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Posts Tagged ‘Irish tweed’

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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.

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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.

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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.JDunne-Portraits-7JDunne-Portraits-9JDunne-Portraits-10 JDunne-Portraits-11 JDunne-Portraits-12

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.

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When I first saw these 1931 photographs, I was immediately reminded of Arthur Penn’s film Bonnie and Clyde which tells the story of the infamous armed robbers Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. Snapshots found by police at the couple’s abandoned hideout in 1934 helped to spread their notoriety and are referenced within the film.There aren’t any guns visible in these images of a day trip to the seaside town of Ballycotton, County Cork, however, the 1930s styles are very similar to those worn by Bonnie and Clyde!

I particularly like the lady’s beret, tweed coat, sheer tights and clutch bag. Her companion wears his suit and Fedora hat with great swagger and charm. These hats were often worn tipped down over one eye at a rakish angle and were favored by American gangsters. Suits with double-breasted jackets and wide trouser legs were very fashionable in the early 1930s.

The Irish snapshots were taken on the 12th of July 1931 and were safely put into a Kodak wallet complete with negatives. The Kodak girl is, as ever, sporting the latest styles and her bobbed hair and white collar are not disimilar to the Ballycotton woman’s.

The promotional wallet mentions an amateur photographic competition with prizes awarded to photographs taken between the 1st of May and the 31st of August 1931.  I have featured Kodak advertising in an earlier post and look forward to seeing a recent book on Kodak ephemera based on the Martha Cooper collection.

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