Then, Then and Now Photographic Projects

April 13, 2012 · 23 comments

in Cataloguing,Collections,Digital Collections,Digitisation,Guest Bloggers,Photographs,Projects

by Pádraig Laffan, Vice-Chairperson of The Federation of Local History Societies

The Federation for Ulster Local Studies and The Federation of Local History Societies and The National Library Project

Have you ever thought how great it would be to walk along by the Liffey with your grandchildren and to be able to say to them “I helped build that bridge”? Well, a great bunch of volunteers has done something just like that, and about which they will be able to brag to their grandchildren. However, it is not bricks and cement or even steel. It is on the Web. It will still be useful in their grandchildren’s time. In fact, it will get better with age.

The Temple at Castleblayney, Co. Monaghan from our Lawrence Photographic Collection, late 19th century (L_ROY_09002); Then photographed on a sunny Sunday, 9 September 1990 at 1.30 p.m. (LPP_15A/26)

The Temple at Castleblayney, Co. Monaghan from our Lawrence Photographic Collection, late 19th century (L_ROY_09002); Then photographed on a sunny Sunday, 9 September 1990 at 1.30 p.m. (LPP_15A/26)

Here’s the story: Way back in 1989, while we all still used film in our cameras and before the days of easy communications with email and texting, two Federations (for Ulster Local Studies and of Local History Societies) got together to plan a project which would directly involve local history societies in every county of Ireland.

The plan was to select representative pictures of every county, and possibly every town, from the many thousands in the Lawrence Photographic Collection held in the National Library of Ireland, and have somebody locally re-take the picture from the same viewpoint, at what was then approximately 100 years since the original photograph had been taken.

We approached Dr. Patrica Donlon at the National Library; she, representing the NLI, could hardly have been more helpful or enthusiastic.

Main Street in Boyle, Co. Roscommon from our Lawrence Photographic Collection, late 19th/early 20th century (L_ROY_07361); Then photographed on Saturday, 29 September 1990 at  2.15 p.m. (LPP_33/33)

Main Street in Boyle, Co. Roscommon from our Lawrence Photographic Collection, late 19th/early 20th century (L_ROY_07361); Then photographed on Saturday, 29 September 1990 at 2.15 p.m. (LPP_33/33)

Lawrence Photographic Project 1990/1991

The NLI supplied the 1,000 selected scenes on lovely 10x8s (we were all in inches then). Fuji Ireland became our main sponsor. They supplied and agreed to process 100 rolls of film, and print 2,400 colour 12×8 prints. A lot of work by All-Ireland teams validated the picture choices, and spread the word amongst local history societies. In the course of time we sent out the films and a photocopy of the scenes, with instructions to take three different exposures of each scene.

As the films came back, we chose the best exposures and Fuji printed them. We made up the packages, which have resided in the National Library of Ireland, the Ulster Museum, and also some local libraries since then. Each package consists of an original Lawrence print, an A4 card with a photocopy picture and all the relevant information – date, time, photographer, neg. number, etc. All of this was a massive piece of North/South co-operation at a time when over the border terrible turbulence reigned. There was one memorable day when we spread everything out on the large wooden floor of the new RTÉ studios in Dundalk and walked up and down through the collection as we sorted it.

Egyptian Arch at Newry, Co. Down from our Lawrence Photographic Collection, late 19th/early 20th century (L_ROY_08886); Then photographed on a sunny Monday, 10 September 1990 at 11.15 a.m. (LPP_13/3). The photographer painstakingly captured a car passing under the arch, just as there had been a horse-drawn cart in the original Lawrence photo...

Egyptian Arch at Newry, Co. Down from our Lawrence Photographic Collection, late 19th/early 20th century (L_ROY_08886); Then photographed on a sunny Monday, 10 September 1990 at 11.15 a.m. (LPP_13/3). The photographer painstakingly captured a car passing under the arch, just as there had been a horse-drawn cart in the original Lawrence photo...

There is a wealth of stories recorded in this project about the old photographs and the adventures encountered in re-taking them in a catalogue booklet included with the collection. However, members also responded with comments like “If W. Lawrence was here now, that’s not the significant scene he would take!” and, “We have scenes which would better represent our place!” – Also “Why did he not put in a little information about the subject of the photograph”, “or even the correct county?”

There was also a general feeling that we could harness this new ‘photo–history–community’ surge of interest, for another new project.

