Irish women of the 20th century – in glorious colour
John Breslin, Sarah-Anne Buckley
4 min read
Colouring old photos, as with these images of Irish women, show us the past in a new way
For many people 2020 has been a time of reflection – on the present and on the past. History – local, family, national or global – has been a part of this reflection, and as we move into 2021 and further significant centenaries it seems the appetite for public history continues to grow.
Historic photographs offer us a window into this past, and the process of colourisation – as these historical photos of Irish women demonstrate – allow us to view it in a new way.
Drawn from the 2020 book Old Ireland in Colour – in which colour is added to existing black and white photos – they document both ordinary and extraordinary people, places and moments of modern Irish history, some that we know well and can now view with fresh eyes, others that we don’t know at all.
The book is part of a wider project which began in early 2019 when John Breslin – his day job is at the Insight SFI centre for data analytics in NUI Galway – started to colourise family photographs as part of his own genealogy research.
He began using DeOldify – a computer-based AI system that colourises black and white photographs. After that stage, photos are brought into Photoshop to be adjusted and corrected based on additional research or knowledge. Documents such as prison and emigration records, memoirs, oral histories and other sources are consulted to try to get the colours correct. We cannot always know that our interpretation is right, and we are always open to interpretation.
After seeing the huge interest in the photographs on Twitter, in April this year John approached his NUI Galway colleague Sarah-Anne Buckley to see if she would be interested in collaborating on a book.
The resulting book of 173 photographs spans the period from just before the Famine to the outbreak of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, a period in which the population of the island of Ireland went from just over 8 million to a low of 4 million in the 1950s.
Those published here are largely from the 20th century, with one from 1898. We hope they add something, however small, to our understanding of the lives of women in 20th century Ireland.
Old Ireland in Colour, by John Breslin & Sarah-Anne Buckley, is published by Merrion Press
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