Ireland in the late 19th Century was all boulders, rocks, pigs, plus fours, mud and stoicism. Well, it is if these photographs of the period are our guide. For people of great wit, anecdote and gab, the subjects look remarkably glum. You can detect a hint of merriment in the eyes of the cricket team, one or two of the lifeboat men are chipper and a member of the Waterford bicycle club is breaking ranks with an insouciant smirk. But either the photographer waited for his sitters to grow bored and sullen before capturing the moment for whatever agenda was being pushed – a clear association of people and the rugged milieu; an Irishman’s mien as grey as the skies and rocks – or else he got them all on a bad day.
In many of these images, it’s the little things that stand out and make them memorable. Two ancients underscored with the caption ‘Mother and Son” is sardony manifest; the age of the “girls of the Ursuline Convent” and how one of them (third from left) appears to leave and arrive all at once; the haughty, top hatted gent stood overlook a man digging a moat in Ballymena; the medical student presenting the skeleton as a threat; three women who have hit rock bottom, literally, selling good fortune from the ‘wishing chair’; and the blurb of movement as men continue to work.
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