Author(s): Sean Sexton
The first Irish photographs date from 1840, a year after Louis Daguerre announced to the world his discovery of the photographic process. In the century that followed, Irish political life was dominated by the struggle for land rights, for Home Rule, and finally for independence. Ireland was to know tragedy and triumph, bitter struggle and agonized compromise. Much of that experience, now so remote, is brought to life here in images so powerful that they remind one of the miracle that photography once seemed. Yet these photographs, which cover the first century of Ireland in the era of photography, do more than tell a gripping political story. They give a wider insight into a people, a landscape, and a lost way of life. They capture the sheer hard labour of rural survival: cutting peat for fuel, gathering seaweed, fishing and tilling the soil, against the magnificence of the often harsh Irish landscape. And they show the grandeur, elegance and complacency of life in the Big House, home and symbol of the doomed Anglo-Irish elite.