This beautiful photograph of Dublin’s Sackville Street and O’Connol Bridge was taken in 1890 using the photochrom process. The photochrom process was an early method of printing color photographs which relied on detailed note taking by the photographer and meticulous hand coloring of the glass plate.
Color photography had not yet been invented and all photographs were made using back and white glass negative plates. It was nevertheless possible to produce a finished product that reproduced the colors of the scene in the picture. The photographer or his assistant would take extremely detailed notes, recording the color of all the objects in the picture. Then when the negative was developed, a technician would arduously paint the image using the photographer’s notes as a color guide. The process was extremely time consuming which meant that only a few such photographs could be produced, and the colors were not exactly true to life due to the limitations of the painting process as well as the inherent difficulty of accurately recording the true color of every object in the image. For this reason, the photochrom process was usually reserved for stationary objects such as landmarks or buildings as it was even harder to record the colors of people’s clothing. This vintage photograph of Dublin towards the end of the Victorian era is a priceless time machine allowing us to see life in the Irish capital over a century ago, and to to grasp the colors and life of this busy main thoroughfare.
The image shows a Dublin bustling street in summer. The people appear prosperous, the buildings and streets well kept. One of the interesting things is that this scene records a moment in time in Ireland just 40 or so years after the end of the disastrous Irish Potato Famine. Here at least the country appeared to have recovered, and we see a flourishing European city heading confidently into a bright future, not realizing the horrors that the 20th century would bring.
The photograph looks out onto a panoramic view of central Dublin. Judging from the viewpoint the camera must have been positioned in an upper-story window or on a rooftop. We see a large section of the famous O’Connell Bridge and Sackville Street, bustling with people and vehicles including electric trams.
O’Connell Bridge is named after the lawyer and Catholic leader Daniel O’Connell (6 August 1775 – 15 May 1847), nicknamed the Liberator. O’Connell had agitated for Irish home rule and the rights of Catholics under the British. The choice o name the bridge after this antagonist of the British, at a time when Ireland was still ruled by the British Empire, represented a concession to Irish sentiments. The bridge plays a prominent role in James Joyce’s Ulysses as well as other works of fiction.
Sackville Street has since been re-named O’Connell Street. It was and is a central street in Dublin and has played an important role in Irish history, including the Easter Rising of 1916.
Zooming In – Enhancing the Detail
The photos that follow take snippets of the larger picture and then enlarge them in order to bring interesting details into relief. In this way we are able to get a real view of daily life in downtown Dublin, Ireland and see details that would otherwise be missed in the bustle of the scene.
In this view we see men in suits and women in long dresses. Both the men and women are wearing hats. There are several electric trams on the street and a few horsedrawn carriages, but no automobiles yet. The people seem unhurried and walking in a leisurely way.
Here we see a magnified view of the horse drawn cart found on the right of the photo. There is a little bit of trash on the ground, perhaps a discarded newspaper, but otherwise the street seems clean and in good condition.
In this magnified section of the street, we focus on a woman riding a bicycle. She is wearing a stylish hat a full length shirt and skirt, which must have made it difficult to pedal, but was necessary to meet the demands of propriety.
Above is a zoomed-in view of the double-decker trolley. As with modern public buses, the trolley displays various ads. The seats on the second level are mostly empty. Two of the men are reading newspapers. The only woman is wearing a stylish yellow hat and a long-sleeved dress. You can see the curved stairs on both sides of the vehicle and the ticket agent standing on the bottom platform.
The image above shows the upper stories of the buildings lining the street. We can see that they are all made of brick and many have attractive facades. One building even has statues lining its upper corniche. All of the buildings have multiple chimneys. The building on the far right has a row of about thirteen smoke stacks all in a row. Each of the chimneys would have vented smoke from a separate fireplace, which would have heated different offices and apartments. In this picture, there is no smoke suggesting that the weather that day was nice. The flag on one of the buildings is straight, indicating that there was a breeze.
Goodbye to Dublin
And so now we have come to the end of our tour of Dublin, Ireland to a moment frozen in time thanks to the painstaking work of a photochrom artist. Our time machine is about to depart, back to the present, and we must say goodbye to this wonderful city. Or as he Irish would say: Slán agat!