Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Nelson's Pillar (1963) And What's To Be Done With History?

(The Pillar, 1963, Dublin Corporation)

This beautifully composed photograph of Nelson's Pillar appeared in the Official Guide To Dublin published by the Corporation in 1963. At the time this photo was taken, the Pillar was not long for this world, famously being blown up, first by the IRA, then finished off by the Irish Army, in 1966. Below you can see the stump that was left after the IRA bomb.

(The Pillar, 1966, Archiseek)

The annihilation of the British rule era statue was only the most successful and famous in a line of physical force urban planning by republican elements in the city. Previous, less successful targets of attacks included the statue of Field-Marshall Gough* in the Phoenix Park and of King William Of Orange who stood for centuries on College Green but suffered vandalism all down the years. Worn down by literally centuries of vandalism King Billy was  finally removed in 1928 following an explosion.

(King Billy, College Green, c1900, Streets Broad And Narrow)

As part of more official erasure of monuments there was the removal in 1947 of a statue of Queen Victoria, which had stood in the grounds of Leinster House from 1904. That statue had an afterlife of its own detailed over at Come Here To Me.

(Queen Victoria Statue being removed from Leinster Lawn, 1948, Come Here To Me)

(Cartoon lampooning the removal, published in Dublin Opinion Magazine, August, 1948)

Vandalism and official removal of statues and other symbols relating to the ancien régime is a common postcolonial move, and arguments about whether such traces of the old order should remain continue to this day in Europe's former colonies in Africa and Asia and in former Soviet satellite states in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. In Ireland, many towns such as Maryborough (now Portlaoise), Queenstown (now Cóbh), and Phillipstown (Daingean, Co. Offaly) were renamed in the wake of independence, as were King's and Queen's Counties, now Offaly and Laois respectively. This practice occurred elsewhere with for example, Léopoldville in the Congo becoming Kinshasa, and Salisbury in Zimbabwe being renamed Harare.

The debate on decolonisation has also extended to the wider built environment with buildings dating to the colonial era often in jeopardy. Few may ever lament the concrete piles the Soviets littered across the map of Central and Eastern Europe but much of Dublin's Georgian heritage was either wilfully levelled or let fall to rack and ruin, partly out of a sense that these buildings represented Ireland's former colonial masters and should be erased. All of this is part of a never-ending public debate about what stories should be recalled and what should be forgotten and I suppose there is no clear right answer. A complete blotting out of our (currently) undesirable pasts would be impossible and probably a huge disservice to human civilisation if it were feasible, but then not everything can or should be preserved. Time marches on, social needs and priorities change.

In the wake of World War II, the Allied Control Commission in Germany ordered the complete destruction of all buildings and memorials linked to the Nazis. At that point in time however, most of Germany lay in ruins and intact buildings were scarce. Hence, despite the order, much of the architecture of the Nazis remained. It was expedient to remove swastikas and other overt Nazi regalia but to leave the buildings intact. A later generation of Germans have debated whether these buildings should be preserved. A similar debate has ensued with regard to the restoration of buildings constructed during Mussolini's reign. It has been pointed out that much of Italy's most prized older built heritage was also undertaken beneath the foot of tyrants.


*The attack on the Gough statue inspired a hilariously crude poem, Gough's Statue, by Vinnie Caprani. Below is the second verse.

"’Neath the horse’s big prick a dynamite stick
some gallant ‘hayro’ did place,
For the cause of our land, with a match in his hand
Bravely the foe he did face;
Then without showing fear – and standing well clear-
He expected to blow up the pair
But he nearly went crackers, all he got was the knackers
And he made the poor stallion a mare!"

Monday, February 17, 2014

What does graffiti tell you about a place and a time? (Belfast, Derry City, Armagh City, 1970s)

While collecting images for my Old Ireland Pictures Twitter account I came across these images of graffiti in various cities in Northern Ireland. They all date from the 1970s, two from predominantly Protestant, Unionist areas and two from predominantly Catholic, Republican districts*. Graffiti has probably existed since people have been able to write and there are numerous examples of ancient graffiti to be found in Egypt, Rome, Greece, and the like. One of the slightly dubious delights at sites such as New Grange is seeing 19th century and older graffiti inside it. Like the marginalia found in illuminated manuscripts graffiti can lend the historian a different, less formal insight into a time and a place than the official narrative.

