Sabina officially launches the “Photo Detectives” exhibition

Wed 13th Sep, 2017 | 13:00
location: National Photographic Archive, Meeting House Square, Temple Bar, Dublin

National Photographic Archive, Meeting House Square, Temple Bar, Dublin

Wednesday, 13th September, 2017

Speech by Sabina Higgins at the Photo Detectives Exhibition

National Photographic Archive, Temple Bar, Dublin, 13th September, 2017

It is my great pleasure to be here with you all this afternoon.  May I thank Dr. Sandra Collins for inviting me here to officially launch ‘Photo Detectives’ the National Library of Ireland’s first community crowdsourced exhibition, here at the National Photographic Archive and all of you for welcoming me so generously. 

The National Library our great cultural institution has always played a key role in Irish life by acting as Ireland’s memory keeper, but not only does the Library keep a treasure house of vital books, photographs and documents safe, it also acts as a “memory sharer” by making these items available through its reading rooms and its ever-growing digital collections.

Sandra has described how joining the Flickr Commons has given wider exposure to the Library’s photographic collections by making the images accessible to all the dedicated “photo detectives” out there.

The pleasure of looking at photos of the unknown is an exercise in philosophy and imagination as you wonder and image about them.

Walking around the exhibition is extraordinary, you will find photographs from all four corners of Ireland, with images dating from 1871, right up to 1970. This will certainly give visitors a snapshot of Irish life during that time from weddings in Waterford, family holidays in Donegal, the footing of turf in Antrim, and royal visitors to Kilkenny Castle.  Each photo carries with it its own unique story.

The details uncovered by the Flickr detectives are personal, moving and surprising. To see Second Lieutenant Edward Francis Frazer, the uncle of Irish Hollywood star, Maureen O’Sullivan and grand-uncle of the equally talented Mia Farrow, here on the walls of our National Photographic Archive is interesting.  Details on his colourful life show – he was born in China, went to boarding school in Wicklow and then served in Nigeria during World War One.

I was particularly interested in the photo taken at 18 Abercorn Road. At first glance, it looks like any other urban house of the era, with a group of charming, smiling children outside.  However, it is not just that, it is also a picture of the former home of one of Ireland’s greatest writers, Sean O’Casey – this connection would have remained unknown had the Flickr community not dug deeper.  We even have all the names of the children - Catherine Byrne, Helen Boyle, Rose Byrne, Elaine Kane, Imelda Redmond, and Ann Byrne. The boys are the Ryan Twins.

Interesting both the names Boyle and Redmond are names of characters in his plays.

The photo of the Irish Wolfhound is a very fine photo. Taken over a hundred years ago, in February 1917, this handsome creature was the Irish Guards’ mascot and while we now know the name of the dog, Leitrim Boy, and his parents, Galtee Boy and Carlow Norah, the identity of the boy drummer standing by him is still unknown.  The Irish Wolfhound is still the mascot of the Irish Guards. He parades with them still.  There are fine photos of the President on his Inaugural State Visit to the United Kingdom in April 2014 where he presented a dog coat to the Drummer Major Steed for the mascot of the Irish Guards, an Irish wolfhound named Domhnall during the ‘Welcome Ceremony’.

These days, we photograph and document many moments of our lives online so it is important that we keep alive the stories and traditions of life in Ireland before the digital age. It is a testament to the Library and its wonderful staff for always looking for innovative ways to do just that.  The lovely seating areas around the exhibition will be a place of welcome, for grandparents, parents and children or friends to sit and share their stories with each other.

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate and thank the Library team for all the work they do.

I hope that many of the thousands who will visit Photo Detectives (during its year-long run) will be inspired to become “photo detectives” themselves.