Ireland of the Welcomes – Back to 1971

I wrote, in 2014, about our set of Ireland of the Welcomes for the 1970s and I’ve been meaning to return to them ever since. Today is the day. (Well, you wouldn’t want to rush into anything, would you?) I turned 21 in 1971 and went from being an undergraduate to a graduate student at UCC. I was living between Cork and Dublin, with forays to Newgrange and Kerry. I spent the summer in Malahide, studying for my finals at the National Library and at Trinity College Library, ducking out for lunchtime concerts at St Anne’s in Dawson Street. In the autumn I set up in my very first independent digs in Cork with my friend Bessie and embarked on my Master’s in Archaeology, paying my way with what was then charmingly called a ‘Demonstratorship’ at UCC. The world was my oyster.

What the well-dressed Demonstrator was wearing in 1971

That whole sense of emerging into a modern world was true for Ireland as well in the 1970s. I’ve been dipping into the set for 1971 and it’s a charming blend of the traditional and the new. Anybody who lived in Dublin in the 70s will remember the Dandelion Market – it was the place to see and be seen on Saturday morning, full of hippies and trendies selling antiques, tat, artwork, crafts and lots of cool clothes. Shaggy waistcoat, anybody? Take a look at RTE Archives footage from around then. Were you there? Recognise anyone?

Some of the photographs of the Dandelion Market that accompanied Maeve Binchy’s article

And guess who wrote about it in the January-February issue? Maeve Binchy! in 1971 Maeve was years away from a successful career as a novelist, but she was already a well-known columnist and editor of the women’s pages for the Irish Times. She and my mother, Lilian Roberts Finlay, shared a stage at the Vancouver Writers’ Festival in the 90s and I got to know her a little then, and as a friend of Mum’s. She was everything you imagine – warm, witty, wise and great company.

The wonderful Maeve Binchy (right), my mother, Lilian Roberts Finlay (left) and our great friend Ingrid, Vancouver, 1998

The Dandelion piece was followed by an article, Some Unexpected Ballad Writers, by Grainne Yeats. I wasn’t sure who Grainne Yeats was so I looked her up. She was WB’s daughter-in-law but that was not her claim to fame. An accomplished harpist and speaker of Irish, she was a music historian and virtuoso singer and player, performing all over the world, and an expert in the music of Turlough O’Carolan. She singlehandedly revived the playing of the kind of traditional wire-strung harp that O’Carolan would have played. Her obituary in the Irish Times spells out her many achievements, while a short YouTube clip gives you a flavour of the sound of the harp.

Her article is about a form of song that was not common in Ireland until the eighteenth century, but was then heartily embraced – the ballad. She tells of Oliver Goldsmith who, while a student at Trinity “lounged about the college gates, wrote ballads for five shillings, and crept out at night to hear them sung.” Yeats wrote ballads because he wanted his poetry to be ‘popular’ – in the sense of poetry that would belong to the people as a whole. She mentions James Joyce, Davis, Mangan, Terence MacSwiney, Arthur Griffiths. I append Yeats’s ballad, Come Gather Round Me, Parnellites, at the end of this post – read it in conjunction with this Irish Times post that lists Jack B Yeats’ illustration for this ballad as a selection for Modern Ireland in 100 Artworks.

One of several pages about the Shannon River, with detailed maps

A huge section in that same issue was devoted The Lordly Shannon. Shannon cruising was emerging as a holiday idyll and photographs showed cheerful boaters negotiating locks and fishermen hauling in salmon, interspersed with monastic ruins and enticing pub signs. It was a successful campaign – Shannon cruising is popular today and indeed by all accounts makes for a superb vacation.

The final section for Jan-Feb was devoted to the Lawrence Collection of photographs. Anyone who has ever searched for or seen old Irish photographs  will be familiar with the Lawrence Collection, now housed in the National Library. If you’re up for a good browse, take a look at their photostream on Flickr, but be warned, it’s addictive.

Robert French’s photograph of Adare in the 1880s or 1890s. As you can see the charming thatch has survived – the second photo was taken in November last year

Although I know about the Lawrence Collection, and had lost myself in it a few times, I wasn’t really aware that the ‘view’ photographs, 40,000 of them, had not been taken by William Lawrence himself. “The man to whom he entrusted the task of photographing Ireland was an employee named Robert French who worked anonymously for the Lawrence firm all his life.” The article, by Kieran Hickey, rescues French from that anonymity and points to the personality behind the camera, the chronicler of the social history of his time. “Despite the inflexibility of a heavy camera, a cumbersome tripod and individual glass negatives, the images are unerringly composed, never reframed in printing, and taken at the precise moment which shows the photographer’s eye to be selective, observant, patient and alert.”

