Born in Co Sligo, Eileen studied art at the Institute of Technology, Sligo and Limerick School of Art. In 1982, she attended an International Sculpture Conference in San Francisco where she was first introduced to the idea of Sculpture Symposia. These events bring sculptors together from all over the world to work in a communal way either individually or collectively on a large-scale project. The artist receives a small remuneration for their work and the resulting sculpture is sited within the environment in which it was made.
Since then she has participated in Symposia all over the world; Japan, India, Austria, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Luxembourg etc. She joined The Sculptors Society of Ireland (now Visual Artists Ireland) in 1980 and promoted the idea of the symposium organizing many around the country.
She has won many awards over her career including a Travel Award to The Scottish Sculpture Workshop and Japan where she lived and worked for a year. Since her first commission for Dublin Castle in 1989 she has completed over twenty commissions around Ireland, the most notable being a 50 ton 10m high steel sculpture at Tallaght Cross, Dublin. She has had several solo exhibitions including an exhibition of stone work at Centre Culturel des Irelandais in Paris in 2008. She had a major mid-term retrospective show in the new galleries of VISUAL in Carlow in 2012.
It is not easy to categorize her work. For the most part, she is a stone carver but she often carves to a minimal degree, preferring to interfere as little as possible with what is already there. To this extent her work is almost Cistercian in its austerity. On the other hand, her bulging shapes, such as the Star Series exude sensuality and unexpected playfulness. In all of her work there is a desire to communicate, matched with an ability to do so. In the tradition of the best artists she uses a familiar vocabulary that references the real world in an uncomplicated way.
For the past 20 years she has lived and worked in South Kildare. Eileen was elected to Aosdána in 2004.
Eileen MacDonagh was elected an Associate Member of the RHA at the Assembly on 18th July 2017.