Century-old photographs show the way we worked

Insight into the way we worked, from big-house servants to tobacco-growing families

Clockwise from top left: Smyth & Co, Balbriggan; Dunville whiskey distillery, Belfast; Cleeve Bros, Limerick; roughing flax, Belfast; Building the Oceanic at Harland and Wolff, Belfast; and Atkinson’s poplin factory, Merchant’s Arch, Dublin.

Clockwise from top left: Smyth & Co, Balbriggan; Dunville whiskey distillery, Belfast; Cleeve Bros, Limerick; roughing flax, Belfast; Building the Oceanic at Harland and Wolff, Belfast; and Atkinson’s poplin factory, Merchant’s Arch, Dublin.

Thu, Oct 24, 2013, 08:47

The working lives of Irish men, women and children in the run up to the 1913 Lockout are on display in an exhibition of photographs to be opened today.

The Working Lives 1893-1913 exhibition will be unveiled by Minister of State for the Gaeltacht Dinny McGinley at the National Photographic Archive in Temple Bar, Dublin, and runs until May.

It contains 148 photographs of workers throughout Ireland, taken from two collections; the Poole collection of photographic glass negatives dating from 1884, and the Mason collection of 2,000 glass lantern slides, dating from 1890.

The servants of Bessborough House, Piltown, Co Kilkenny, stare into the lens, while the workers at Winstanley’s Bootmakers in Dublin appear to ignore the camera and continue working. There are shaven-headed boys mending fishing nets at the piscatorial school in Baltimore, Co Cork, while in the Skibbereen industrial school, young girls work on spinning wheels as older companions weave on looms.


Clergy and constabulary
There are photographs of priests and nuns and of the uniformed ranks of the Royal Irish Constabulary and the British army in police barracks and garrisons across Ireland.

A series of images related to Shaw & Sons of Limerick contains one of products for sale, including Garryowen Sauce, described as “delicious, delicate and digestible”.

Surprising images are among the collection: “Saving the tobacco crop, Mrs O’Brien Rachmoylan”, a group photograph of men, women and children holding sticks containing tobacco leaves, shows that the crop was grown here at the time.

The information contained with the images also holds some surprises, including that in the 1851 census for Dublin, 45 per cent of all males had an occupation, but so did 56 per cent of females.

The exhibition was curated by Irish labour history specialist Mary Jones and provides an insight into the world of work as experienced by people living at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. Admission is free.