National Photographic Archive, Temple Bar
If ever you go to Dublin town, is an exhibition of evocative photographs by Elinor Wiltshire chronicling Dubliners as they worked, played, shopped and prayed during the 1950s and 1960s. The exhibition title If ever you go to Dublin town takes its name from a poem of the same name by Patrick Kavanagh, who, along with other literary figures, including Flann O’Brien, was a friend and neighbour of Elinor Wiltshire.
Born in Limerick, Elinor Wiltshire (nee O’Brien) founded the Green Studios on St Stephen’s Green, Dublin, with her husband Reginald Wiltshire in the 1950s. Over a period of about fifteen years, using a Rolleiflex camera which she acquired in 1955, Elinor Wiltshire captured images of a changing city and its people. The Rolleiflex camera was held at waist level and the scenes or images to be captured were viewed through a 6x6cm ground-glass screen. As a result, many of those featured in the portraits in the exhibition were completely unaware that a camera was trained on them – hence the natural and uninhibited manner in which they are depicted.
If ever you go to Dublin town
The near perfect composition in many of her photographs reveals an artist’s eye for the beauty that exists in everyday life – shoppers in Cumberland Street’s busy second-hand market; summer outings on Sandymount Strand; exuberant scenes of All Ireland Football Finals fans at railway stations; Corpus Christi processions through the city of Dublin. Also chronicled are significant social changes in the Inner City, as reflected in the anxiety shown on the faces of residents facing eviction and relocation from tenement buildings in York Street, off St Stephen’s Green, to new areas such as Ballymun.
Her photographs were not just about Dublin city, however. Some of the most important images record the life of Traveller families at a time of great change in Ireland. Her photographs of an encampment in County Cork, as families prepared for the Cahirmee Horse Fair, are remarkable, as are those she took of the Sheridan/O’Brien campsite in Loughrea, Co Galway.
Her husband Reginald’s death in 1968 led to the sale of the business and brought an end to her series of Dublin photographs. Following a visit to Ethiopia in 1971, she moved to London, where she now works as a botanist and researcher at the Natural History Museum.
In total the Wiltshire Photographic Collection numbers some 1,000 negatives and 300 prints. It was acquired by the National Library of Ireland in 1994 and images from the collection were first exhibited by the Archive in 1999.
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