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brave new world

Pictures: A new book explores how the 1950s and 1960s shaped the Dublin we know today

1950s saw the mass-introduction of cars in Dublin. The 1960s saw a people’s way of life change at a rate of knots.

05-41 Creation 1-p1bbeao8s01nck1lgkv3k10fsp7l Boutique shopping in Dublin in the 1960s Four Courts Press Four Courts Press

IN THE AFTERMATH of The Emergency, neutral Ireland’s experience of World War II, the country experienced a couple of decades’ worth of intense change, no more than the rest of the world.

The 1950s and (particularly) the 1960s saw Ireland dragged kicking and screaming into a new, modern era.

brady_dublin 1950s 1960s

How the capital evolved in those 20 years is explored, in text and evocative images, in ‘Dublin in the 1950s and 1960s: Cars, Shops and Suburbs’ by UCD geographer and Associate Professor Joe Brady, the latest volume in the Making of Dublin City series.

04-11 Grafton-p1bbeao8s21olhkhk10i7ovs17vb Traffic gridlock on Grafton Street Four Courts Press Four Courts Press

05-63 Clerys-p1bbecp9p4175b11rsvc43fbgjd Four Courts Press Four Courts Press

04-05 Parking Upper O'Connell-p1bbeao8s3l7tb2debnui1a2p Four Courts Press Four Courts Press

The evolution of the city has been an interest of Brady’s all his academic life. A native of Fairview on the city’s northside he says: “any good geographer is always interested in the landscape around them.”

“The new book looks at what things were like in Dublin in two very contrasting decades,” he says.

04-13 Sandymount-p1bbeao8s12ue1jse82msf38h8 Sandymount Strand Four Courts Press Four Courts Press

“The 50s were quite gloomy, but not for everybody. It’s true there was probably a lot of dull and fairly dark things happening in Ireland in the 50s, but for others life went on.”

The book is just an attempt to get a flavour for what the city was like.

In Brady’s own words, he does so by looking at the bigger picture, and smaller, more personal vignettes, “like the Bowl of Light on O’Connell Bridge”, which was placed there in 1953.

The Bowl was the centrepiece of An Tóstal, an annual festival that ran throughout the 1950s. “The row over it went on for nearly 10 years,” laughs Brady. “The population was horrified when they saw it – this bowl with its rotating flames.”

So you have a Trinity student who grabs the plastic flames and throws them into the Liffey, and then you have a whole load of cartoons of the Liffey flinging them back!

Bigger picture

But the book also looks at how Dublin came to evolve into its current guise – that means infrastructure, retail therapy, and house-ownership.

“The only real difference in the 1950s from the previous era was that car-ownership was on the increase,” says Brady. “And the growth in cars couldn’t be totally accommodated, but you could do so to a certain degree.”

03-17 Irish House-2-p1bbecp9ouuqldl11k1n1jsflcq O'Donovan Rossa Bridge, with Christchurch in the background Four Courts Press Four Courts Press

03-21 Aero_Merrion-p1bbecp9or1hsbtm5uun101u1jqo Merrion Square Park Four Courts Press Four Courts Press

03-09 Signal Man-p1bbeao8s426ssaqs781cvgst9 Traffic leading onto O'Connell Street Four Courts Press Four Courts Press

This leads to the 40 years of planning that went on up until a decade ago. The idea back then was to build urban motorways that cut right through the city. Fortunately, in the 1950s the money just wasn’t there.

This saw Dublin engaging in much “soul-searching” as to what kind of city would be needed by a car-owning population.

The other big movement in society, says Brady, was Dublin people’s discovery of the joys of suburban life, and the changing of the relationship between citizens and their city centre.

03-11 On the plinth-p1bbeao8s31mci1km7op7o1129 Four Courts Press Four Courts Press

02-21 Tallaght Shop-p1bbeao8s5mm0jcqg70ds018fv Tallaght, 1960s Four Courts Press Four Courts Press

“This is all a product of the 1960s,” he says. “The car is opening out areas that couldn’t previously be used. With that comes new methods of shopping, and suddenly you have alternatives to the city centre.”

In the 40s there was only one Dublin city centre. Now there are many focuses for retail sales. So you’ve got shopping centres opening in Stillorgan and Cornelscourt in the late 1960s.

So how would he describe the two decades he’s been scrutinising?

“The 50s is slow and steady, the 60s is fast and energetic.”

In the 60s people were starting to see a bit of money in their pocket. Everyone had rented before but now people are starting to think about owning their own home. They’re thinking about the car and the television, even foreign holidays.

05-62 Worth-p1bbecp9p914tju8n1ear1k6flvd The GPO on O'Connell Street, prior to the fall of Nelson's Pillar in 1966 Four Courts Press Four Courts Press

“Not everyone was of course. But it was the people who changed things.”

‘Dublin in the 1950s and 1960s: Cars, Shops and Suburbs’ is available now here

Read: Picture this: Looking back at Dublin’s old St Patrick’s Day Parades

Read: ‘This is Ireland’: Beautiful one-stop website really sells the country to the world

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