three of them on the walls of the Londonderry Arms Hotel in Carnlough, amidst works of other local artists, and one in a medical practice in Glenarm.

* Essay by Peter Haining (not available anymore) 
* Entry on website Culture Northern Ireland (not available anymore)
* Referral to programme on Irish radio in 2001

* Video (3'35", YouTube) by Jimzvidz 1, shot around 2000, published in 2019, especially showing the posters in front of the house

Joe McKinley
Moscow Joe's outsider art environment
Carnlough, Northern Ireland
site doesn't exist anymore


  1. What a picturesque character,,sailing in the edge between the reason and the, let´s call it "fantasy". Maybe the events of the year 1990 could be considered as a sort of his own "road to Damasco" a lyrical way for naming a turning point in the life of a person, that fits even better in the case of mr McKinley, whose transformation in life style, convictions and perception was more than dramatic. His posters seemed to me fascinating, not only due of its plastic and aestetic traits but also because of its straightforward, cheeky, even cynic but above it all sincere attitude and opinions about his very personal opinions about the pace of the progress and the path the civilization was taking. As many other environments that ran with the same fate, is a shame to know that the place was demolished, and i bet that the people currently living in the new building don´t even have a clue about the peculiar character that previously inhabited there, anyway, that is the tribute that have to be paid to father time sometimes, to fall into oblivion.

    I hope you to be enjoying the autumn dear Henk, and you know that always wish you the best.

  2. https://youtu.be/bWC0rFDUv0Q
    Hello Hank, I rediscovered a video I'd taken years ago and uploaded it to YouTube.
    He was certainly a character.