Our Own Place 1993/1996

In the early 1990s, the two Federations (Ulster Local Studies and Local History Societies) put their respective heads together and came up with a project, which we called Our Own Place. For this, each group had twenty categories of picture ranging from the usual architectural scenes to ‘people at work’, ‘people at play’, houses, shops, and many others. RTÉ financially supported this project, and we started work again.

A card from the Our Own Place Photographic Project (taken on Wednesday, 27 October 1993 at 10.15am) showing Charlie Stitt working on an Oarsman 15 rowing boat, in his boatyard in the townland of Drumgurland, Islandmagee, Co. Antrim

A card from the Our Own Place Photographic Project (taken on Wednesday, 27 October 1993 at 10.15am) showing Charlie Stitt working on an Oarsman 15 rowing boat, in his boatyard in the townland of Drumgurland, Islandmagee, Co. Antrim

Finally in 1996, we were in a position to lodge 800 cards, each with its own picture and descriptive text paragraph and containing all the relevant data (researcher, photographer, location, etc.) with the Ulster Museum, the National Library, and our sponsor RTÉ.

Fruit of the labours of our volunteers - one of the Our Own Place catalogue records. NLI ref.: OOP_17/34

Fruit of the labours of our volunteers - one of the Our Own Place catalogue records. NLI ref.: OOP_17/34

Last year, Liam Clare (my colleague in FLHS, who was also involved in creating these collections) and I, approached NLI Head of Collections, Colette O Flaherty, about raising the profile of these collections in the National Library’s online catalogue. She proposed that our members might wish to engage in another great voluntary project. The Federations agreed and we started back in February 2012. We recruited volunteers, including some historians, some friends, others just keen to become involved, some very amateur computer users and other very highly qualified computer and information experts. The NLI appointed Aoife O’Connell as our instructor and mentor. She prepared instruction packs; got us a work location in the Manuscripts Reading Room and liaised with the Library’s IT section which provided five laptops for us. Finally, a little shakily we started, with every day’s work being error-checked by Aoife and uploaded to the NLI catalogue that evening. As March ended, Our Own Place was completed. The physical materials from that project were archive packed, labelled, and consigned to storage.

Our wonderful volunteers hard at work. From left (sitting): Mary Holian, Paddy Daly, Leeann Quinn, Betty Quinn. And that is Aoife O'Connell in the middle, trying to hide   behind Leeann's laptop. Aoife (who wrote last week's blog post about our Lawrence Photographic Collection) is managing the whole project, and mentoring all of the volunteers.

Our wonderful volunteers hard at work. From left (sitting): Mary Holian, Paddy Daly, Leeann Quinn, Betty Quinn. And that is Aoife O'Connell in the middle, trying to hide behind Leeann's laptop. Aoife (who wrote last week's blog post about our Lawrence Photographic Collection) is managing the whole project, and mentoring all of the volunteers.

Cataloguing the Lawrence Photographic Project required a little re-training from Aoife, and we were off again. The camaraderie in the groups was wonderful, and they all fell in love with always helpful, always patient Aoife. Somebody said of working in the NLI Manuscripts Reading Room, “It was great but it was like a retreat, we couldn’t talk out loud.” The Lawrence Photographic Project has carried on through April and it all looks set to finish in May. Then, when Library staff scan and upload the pictures, we will have two historically valuable resources available to researchers everywhere.

The record for just one of the Lawrence Photographic Project 1990/1991 photographs, meticulously catalogued by our fanastic volunteers. For now, the Flickr link in the catalogue brings you to information about the original Lawrence image. NLI ref.: LPP_44/23

The record for just one of the Lawrence Photographic Project 1990/1991 photographs, meticulously catalogued by our fanastic volunteers. For now, the Flickr link in the catalogue brings you to information about the original Lawrence image. NLI ref.: LPP_44/23

One could hardly thank all the volunteers enough for their commitment to these projects and their hard work, including long distances travelled each day to the Library. In a time of some national gloom, they are shining stars.

Leave a Comment

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Patrick January 27, 2013 at 1:35 am

The arches are in my hometown of newry – how terrific it looks in the imagery. Gives me such a sense of how we are simply passing through time while these great structures remain. Very interesting project – bravo!