Top: Leinster Market, Dublin; 2.Galway City; 3. Dublin Quays; 4 and 5. Tourists in Connemara

Lawrence’s studios were destroyed in the 1916 Rising, with the loss of all the human subject photographs and negatives. But French’s enormous body of work had been stored elsewhere, which is why it is still available to us. In its sharing of this priceless collection, the National Library is meticulous in crediting Robert French as the photographer – a fitting tribute to one who laboured unrecognised for so long and contributed so much to our visual history.

There! I set out to do a review of 1971 and I only got to January and February. At this rate, I’ll be blogging about my set of 1970s magazines well into the next decade. Brace yourselves.

 

Ireland of the Welcomes

Horse Fair

Horse Fair

Out of the blue, a friend has given us an old set of Ireland of the Welcomes. Her mother, Roisin, is downsizing, and thought we might like them. Understatement of the Century!!! This set covers the 1970s. I left Ireland in the 70s – the articles in this magazine create an Ireland frozen in time, just for me.

1970s set of Ireland of the Welcomes

1970s set of Ireland of the Welcomes

The magazine is still flourishing – indeed, it’s one of the longest periodicals of its sort in the world – and continues to put out 6 issues a year. The website describes it thus: each issue features lavishly-illustrated pieces on Irish beauty-spots, regular features on Ireland’s extraordinary millennia spanning history, our remarkable literary, musical and dance traditions as well as folklore, festivals, events and so much more. The photography nowadays is superb.

This cover could still be taken today

This cover could still be taken today

Although published by a private company now, in the 1970s Ireland of the Welcomes was an official publication of the Irish Tourist Board. Aimed at the overseas market, it was nevertheless also deservedly popular in Ireland. My father, who worked in marketing in Aer Lingus, brought home each issue as it came out and we poured over it. It showed us what others might find interesting about Ireland and therefore what we ourselves could be proud of.

All the best people wrote for Ireland of the Welcomes. I think they must have paid well, because familiar names from the time crop up: the 1971 issues include writing by John Montague, Gerrit van Gelderen, The Knight of Glin, Maurice Gorham, Hilary Pyle, and Niall Sheridan (husband of Monica). 

The Chieftains looking impossibly young. They're still going strong!

The Chieftains looking impossibly young. They’re still going strong!

This was no ‘shamrocks and leprechauns’ representation of Ireland – it showed a country transitioning into the modern world, while fiercely clinging to what made us unique. Articles on heritage jostled with pieces on modern farming methods; biographies of bygone artists contrasted with a description of Rosc, the famous modern art show that everyone of my generation visited; wildlife photographs vied with pen-and-ink drawings of inviting pubs.

The Famous Rosc Exhibition - modern and ancient art side by side

The famous Rosc Exhibition – modern and ancient art side by side

Of the five 1971 issues I have (I’m missing Jan-Feb), two are special issues devoted respectively to J M Synge (March-April) and Jack B Yeats (July-August). Here, from the Synge issue, is Yeat’s illustrations of the horse race from The Playboy of the Western World. Yeats (brother of William Butler, his more famous sibling) and Synge were friends and collaborators.

Jack B Yeat's illustration of the horse race in The Playboy of the Western World

Jack B Yeat’s illustration of the horse race in The Playboy of the Western World

The advertisements constitute an historical document in themselves. Tourists were assumed to be after tweed coats and Aran Sweaters and were invited to fly into Ireland by Pan Am First Class – very glamorous.

Flying Pan-Am into Ireland - why can't it be like this still?

Pan Am into Ireland – why can’t flying be like this now?

Each issue contained pages of small ads for shops and hotels and there is a poignancy to many which have since disappeared, such as the beloved Cork institutions of Cash’s and the Munster Arcade, and the two swanky hotels of my childhood – the International in Bray and the La Touche in Greystones (see sad pictures of its current state here).

I intend to return to this treasure trove again and again – I have just skimmed the surface so far to give you a flavour of the delights in store.

The Cliffs of Moher before the days of Visitor Centres and admission fees

The Cliffs of Moher before the days of Visitor Centres and admission fees

I’ll probably start with 1971 – I was 21 that year, and just finishing my bachelor’s degree in archaeology and history at UCC. Ireland was so different then – but Ireland of the Welcomes was chronicling the emergence of who we are now.

1971

1971