Salad days at Blackrock

The Times We Lived In – Published: June 22nd, 1932. Photograph: The Irish Times

Dr John Charles McQuaid (President of Blackrock College, Dublin), Papal Nuncio Paschal Robinson, and President de Valera. Photograph: The Irish Times

Dr John Charles McQuaid (President of Blackrock College, Dublin), Papal Nuncio Paschal Robinson, and President de Valera. Photograph: The Irish Times

 

We treasure some pictures for their content. Others for the mood they create. And some, we treasure just because they exist at all. This photograph is one of the latter. It was taken during the Eucharistic Congress in 1932, which makes it one of the oldest images we’ve come across in many, many trawls through our archive.

You will by now have recognised the gentleman on the right as President Eamon de Valera. On the left is a youthful John Charles McQuaid who was, at the time, president of Blackrock College. In the centre is the Papal Nuncio, Paschal Robinson.

The trio had gathered in the grounds of the college for a garden party in honour of the Papal Legate, Laurenzo Lauri. So, too, had 20,000 other people, all of whom sat quietly, awaiting the arrival of the man from the Vatican.

We don’t know who took the picture – or who penned the extraordinarily poetic piece which accompanied it.

The scene which greeted the great man, this unnamed chronicler wrote, was “framed on three sides in tall lines of trees, rich in the full leaf of June, their verdure made more intense by often turning to gold in the shimmering of the foliage under the splendour of the sun; the sea beyond glistened in the glory of the day”.

On the lawns “ten or twelve thousand summer frocks and hats gave every shade of colour”. The cardinal legate, for his part, sported “a caped scarlet cloak with gold-braid edging”.

It was almost certainly the best-dressed garden party of the decade. Look at the style of Dev. And the Nuncio’s shoes, which can just be seen under his voluminous cape.

We don’t know what our trio are looking at. But whatever it is, they’ve taken their eye off The Irish Times photographer – and the result is this strikingly informal picture, swirling with wind and, despite the high political and spiritual stakes of the day that was in it, an innocent sort of excitement. Will this year’s Papal visit generate something similar? We’ll have to wait and see.

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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