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Bean an Phoist January 28, 2013 at 12:11 pm

Thanks very much! Think it’s a great example of co-operation. Others in the series are posted on our Flickr Commons stream, though not all of the counties are there yet. We’re going alphabetically, so Leitrim should be going up some time this week…

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Sarah Rouse June 7, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Congrats on this wonderful work–a labor of love from which the world will benefit. Support from the NLI’s head of collections opened the door. Well done, NLI, and project coordinators. I was lucky to spend some time at the NLI with these collections way back before they came to Internet awareness, and am delighted to see this development!
Sarah Rouse

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Bean an Phoist June 12, 2012 at 11:35 am

You certainly did spend time with our collections, Sarah! My copy of Into the Light is very well thumbed indeed…

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Kenneth Reid June 6, 2012 at 1:03 pm

I think I am pretty envous of all those involved in the project, I hope it is as enjoyable as it seems.
‘God further the work’.
Well done to all concerned.

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Bean an Phoist June 12, 2012 at 11:33 am

Thank you very much, Kenneth!

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Natasha April 29, 2012 at 1:12 am

Well done all. I’m so jealous. Would love to work on a project like that! Must keep my eye out for the next time you’re seeking volunteers.

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Bean an Phoist April 30, 2012 at 12:28 pm

Do that, Natasha! And thanks for the praise – we can never get too much of that…

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Louise McCabe Rawls April 17, 2012 at 5:10 pm

Extremely interesting, particularly to individuals that are interested in Irish history, like myself. I have Irish citizenship with living family in Moneymore & Coalsiland, Northern Ireland. Me, husband Reid & I, have traveled to dear Erin on 8 different occasions. He is an ingenious photographer & took many pictures of N. Ireland We went to Belfast last year to gather some information & pictures for his students here in VA. He prepared a showcase outside his classroom sole on the Titanic & Belfast. The pictures he took of the ship building dock where the Titanic was built are so expressive. Thank you for the wonderful work you do for the Irish & I will become a subscriber to this site.

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Bean an Phoist April 17, 2012 at 5:17 pm

Thank you very much, Louise. Glad to hear you’re subscribing – tell your friends! :)

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Lynn April 17, 2012 at 4:31 pm

Thank you so much for all your work.
I am from Canada and make the trip over every couple of years in search of history.
This is fantastic to see things the way they were and more recent.
Perhaps this should be ongoing for other areas of work as well.
I know, alot of work but so appreciated by so many now and in the future.
Thank you.

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Bean an Phoist April 17, 2012 at 5:13 pm

You’re very welcome, Lynn! There is something about Then & Now that everyone finds fascinating. We were just fortunate to have a great bunch of people help us with the work…

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Jennifer Geraghty-Gorman April 14, 2012 at 2:48 pm

An excellent project. Well done all! Thank you for sharing your work with a community which appreciates it so very much.

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Bean an Phoist April 16, 2012 at 8:51 am

You’re very welcome, Jennifer! You’d always have a fair idea of what we’re up to from our Facebook and Twitter, but the blog is a great way to publicise the often unsung work that goes on here at Library Towers every day…

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Doreen McBride April 13, 2012 at 5:22 pm

Fantastic idea and work. Congratulations!

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Bean an Phoist April 16, 2012 at 8:52 am

Thank you, Doreen. Will pass on your congratulations to Aoife and her Merry Band!

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Kate Ferguson April 13, 2012 at 2:40 pm

This is a fascinating project. It is strangely reassuring to note how little has changed in the Egyptian arch photograph, as well as in Main Street in Boyle. I hope that 100 years from now, a picture of equally dedicated volunteers, working for posterity will be taken in the exactly the same place in the National Library. ´Well Done to you all!

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Bean an Phoist April 13, 2012 at 2:50 pm

Thanks, Kate! It is a great project, building on great work that has gone before. We all owe a huge debt of gratitude to the volunteers in the 1990s; to the volunteers now; to our own Aoife O’Connell for keeping the project on track; and to Robert French and William Lawrence for all of the original photos taken over 100 years ago…

P.S. while the Egyptian Arch and Main Street, Boyle have changed little, in a weird way I love the decay of The Temple at Castleblayney. It reminds me of Ozymandias: “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

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Peter Whittaker June 12, 2012 at 6:31 pm

What a great project! I read about it in the Genealogical Society of Ireland’s newsletter, which implied that the digitised photos were viewable online. However I guess you’re still working on that? Can’t wait to see them.

Great work, keep it up! Peter

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Bean an Phoist June 13, 2012 at 8:50 am

You’re right, Peter, we’re still working on it! But in the meantime, we’re working our way around Ireland featuring a “then” and “now” photo of places every Wednesday on our Flickr Commons Stream. This is Main Street, Belturbet, Co. Cavan in the late 19th century and again on Sunday, 5th August 1990.

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