Monday, 7 April 2014


Photos from a forgotten world: 

Ireland 1860-1880

Its almost impossible to comprehend how much Ireland has changed in the last 150 years. This selection of photos from a National Library collection released in 1981 give a rare glimpse into Ireland between 1860-1880.
Many of these pictures are of tourists. The late 19th century had seen tourism take off in Ireland (exclusivley among the wealthy) with the expansion of rail lines into the west.
Unfortunately because of the focus on wealthy tourists, the vast majority of the people of Ireland are not represented in these photos. Ordinary Irish peasants only feature when they interact with the tourists.
All the photo’s were taken between 1860-1880. To put them in context many of the people in these photos were survivors of The Great Famine (1845-51)
The notes with each photo are for the most part taken from the National Library notes

This picture was taken from the Gap of Dunloe, Co. Kerry. Remarkably the names of the women survive, on the left is Joanne O Keefe while on the right is Norah O Connell. The bottles under Joanna’s arm indicates she was possibly selling refreshments to tourists at the Gap, a popular spot. Most people I have shown this picture and the one below have commented on the similarities in appearance between Irish peasants and Native Americans in the 19th century.

The picture on the left is probably posed for – the man’s fiddle has only three strings. The most interesting aspect is the footwear, the man on the left is wearing boots while the man on the right is wearing troighthíní (footstockings) which as can be seen have no soles.

In a world without animal rights and free from PETA models this man is happyily hunting seals, one of which lies at his feet.

This picture of two “ladies” at Clifden Castle. They are riding side saddle. It was deemed inappropriate for a woman to straddle a horse!

This picture is taken at the Giants Causeway in Co. Antrim. The women are probably selling something to the two men seated  who are almost certainly tourists. The woman in the foreground is smoking a pipe.

Tourist at the Lake Hotel Killarney, according to the national archive notes the dress code indicates the picture was taken in the 1860′s.

This photo taken at the Blackchurch hotel, Naas, Co Kildare illustrates the way ordinary people were viewed and treated by the upper classes. While the tourists pose for the picture, the coach drives do not even turn to look at the camera functioning almost as props in their own photo.

Students at the non-denominational Queens College in Galway. The non-denominational ethos saw many Catholics enter an education system that had often excluded them, however in a world where education was highly expensive ordinary people of all religions and none were excluded as the students dress indicates.

Punchestown races taken between 1865-1881. The National Library was able to date this from the Uniforms being worn by the soldiers in the background.

This is again a shot of tourists at Killarney. While the child leans on an oar, beside a fishing rod, the woman seated at the back is holding a pair of binoculars and an umbrella.

This is the same family in the photo above. Refreshments are being sold on the table to the left of the door of the house. The man in the left foreground is holding a rubber mackintosh.

Tourists enjoy a picnic on the Estate of Lord Powerscourt, Co Wicklow.
These are only half the pictures in the set, next week I will post pictures fom the same time period which focus of several landscapes from around ireland including Achill Island, Waterford city and Bray.
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  1. I too noticed the resemblance of native americans and the Irish women depicted from the Gap of Dunloe, Co. Kerry. The shape of the ladies’ heads also resemble a one of the stone statues of the ancient Celtic goddess Sheela.

  2. Great photos! I also noticed the resemblance between the Native Americans the Irish women.

  3. [...] 1880. They come from a collection released by the National Library which also included those in this post. 1860-1880 was a period of change in Ireland where the modern world co-existed with lives that had [...]

  4. [...] 1880. They come from a collection released by the National Library which also included those in this post. 1860-1880 was a period of change in Ireland where the modern world co-existed with lives that had [...]

  5. That’s B.S. The woman on the top and at the right of the set below it is most definitely NOT a caucasian. It is possible that she is in fact from America, or of American Indian Descent. Some Europeans may be dark and whatnot, but this is in no way a caucasian and never could be. Anybody who believes it is very very gullible.

    • . Perhaps I’m wrong, but the woman may have lost a great deal of weight, which wold have caused her cheek bones to be more pronounced. Her arms are very thin. As for her color, she might not have been able to bathe routinely.
      The subjects in these pics, like many others in this album, were probably hungry and willing to compromise when asked by brit. photographers to pose in ways that would promote the stereotype of Irish as shiftless drinkers. I also strongly suspect that brits posed as Irish in many of the pics.

      • She is probably Black Irish. This is a loosely defined term (not quite an ethnic group although perhaps it once was) of dark hair and sometimes also even sometimes darker skin that is common in some parts of Ireland, expecially parts of the West. The Gaelic word “selke” is also sometimes also used to describe Irish people, meaning “having dark hair or skin like a seal (from the ocean)”. The roots of Black Irish features are still debated but might reach back to Spain or the Basque country. Or they might originate entirely elsewhere, the debate has not been settled among historians.
        Her face also shows a possible disfigurement common in the 1800′s in Ireland due to chronic malnutrition. I forget the name but that syndrome can cause parts of the face to become sunken, exposing more of the cheekbones.

      • on May 28, 2012 at 10:06 amIrish History
        Do you know the Gaelic spelling of the word “Selke”?

      • I don’t, I wish I did. But there are articles on Selkies. They were mythological creatures, half seal and half human. There are theories the myth was rooted in darker skinned people in Ireland, features of whom were darker than the more common fair-skinned Irish.
        The term has also been used in some Irish regions to describe features of a person who is darker by hair, eyes or skin.
        Here are some articles about Selkies–
        This article may have the Gaelic spelling (I don’t know enough Gaelic to sort it out)– (also has a section on “origins” which is interesting)
        There are also many references to a darker-skinned people who lived in Ancient Ireland (who eventually were absorbed through intermarriage by larger populations of the more fair-skinned and fair-eyed Celts, but whose darker genes pop up here and there in modern Ireland [actually quite commonly for dark hair])–
        Here is an article on the subject (Caution, the title probably is probably over-reaching [goes too far and is assuming too much] to suggest these people [for certain] originally came from Africa). They could have, Africa actually isn’t that far from Europe, and some ancient Africans were travelers and even sailors, but they also could have just as easily have been darker-skinned Southern Europeans who migrated in ancient times to Ireland.
        Nobody knows for sure and the arguments go on, but there are many records of a darker people of unknown origin in ancient Ireland and also Scotland who were later absorbed by much larger numbers of fair-skinned/fair-eyed “Celts” (who themselves may not even have been Celts, but thats what we call them now so the name has stuck).
        It’s an interesting article though, despite the title going a bit too far for what we really know for sure–

  6. Afraid they are real Alison I can dig out out National Library references if you want me to…..

  7. Have you been to Ireland there are people today in Ireland that still resemble these photos.

    • Hey Lynn I live in Ireland although I think that look – appearance and dress is now long gone

  8. The women are obviously greatly malnourished. Their bodies also show deleterious effects of a physically demanding, harsh survivalist life-style. Birthing children probably added to their shocking condition, i.a. sunken eyes, gaunt cheeks, making a thin mouth look too large for the face. Hair is pulled harshly back, no fashion mavens in poor Catholic Ireland. If modern Irish don’t recognize themselves in these images, how far they’ve come since. I can understand why my Great-g-g grandparents left Co. Cork for the wilds of Ontario decades before these pictures were taken – what a hellish life! There are similar people to these in Ireland today, though you won’t see the malnourished effects – Irish gypsies/travelers have many of the same features. Perhaps the great Irish Diaspora is a major reason modern Irish don’t see these kinds of people. Photos in my own family history show unmistakably Irish features, though in my Irish travels these kinds of people are seldom seen.

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