Treasure trove of old Portlaoise photographs on display for Heritage Week

Lynda Kiernan

Reporter:

Lynda Kiernan

A treasure trove of newly discovered photos of Portlaoise people taken around 70 years ago, is on display for Heritage Week in the town, and locals are asked to visit and identify who is in them.

'Identifying the Past' features some 480 prints out of an estimated 2,000 negatives taken in  Portlaoise by the late Limerick photographer Frank Goggin, famous in his day.  

The whole lot was bought in a secondhand shop in Waterford by an amateur photographer who expected them to be photos of Waterford.

Some years ago Andy Kelly bought almost 5,000 of the old negatives. He thought they were by Waterford photographer Frank Rolls, until he began the meticulous job of scanning each negative.

“The first 700 rolls of film were of Waterford, but the next 700 I scanned were not,” he said.

It took some detective work to trace the location of the photographs.
“I could see an auction photo with Mountrath written on it, so I contacted Mountrath Historic Society,” he said.

Lindsey Cuddy from the society recognised Portlaoise and she got in contact with Portlaoise Parish Office to arrange the exhibition.

It is on display for Heritage Week until next Monday August 27. The public are invited to come in to the free exhibition, and see if they can recognise anyone in the photos.
If they do recognise someone, Andy intends to give them a print of the photo free of charge.

“We are nearly on the border of being able to identify anyone, 70 years later. If not for people like Andy interested in things like this, they would be lost forever. These are very important for local and social history,” Lindsey said.

Andy is generously offering the entire collection to the Laois Heritage Officer and Laois Heritage Society, for safe keeping for the future.
“These negatives belong in Portlaoise,” he said.

Teddy Fennelly from Laois Heritage Society said the collection is important.

“It is probably the biggest collection of local pictures I've ever seen. This is about getting people to see if their families are in the photos. Everybody will be delighted if they see a granny or an aunt. And behind every picture is a story. It's an important event that we are sure will generate a lot of interest,” Mr Fennelly said.

Frank Goggin was famed in his day, travelling around Ireland and taking photos of ordinary people going about their daily routine.
He photographed couples at dances, people on the street, children getting communion and confirmation, at fair days and train stations.
It gives an extraordinary intimate glimpse into the past, with many people on their bikes, in horses and carts, and Andy noted, many wearing pioneer pins.

“You can see too who had money and who didn't, some have no socks or shoes,” noted Lindsey.
Some photos are dated to 1948, so the people featured could still be alive.

Those identified so far include the late Joe 'Hesh' McCormack, as a child selling icecream for Egan's restaurant.
Joe 'Hero' Conroy and his friend Dessie Ryan from Ridge Road are identified in another. Councillor Billy Carroll in in another photo.

Hughes Pharmacy is also in the background of several shots, as well Shaws shop, Alo Donegan's, and Grays Restaurant, beside the last thatched cottage in Portlaoise in the Top Square.
The now demolished Catholic Church that stood on Church Avenue is also photographed.

Andy Kelly began taking photos aged 7. He began collecting old photos and film in 1964. has published several photography books in his lifetime. He hopes another book will follow from this photographic collection too.
“I hope to put information about the photos in the book, so I would be delighted if people can email me with the reference number of the photo and help identify people in them, at adkelly2008@gmail.com”.

A similar exhibition will be held in Waterford in September.