This series of portraits shows members of the rural vocational organisation Muintir na Tíre (People of the Land). Established in 1937, it aimed to counter societal breakdown in rural Ireland. It followed the teaching of the Catholic Church’s encyclical Quadragesimo Anno which hoped to challenge the threat of communism through strong lay and vocational organisation. Eoin Devereux’s 1991 article on Muintir na Tíre noted that it reflected the strong anti-urbanism which prevailed in Ireland during the period and that persists in certain quarters to this day.
The following quotation from the organisation’s 1941 handbook is very revealing: “Country life is not dull. It is the city life that is cheerless and stupid and vapid, degenerate, futile and foreign with its narrow conventions, its artificiality and its purchased amusements.” Despite the organisation’s antagonism towards the urban, Devereux notes that many of its leaders were urban-based professionals.
This accords with the location of the photographer’s studio. J. Dunne worked from 36 Leinster Road in Rathmines, a suburb of Dublin. These portraits are more informal than official passport photographs and more revealing of the sitters’ personalities. From a sartorial point of view their clothes are typical of the 1950s as tweeds and woollens dominate. Tank tops, wide neck ties, thickly framed horn-rimmed glasses were popular with the men. Some wear the pin of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association of the Sacred Heart (PTAA), an Irish organisation for Catholic teetotallers.
There is more variety in the women’s outfits. One wears a fitted dress with a fur-ruffled collar while another has a broad-shouldered fake fur coat. Tweed is also popular with the ladies as were knitted tops and twin sets. These are adorned with pearls, brooches and lace collars. All wear badges with the organisation’s logo featuring a cross superimposed on a plough, thus linking the rural and the religious.
The portraits were most likely taken at a function room or in Dunne’s studio in suburban Rathmines where he operated for a short while from 1954. The series is interesting in that it shows a certain cohort of middle-class, respectable, Irish people of a variety of ages. These portraits were instigated, not by the usual familial ties which cause a visit to the photographic studio, but rather by membership of a vocational organisation.
Further reading: Eoin Devereux, ‘Saving rural Ireland – Muintir na Tíre and its Anti-Urbanism, 1931-1958’ in The Canadian Journal of Irish Studies, 17, 2 (December 1991): 23-40.
Maurice Curtis, A Challenge to Democracy: Militant Catholicism in Modern Ireland. Dublin: The History Press Ireland, 2010.
Maurice Curtis, “Miraculous Meddlers: The Catholic Action Movement.” History Ireland 18, 5 (2010): 34-37.