The Times We Lived In

From the Archive: June 1990

Published: June 14th, 1990
Photograph: Paddy Whelan

It was with great sadness that we learned of the death, a month or so ago, of Paddy Whelan. An Irish Times staff photographer for almost 30 years, Paddy was a gentle and reassuring presence.

There were many occasions when, as a nervous young reporter, I turned up to a tricky assignment, only to be reassured when the cavalry turned up as well – in the shape of Paddy, armed with his camera, his big glasses and his even bigger smile.

But as this picture from the summer of 1990 illustrates, he had a mischievous side too.


It’s the perfect publicity stunt. Bring a troupe of long-legged female dancers to the Forty Foot bathing place in Sandycove, wait for a short, wrinkly-legged nudie man to show up, click, whirr, and – job done.

The Gaiety Theatre must have known they were on to a good thing with this clever photoshoot for their show Can't Stop The Music . But they got an extra ooh, la la factor when Paddy was the man doing the clicking.

The picture calls to mind the traditional “naughty” seaside postcards of Donald McGill, which were designed to provoke mild doses of shock and horror – as well as a smile – in the viewer.

Here the naughtiness is located inside the image itself, with several of the women raising hands to their faces in exaggerated fashion, prompting readers to respond in kind.

Given the controversy over the customs and practices traditional to the Forty Foot – long-running, and still ongoing even to this day – you could read the shot as a socio-political comment on the place’s longtime banishment of women bathers.

You could see it as irrefutable proof of the proposition that men should wear togs in the sea at all times – for the sake of the good name of our species. You could see it as an exercise in barefaced cheek. Or you could just think to yourself, guess what? From photographic heaven, Paddy Whelan is beaming benevolently on us still.

Arminta Wallace

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