Early reflections on hill street blues

The Times We Lived In: Published; November 27th, 1954. Photograph by Dermot Barry

Garda Dick O’Connor, on point duty  at the McCurtain Street-Bridge Street crossing in Cork in 1954

Garda Dick O’Connor, on point duty at the McCurtain Street-Bridge Street crossing in Cork in 1954

 

It must be one of the steepest city-centre hills anywhere: and it certainly wasn’t any less steep in 1954, when Dermot Barry took this wonderfully atmospheric picture from near the bottom of St Patrick’s Hill in Cork.

The caption reads: “Guard Dick O’Connor, who regulates the traffic at the MacCurtain Street – Bridge Street crossing in Cork has one problem partly solved for him, for it is only one car in 50 that ever tackles St Patrick’s Hill (in background), because the gradient is one in three. Guard O’Connor is a junior All-Ireland football player.”

Not that there’s much traffic, if the number of cars in the picture is a reliable guide

Actually, the garda has the look of an orchestral conductor as he beckons the traffic from MacCurtain Street towards the bridge.

Not that there’s much traffic, if the number of cars in the picture is a reliable guide. But maybe that was rush hour, 1950s-style. If Dick O’Connor were standing in the same spot today, there’d be a line of parked cars stretching along behind his right shoulder, and a motorised madhouse pretty much everywhere else.

In many other ways, though, the streetscape hasn’t changed all that much. Thanks to the wonders of Google maps you can take a virtual “drive” up the hill – something you can’t do in real life – and see that many of the buildings have retained the same facades and doorways.

At the top of the hill, the house with the windows on the side is now painted a strong shade of blue. Whether this was so in the 1950s, our photo can’t tell us. Instead it’s a masterful study in monochrome.

The garda’s outfit in deepest black, the peak of his cap offering a shiny contrast. The different shades of the cars. The reflections on the wet surface of the road – even the shoes of the lady who’s crossing the street are duplicated there, helping to bring the viewer’s eye up the hill and down again.

Google maps, 1950s-style. With more emphasis on the style.

  • These and other ‘Irish Times’ images can be purchased from: irishtimes.com/photosales. A book, ‘The Times We Lived In’, with more than 100 photographs and commentary by Arminta Wallace, published by Irish Times Books, is available from irishtimes.com and from bookshops, priced at €19.99
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