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Life, death and rock n'roll: 40 years of Ireland captured in photos

Photographer Eric Luke’s book is nominated in the Irish Book Awards.

Sam Greer's Saddlers, Poolbeg Street from Looking Back The Changing Faces of Ireland by Eric Luke
Sam Greer's Saddlers, Poolbeg Street from Looking Back The Changing Faces of Ireland by Eric Luke
Image: Eric Luke

THE CHANGING FACES of Ireland are captured and examined in Eric Luke’s new photography collection Looking Back, which brings us images of Irish life across four decades.

Dublin-born Luke joined the Irish Press Group as a staff photographer in 1973, after a brief stint working in the darkrooms as a photographic printer.

In 1990 he moved to the Irish Times and began covering major news and feature stories both at home and abroad, including World Cups, Olympic Games, and assignments in Somalia, Kenya, India, Sydney, Washington and London.

He has won a World Press Photo News Award and PPAI Photographer of the Year during his long career. He’s now compiled some of his favourite photos of Ireland in Looking Back: The Changing Faces of Ireland, which is nominated in the Best Irish Published Book section of the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards, sponsored by TheJournal.ie.

Here, Luke has given our readers an insight into the background behind some of his best photos.

Sam Greer’s Saddlers, Poolbeg Street

Sam Greer's Saddlers, Poolbeg Street from Looking Back The Changing Faces of Ireland by Eric Luke Sam Greer's Saddlers, Poolbeg Street from Looking Back The Changing Faces of Ireland by Eric Luke Source: Eric Luke

“Right next door to our old Irish Press office on Poolbeg Street was the shop of Sam Greer, the last saddle and harness maker in Dublin. His grandfather, also Sam Greer, started the business in 1900. Horse owners from as far afield as the Aran Islands came to him for saddles, as the quality of his work was renowned. Greer’s saddles are still highly valued for their hand stitching and fine craftsmanship.

“We would occasionally drop into him, and he would repair one of our leather camera bags, or make a new one from scratch if he had time.

“A Sam Greer camera bag would last much longer than the camera it held! On hearing he was closing down, I asked if I could spend his last day of business with him, photographing him for the record. He kindly let me spend the day with him, and I watched as he hand-crafted his wonderful leather goods. Then he closed up shop, and another old business disappeared from the city.”

Dom McClure’s Barber Shop

Dom McClure's Barbershop, Dalkey from Looking Back The Changing Faces of Ireland by Eric Luke Dom McClure's Barbershop, Dalkey from Looking Back The Changing Faces of Ireland by Eric Luke:

“Another wonderful institution that is now long gone – the local barbershop, Dom McClure’s in Castle Street, Dalkey. Growing up in the area, my mother would frog-march me to the barber’s for a short back and sides. This meant a short journey to Pip Connolly’s in Glasthule or McClure’s in Dalkey.

“A plank would be set across the leather armrests of the solid wooden chair for a child to sit on. I never would have expected to be here thirty years later, photographing Dom before he closed up shop in the 1980s. This premises is still operating as a barber’s, now under new ownership, and the great Pip Connolly still holds court in Glasthule.”

Francis Stuart

FrancisStuart The late Francis Stuart, laid out at his home in Fanore, Co.Clare. Source: Eric Luke

“I was dispatched by the Irish Times to photograph artist Finola Graham at her home in County Clare in February 2000, as she had an exhibition due to be launched. On arrival, she told me that her husband, the writer Francis Stuart, had just died, at 97. I assisted in laying out the famous writer, and asked for permission to photograph him before the wake.

“With the dominant light coming from a naked bulb dangling from the ceiling, and a backdrop of his books and personal effects, a set designer in the Abbey Theatre could not have produced a more dramatic backdrop for the artist’s exit. This was not the picture I had gone there to get, but I ended up recording a small piece of history in a small village. It was a far cry from the enormous funeral that followed.”

Rory Gallagher

Rory Gallagher from Looking Back The Changing Faces of Ireland by Eric Luke

“In the old Carlton cinema, opposite the Gresham Hotel in O’Connell Street, Dublin, the great blues guitarist Rory Gallagher took the stage in 1975. When Rory, on a tour of Ireland, appeared on stage, the hair (I had hair then) stood up on the back of my neck. I desperately attempted to follow him with my manual focus and manual exposure, as he charged around the stage.

“Raising his guitar towards the ceiling, lost in a sea of long hair, his profile is iconic and unmistakable. The Carlton has greatly fallen from grace, now housing a bag shop on its ground floor.”

President Hillery’s daughter

The Inauguration of President Hillery from Looking Back The Changing Faces of Ireland by Eric Luke The inauguration of President Hillery Source: Eric Luke

“One of my earliest pictures for the Press group, and my first State occasion to photograph, was of the inauguration of President Patrick Hillery for his first term of office, in 1976.

“A team of photographers was dispatched to Dublin Castle and, as the most junior, I was given what was deemed to be the poorest position. Following the ceremonial swearing in, I would see the procession enter the courtyard, before disappearing from view seconds later. I spotted the President’s daughter Vivienne popping her head out, and set the manual camera focus on where her head might pop out again. Grabbing three frames, in the middle one I got lucky. This turned out to be the picture of the day, the front page of the Evening Press.”

Photos by Eric Luke. Looking Back: The Changing Faces of Ireland by Eric Luke, published by The O’Brien Press 2016, is available from all good bookshops now, priced €24.99. The book is nominated in the Best Irish Published Book section of the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards. To take part in the public voting, visit the official website.

Read: Photos: For hundreds of people, this raceway is a slice of Americana in north county Dublin>

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