Off the Shelf: Old Ireland in Color

Off the Shelf: Old Ireland in Colour By 
Sarah-Anne Buckley, John Breslin Merrion Press ISBN 9781785373701 304 pp. 2020. Review by Terrence J. Kenneally

This book and the Old Ireland in Colour project aims to bring Ireland’s modern history to life through the colorization of black and white photographs. Professional photography was introduced to Ireland in 1841. For over a century, photographers- both professional and amateur- captured and collected moments in Irish history in black and white, the technology of the time. Debates on the colorization of black and white films and photographs have been ongoing since the 1980s. The authors did not want to engage in those debates in this book, the purpose rather being to reveal the capacity of modern technology to provide realistic images with a wide palette of historical colours.

The 173 photographs in the book address the period just before the Great Famine (1845-52) to the outbreak of “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland. During this time, the population of the island of Ireland went from over eight million to a low of four million in the 1950s. Throughout the nineteenth century, the importance of religion and the Irish language, the effects of the Great Famine and Land War, and the growth of cultural nationalism can be seen in the photographs.

Work, play, technology, and deviance are mingled between images of Irish landscapes and revolution. There are photographs in colors of familiar personalities and events and images that have been mass produced as well as those which have been rarely seen. Images of evictions and depictions of poverty, alongside earth-shattering events like the sinking of the Titanic and the Lusitania make this book an illuminating look at Irish life, Irish people and the dramatic transformation and change that has occurred over the 125 years covered in this collection.

The best news is that the authors have a second book coming out in September of 2022, called Old Ireland in Colour 2, in which they dig deeper into Irish archives to bring to life more photographic gems. Old Ireland in Colour won the Best Irish-Published Book last year and it is a TOP SHELF read.

*Terrence J. Kenneally is an attorney and owner of Terrence J. Kenneally & Associates in Rocky River, Ohio. He received his Master’s in Irish Studies from John Carroll University. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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