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Connecting past and present

The Desmond Fitzgerald Photographs, a stunning collection of images, has recently been made available to view on the UCD Digital Library website.

This collection of 179 photographic prints forms part of the papers of Desmond FitzGerald. The majority of the photographs relate to the Irish Civil War but there are also images of the aftermath of the Easter Rising and images relating to the War of Independence. The collection represents a valuable visual history of a key period in Irish history.

UCD Archives Principal Archivist Seamus Helferty explains the background and importance of the collection – “This collection of almost one hundred and eighty photographs, mainly from the studio of W.D. Hogan, came to UCD Archives in the papers of Desmond FitzGerald. As Minister for Foreign Affairs, FitzGerald was responsible for the operation of the Free State Publicity Department, directed by Seán Lester; and it is safe to assume most of the photographs in this collection originated from the work of the Department.

While there are small groups of photographs relating to the Easter Rising and the war of independence – and the photographs of Sackville Street/O’Connell Street in the immediate aftermath of the Rising are particularly redolent and atmospheric – the majority of the photographs were taken during the civil war and are a uniquely valuable visual diary of that most unhappy period of modern Irish history.

Given that the photographs were commissioned by the Government’s Publicity Department, it is hardly surprising that a significant proportion of the civil war photographs depict the mayhem and destruction wrought by the actions of anti-Treaty forces – the destruction of the Four Courts at the outbreak of the Civil War being the most spectacular example –and the disciplined operation of the Free State Army. There is a major series of photographs of troops preparing for action, on guard and defensive duties, particularly in the aftermath of attacks by anti-Treaty forces, operating artillery, on patrol in the countryside and on board ship preparing for coastal landings.

Hogan was not an embedded war photographer in the modern sense. Many of the photographs are taken in the aftermath of military engagement, when groups of civilians, particularly small boys, congregate almost immediately, curious and at ease. The comfortable interaction of the civilian population with Free State forces can be seen as a constant theme in many of these photographs. The demeanour of the civilians pictured in the almost thirty photographs taken by unidentified photographers during the period of the pogroms in Belfast, is altogether different. Disconsolate groups of women and children are photographed in the ruins of their burnt-out houses; or evacuating their homes in panic, loading their furniture and possessions onto carts.

The collection also contains some images of Irish Army units in more formal poses, including an interesting panorama of the first IRA unit in Irish Free State Army uniform (4 February 1922) and a fine group photograph by the Lafayette studios of the officers and men of the Army Equitation School, possibly taken at the time Desmond FitzGerald was Minister for Defence (1927-32).

A final group of portraits and photographs of historical occasions from 1921-2 includes interesting images of Harry Boland with Ernest Blythe, Michael Collins in sporting mode with a group of Kilkenny hurlers, and the former UCD premises at Earlsfort Terrace during the Treaty debates”.

Click here to view the collection on UCD Digital Library.

Image: “Michael Collins addressing a small group of hurlers” held by UCD Archives. Digital image: © University College Dublin, published by UCD Digital Library. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7925/drs1.ucdlib_30859

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