Dublin’s Old Photographs (Extract)

Last year, I published ‘City Portraits: 100 Portraits of Everyday Life in Dublin’. This arose out of an earlier book I had written of longer pieces about Dublin, fifty in number, that I plan to publish later this year. Subjects discussed range from the Dublin Pub, our National Gallery on to portraits of the Dublin character…

Dublin’s photographs

Old men in Oxmantown putting the word into their pushbikes. Jowlstrained faces from a time when who knows what was the case.

Ghostly children that didn’t have a ghost of a chance, a-play in places you didn’t think were of interest to gawkers with cameras.

Like in the strange paintings of our ancestors, the photos of voiceless faces caught in the past: you wonder how they sounded.

The shuddering nettlegasp of the bluebeaked crowd on Hill 16 on All-Ireland Sunday as the ball hits off the post more than ten thousand minds failed to move in time.

In gray air that is not just the gray of the black and white photograph, a woman in her bathing suit is poised in mid-air, having jumped off the bank into the Liffey, the only river in the entire world it seems that supports second thoughts.

A busker in the winswepterlies, with a hat in her hand the air seems to have been suckerpunched out of, looking at the ploddingalongski she seems to have lost faith in.

Black pints poured out in the name of the inspiration they contain, the punters smiling into the shot, happy to escort evening into night at their wooden moorings.

Old women that have retained their light. Hardship around which laughter still manages to dance.

Onlookers everywhere make you wonder where the men and women of action have gone…

Women’s hands raising their hopeless scopeless lament, women whose whole lives are in their hands.

Hairdos from the ballroom of romance, besuited Woodbiners holding in their arms the first step.

You can taste the freedom of children playing out in the street, as they scramble in a blind rush to bags their oxbloods and bumblebees.

An old man stares at the Liffey flowing, as if it’s let him down somehow, a river that, if you live here long enough, seems to get into your veins, until they’re flowing in a kind of paralysis that doesn’t need any more of the world than itself.

A woman, poodle in hand, walks past the pile of topers and no-hopers on the ground, and you can taste the distaste rising off her as she bypasses the dopes in dire straits, now down’n’out in what is presumably come-uppance.

Drinks arriving to debutantes like prayers on wheels beside an old man mannered in the silence of his stout.

Mecklenburgh mamselles you’re quite frankly surprised anyone would venture up a stairs with, waiting for the business they’re lucky to have, to rear its ugly head.

Cheery bleary eyes of the morningtide, your dickiebow halfway around your neck as you strive to forget the lady at your side who has been dropped from the team.

Mountains of silenced yap. Salt of the earth bullshit at the bar, faded behind photographic paper. Orthodontist’s dreams from somewhere beyond people starting to look like each other in the name of some new-found sophistication.

The fascination of a city full of clocks you feel you can only guess the time from.

Men so obviously up for the day the way they are put together, huddled with pints and pre-match predictions which reminded me that perhaps the most exotic place I have ever been to is Dorset Street on All-Ireland Sunday (when Dublin is not playing). 

(Pat Upton)


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