Rare record of a dark day in Irish history

 

NINETY YEARS ago this week, a 17-year-old Dublin boy peered through his Kodak folding brownie camera from his family home on Essex Quay, to capture smoke billowing from the Four Courts in the first act of the Civil War.

Joe Rodgers’s image remained hidden among his vast collection of snaps for decades until his family found it and transferred it to a negative about 20 years ago.

This lay in a box with old medals until it was recently digitised by his grandson, also named Joe Rodgers, a history student, who wanted to give it a public showing for the 90th anniversary. The photographer died in 1998.

Mr Rodgers says his grandfather’s photograph offers a unique view of the siege.

“Having searched to compare it with other photos, some are not as clear as this and many are taken from further down the Liffey,” said Mr Rodgers (42), who lives in Co Kerry.

The photograph may have been taken on the second day of the bombardment, which began on June 28th, 1922, he said.

The three-day siege by pro-Treaty forces ended an occupation of the building by anti-Treaty militants that began in April 1922.

Leader of the provisional government Michael Collins had come under major pressure from the British government to end the defiance and had borrowed British artillery for the siege. The event began the Civil War, which would not end until May 1923.

The photographer’s son, Michael Rodgers, of Clondalkin, said his father was a quiet man who did not speak much about the period. “He just said it was rough living in the area . . . and it was frightening as a kid. Imagine looking out the window and witnessing this happening,” he said yesterday.

UCD professor of history Diarmaid Ferriter yesterday said just a few photos of the siege existed and the same ones tend to be used in books about the Civil War. “A private photo taken by a citizen is quite a rare and valuable record,” Prof Ferriter said.

He added that most people would not have had access to a camera then.

Joe Rodgers came from a middle-class family and made religious statues for John Deghini and Sons. His father Samuel was born in India to an Antrim-born Presbyterian who served with the British army.

Samuel married a Catholic woman and their children were brought up as Catholics. This background may be the reason that his grandfather’s loyalties were pro-Treaty, Mr Rodgers said

However, when it came to business he had no preference: he had a side business in his shed and made hundreds of busts of both Collins and de Valera for sale.

This photographic record also captures an event that destroyed centuries of records, including census documents, at the public records office in the Four Courts.

It was “cultural vandalism” and “quite a calculated and cynical exercise” that “leaves a massive gap in documented heritage and history of Irish people”, Prof Ferriter said.