 Geoffrey Street, near Crumlin Road, Belfast, 1973

The examples of graffiti I've included can I suppose be seen as an ancestor of sorts to the political murals that I've written about before. The first image above, which shows graffiti that espouses a quite clearly Unionist perspective, includes "Keep Ulster Protestant", "God Bless Paisley", "God Save The Queen", and "O'Neill The Lundy". While the first three are probably self explanatory, the Paisley being of course Ian Paisley, the Queen being Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the last one might need a bit of explanation. The O'Neill referred to was Captain Terrence O'Neill, who was Prime Minister of Northern Ireland between 1963 and 1969. O'Neill felt it expedient to achieve a rapprochement with, and bring in reforms to improve the lot of, Northern Irish Catholics. In the eyes of many Northern Irish Protestants this was tantamount to treason. A Lundy is any traitor to the Protestant Unionist cause. The term, especially well known in Derry City and environs, refers to Robert Lundy, Governor of Derry during the Siege Of Derry. Due to either treachery or perhaps rank incompetence, Lundy seemed to do all in his power to let King James II's forces take the city. To this day he is burned in effigy.

 The Bogside, Derry City, 1972.

The graffiti in this next image comprises the slogan "Easter 1916-72", an Irish tricolour, and "Provisionals For Freedom". The first slogan obviously commemorates the 1916 Rising although I'm not sure why 72 was included. The latter, sounding almost like an advertising slogan, espouses support for the Provisional IRA. In the background is the Walker Monument which was blown up by the aforementioned Provisional IRA in 1973. All that remains of it in public view is the plinth. 

 Belfast, 1970s, I am not sure of the locale.

The presence of a Vanguard Unionist graffito indicates this photo was probably taken in 1972 or shortly thereafter.  The three most prominent slogans are "Paisley For P.M.", "UVF", and "We Are The People". The first slogan is somewhat prescient with Ian Paisley having served as First Minister of Northern Ireland over 30 years later. The second stands for the Ulster Volunteer Force, a Protestant Loyalist paramilitary group. The last one had me perplexed for a minute as I had only ever heard "We Are The People" in the song Free The People by the Dubliners, an anti-internment ballad. However, it seems in this context it is a popular Glasgow Rangers slogan, a team associated with Northern Irish Protestant culture.

Armagh City, again I don't know what street/area this is, early 1970s. 

This last example of graffiti in Northern Ireland features a grocer's apostrophe. First there's "Pig's Out", an anti-police sentiment voiced by many people in many different places over the years, but clearly understandable in the context of Catholic Republican animosity as regards the then RUC. The second part is calling for a "Worker's Republic" which is a term most associated with James Connolly. Many Irish Republican groups called for a 32-county Workers' Republic to be formed, that is not only an independent Ireland, free of British rule, but also organised on socialist principles. 

All of the above examples display touchstones of the sociopolitical culture of their respective communities. One thing they all have in common is they're very basic. That is, white paint and a simple font is used in each example. A simple Irish Tricolour in the second example is the only graphic to be seen. In this sense these examples of graffiti diverge greatly from later luridly coloured political murals and indeed modern day graffiti which is often colourful and sophisticated in a visual sense.


*I am fully aware that there are Republicans who aren't Catholic and that there are Unionists who aren't Protestant but for the sake of brevity I have used Catholic Republican and Protestant Unionist. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

Ré Nua (1990)


Ré Nua (meaning New Era) was a series of Irish language books for kids from Junior Infants to Sixth Class, that were published by Folens in 1990. If you attended primary school in Ireland between the mid-1980s and the mid-1990s it is possible you used these books in school. It's probably self-evident why I've posted these scans from the books. I think they're gorgeous, beautifully illustrated, and were perhaps the best schoolbooks I ever used. If I can string a sentence together in Irish nowadays it is in no small part thanks to them.


The books were illustrated by Emil Schinkel, who I am happy to say is still working today and has a site containing other beautiful work. Schinkel did a lot of illustration for Folens including on the Siamsa and Spraoi magazines that you may recall, which were sent out to primary school classes periodically. The illustrations have a colourfulness, busyness, and humour I find very endearing and which remind me of the Richard Scarry books that were another fixture of my childhood.


I am not sure how widely studied these books were in Irish schools and it seems that even those only a few years older than me never encountered them. The series has never attained a standing in the popular memory comparable with the likes of say Ann and Barry and the rest of the Rainbow series. Nor do I imagine they'll ever be reprinted for the Christmas nostalgia market like Soundings and other secondary schoolbooks have been in recent years. However, there is at least one Irish band named for one of the books (Dioscó na mBó) which is perhaps some indicator that these books are fondly remembered by people other than me.





Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Young Dublin, Old Dublin (1960s and 1970s)

When I was a young lad the bookshelves in our home were packed with reams of material related to my dad's work as a careers guidance counsellor. He had numerous worthy and wordy tomes by child psychologists from fascinating sounding locales like Kenosha, Wisconsin or Montreal in Canada. These described in terminology I couldn't understand then, nor scarcely would be interested in understanding now, child development and the many issues adolescents face.

