When this series began first I used stock photos. Since then, I have switched to ones I have taken myself (or have been sent by our local correspondents). Today, I revert to stock images but with good reason.
The photo above is from the John Hinde collection: “To mark St Patrick’s Day, the Photographers’ Gallery in London is releasing newly restored pictures of rural Ireland in the 1950s and 1960s by a pioneer of British and Irish postcard art, John Hinde”. St Patrick’s Day was yesterday. The photo shows the Bloody Foreland, in County Donegal, Ireland and is one the earliest photos published by the John Hinde Studio.
What the John Hinde Studios did was to use quite brave (or strident) colour photography for postcards which, let’s not forget, were quite bland and static. Remember that postcards enjoyed remarkable popularity up until cameras and mobile’ phones fused. Every village sold them.
(Yes, yes, yes, but look at the 404 with an L plate and a dent. The fellow with the beige tweed jacket looks like my idea of a motoring correspondent from the time.)
John Hinde’s work has enjoyed an upswing since the time it first crept into my awareness in the 1980s. Around then Hinde’s intense colours had become deeply unfashionable (intense colour is now normal). His imagery of freckled red-headed farming children in traditional clothes and donkeys also struck the wrong note in a country trying to modernise (see the Prince of Wales Hotel below).
Hinde wasn’t just making it up though. When Hinde first began his business (1955) there actually was an awful lot about Ireland that would have not looked odd to an Irish time-traveller coming from 1900 to 1955. So, his photos weren’t very far from a part of the truth. They were not, though, the Ireland that Ireland wanted to project.
John Hinde caught the residues of the 19th century in his by-now classic images. As I might have said already, even in 1978 there remained traces of 1900 as I can testify: with my mother I visited my grand-uncle and grand-aunt one summer’s day and I can recall that their house lacked electricity and running water.
It wasn’t a hovel but a well-maintained stone-built house with a large garden – dark and cool with flag-stones in the kitchen. I would imagine the couple were in their 70s at that point, born just after the turn of the century but very much of the 1890s, I suppose. So, a lot of 1960 Ireland was also 1899.
I have chosen to highlight here some other John Hinde photos, ones with cars somewhere in the image.
The pink cardigan (above) stands out as being particularly unconvincing. The scenery doesn’t demand that kind of jarring colour, does it? The car is an Austin A30.
I recognise the Beetle and suspect many of the other cars are BMC products: three seem to be the same type of car: a Ford Consul (1956). Is the one with the two-tone roof a W-120 Mercedes?
This one shows Grafton St in central Dublin. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, it’s Dublin’s main shopping street. Pedestrianisation occurred in 1983 (at one point one could drive from Grafton St to my childhoon home in about ten minutes, today you can’t):
I can see a Renault 4 and a Mini. Is the yellow car a Datsun 120Y? The shop on the right is Switzers, a middle-market department store, which has become Brown Thomas, a posh department store**.
I think it was a more enjoyable street when cars still ran down it. These days it has the sterile character that the corporate Disney paving gives and it has the same shops found in any international airport around the world (with a few exceptions).
Evidently Hinde’s photographer managed to use the same viewpoint for this later photo:
I should say that when it was open to cars Grafton Street often featured a long and immobile mass of vehicles stuck at the lights leading to Nassau Street and the air quality must have been appalling. Still, we were happy. The yellow car is a Toyota Corolla; the ubiquitous Mini is there. Any guesses about the white car in the centre? I want to say Rover SD1 but can it be?
Has anyone any idea what this car is, below?
Here is another pre-pedestrianisation image, this time of College Green, Dublin. Dublin’s nascent light-rail system has been plumbed in here at the expense of most of the other traffic. In this image one can see a 2CV and some British cars like the Mini – today it’s taxis and busses and the light rail infrastructure. Quite a lot of the cars are black, grey and white. Were the 70s and early 80s an anomaly in terms of the diversity of car colours?
The next image moves deeper into the 1960s. It is the Prince of Wales Hotel in Athlone (surely renamed by now?) and a fleet of what I imagine are executive cars.
I can spy a blue Cortina and what might be a Humber Snipe or Hawk; behind it is a Zephyr? What’s the red car in front of the entrance? 1962 Cortina Mk1 and the blue one is a Mk2 (1966), most likely.
(I did a little research and the hotel still exists with the same name. It now has a cod-Georgian facade but is probably nice to visit. I like hotels.)
Ireland joined the EEC and gradually the car its market opened up. However, until then various European marques assembled cars. Allianz Insurance has a small (partial) list of marques assembled in Ireland. From 1950 to 1985 VW’s importer assembled cars including the Beetle which was made not far from my old turf in central Dublin.
It’s still a car dealer today. The Renault 4 was made in Ireland between 1962 and 1984 and Fiats were made from CKD kits in Meath. Ford had a real factory in Cork, closed in 1984. It seems to have made cars in the Escort and Cortina classes. Towards the end some Sierra production took place – are there any Irish-built Sierras left, one wonders.
Allianz’s article is far from comprehensive. An RTE News report from the mid-sixties notes there were about sixty car assembly plants in Ireland. The New York Times notes British Leyland as having a plant there (in Dublin 2 – it is now the site of an apartment and office block). Is that grounds enough to explain the preponderance of British cars in the John Hinde photos?
** Brown Thomas used to face Switzers, on opposite sides of Grafton Street. Brown Thomas bought Switzers and moved. Marks And Spencers moved into the Brown Thomas building. Among the things lost in the move was the sense of BT being a very big shop, with different sections.
Today much of it consists of franchises which means a Boss section, a Thomas Hilfiger section and so on. Prior to the move you found all the different brands sharing the same rails and shelves, which means service not the brands were the motive force.