Old Ireland Alive Anew In Color

Old Ireland In Colour brings a vivid new look to long ago photos

By Ray O'Hanlon

Is there a reason why a national memorial to the dead and maimed of World War I has only been unveiled these past few days in the nation's capital?

There are a number of reasons. I wonder if one of them is that the "Great War," that "War To End All Wars," has been somehow rendered distant and abstract by our mental images of it. Much of what we know of that first global conflict was for years, decades, presented in rapid moving black and white film.

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Anyone who has seen Peter Jackson's masterful documentary, "They Shall Not Grow Old," has seen that distance fade away, has been moved well beyond the abstract.

In the film, and certainly not to deliver a disrespectful pun, World War I comes alive in a way that has never been the case in the century and more since the guns finally went silent.

Similarly, a past Ireland comes alive between the covers of a recently published book, "Old Ireland In Colour, a treasure trove of black and white photos newly presented in color by way of cutting edge technology that moves us beyond mere "colorization" and into a new realm of, well, to borrow the phrase, "living color."

According to the publishers, County Kildare-based Merrion Press/Irish Academic Press (full disclosure, they are also this writer's current publisher) "Old Ireland in Colour celebrates the rich history of Ireland and the Irish through the colour restoration of stunning images of all walks of Irish life, and the Irish abroad, throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. From the chaos of the Civil War to the simple beauty of the islands, each image has been exquisitely transformed and every page is bursting with life.

"Using a combination of cutting-edge artificial intelligence technology and his own historical research, John Breslin has meticulously colourised these pictures with breathtaking attention to detail and authenticity. With over 170 photographs from all four provinces, and accompanied by fascinating captions by historian Sarah-Anne Buckley, Old Ireland in Colour revitalises scenes we thought we knew, and brings our past back to life before our eyes."

According to a CNN report, "Combining digital technology with painstaking historical research, professors John Breslin and Sarah-Anne Buckley at the National University of Ireland, Galway, have been able to turn photos, originally shot in black in white, into rich color images.

"The collection spans centuries and regions of Ireland, as well as the country's diaspora. It includes portraits of key figures like Oscar Wilde and poet W.B. Yeats, as well as defining moments in history, like the Titanic setting sail from the Belfast shipyard where it was constructed.

"Yet, some of the most compelling photos depict everyday scenes - people herding pigs, spinning wool or packed onto the back of horse-drawn carts. And while poverty is evident in pictures of barefoot villagers crowding around for a photo, or of Dublin's working-class tenement buildings, there are also well-to-do family shots and depictions of upper-class pastimes like fox hunting.

"An entire section of the book is dedicated to the Irish revolutionary period, which spans from the early 1910s to 1923."

Breslin and Buckley explain the reasoning, the work, and the technology behind the book in their joint introduction.

Yes, you could describe "Old Ireland In Colour" as a coffee table tome. But it's not of the sort that is going to gather dust on said table. It is available from all usual book sources, and of course can be viewed, in color, at www.merrionpress.ie.