Several of these books were illustrated and included images of children and young adults at school, at play, and at home.  To my young brain these images were like transmissions from an alternate universe. These children were like me but not like me, they wore strange attire and haircuts and played games I had never heard of. It was only when I was a bit older it dawned on me why I found the photos perplexing. These were North American kids and the stock photos of them had been taken years before I was born.

Similarly, the Childcraft encyclopaedias my parents bought contained snapshots of children in every corner of the globe. These images were at once elegiac and exotic. I recall being intrigued by an image of kids in Vermont eating maple syrup, doughnuts, and pickles, with snow. Lots of other images come to mind from the encyclopaedias, like a kid using a public telephone in the Soviet Union, a Ghanaian child playing with a handcrafted toy lorry, and a gaggle of children in a Kindergarten in East Germany.

There's no particular overarching theme to this post. It contains images of Dublin from the 1960s and the 1970s which I found interesting and I hope you find interesting too. When I saw these images, particularly the black and white ones, I was reminded again of those books and those images I had tried to comprehend as a child. The images below provide glimpses of the depths of poverty people lived in in Dublin during those years as well as the resourcefulness and joi-de-vivre of the children of the city at that time.

These images originally appeared in Edna O'Brien's Mother Ireland, Young Ireland by Jack Manning, and Ireland Through The Looking Glass by Ted Smart. Unfortunately I can't find the source right now for the last couple of the images but if I find it again I'll edit this post to include it.

 This one was captioned "Boot Boys", Hardwicke St, Dublin, 1970s.

 Driving cattle down Great Denmark St, Dublin, 1960s.

14 year old lad just joined CIÉ, Dublin, 1960s.

 Young lady selling newspapers in Dublin, 1960s, the caption for which states that girls didn't typically do that job. The Irish Press she's selling is headlined "Ship Blaze In Dublin Port" so it may be possible to pinpoint the exact day this photo was taken on.

 Young lads kicking a ball around, somewhere in Dublin. Can anyone suggest where this might have been taken? It looks to me like somewhere around Thomas St but that's a guess. 1960s.

Young man on a bike, Fownes St Lower, Dublin, 1960s. This street, in the heart of Temple Bar, has changed as much as any part of Dublin except maybe the Docklands. The concrete fortress that is the Central Bank now looms in the background and the whole row of buildings on the right of the shot appear to have been completely replaced. My eagle eyed brother is to thank for finding where the photo was taken.

Young girls playing games, 1960s, in what looks to me to be Summerhill in Dublin, but again if anyone has a better idea of where this was taken please comment on the post.

 Boys paying close attention, or at least feigning close attention, to their Irish lesson, Dublin, 1960s.

This shot and the next one confused me. Because of the colours and the year the book was published I assumed they were taken in the 1970s. However, it quickly became apparent that the pillar is present in both photos which of course dates them to 1966 at the latest. There's a John Hinde postcard that has a similar quality which I featured in a previous post. The shots are very reminiscent of the house style of National Geographic at the time. It's of course, O'Connell Bridge and O'Connell St.

This lady waits on O'Connell Bridge, Dublin, 1960s, for someone or something. A sign exhorts all passersby to "Smoke Bendigo". 
 This melancholy image was captioned the "Pickaroon". The girl is collecting coal that has fallen off trucks. I can't say for certain but I believe this image is from the 1970s. Sadly, it looks like it could have been taken any time in the previous hundred years. It was taken in Dublin's Docklands, an area that has seen huge change in its built environment in recent decades.
Old ladies in the Liberties, 1970s. This beautiful image clearly shows the extent to which many parts of Dublin were let fall to rack and ruin in the 20th century.

 The lads, hanging out, somewhere in Dublin, 1970s.

This image taken in the Docklands in the 1970s works as a colour companion piece to the pickaroon image above. A lone figure, lost in a Dickensian wasteland.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Corkcentric Print Ads (1956)

The ads below come from Blarney Magazine, Summer, 1956. It's not a publication I know anything about other than what I can glean from the sole issue I found in my possession. The advertisements in it have a simple elegance. These ads, mainly for Cork based companies, also give an insight into what consumer items were available in Ireland in the middle of the last century. Not being overly familiar with the People's Republic I can't tell if any of the advertised local firms still exist although of course Paddy Whiskey and Smithwick's Ale are still available in Cork as elsewhere. The most peculiar ad, to my mind, has to be for The Leprechaun cafe, illustrated as it is with a seemingly angry, malevolent leprechaun.