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Dublin: 10°C Tuesday 28 September 2021

The mysterious young doctor who captured Ireland in black and white

John J Clarke loved taking photographs of the world around him – and luckily for us, 200 of his photos have been digitised.

12185831635_d0b3b77bf8_z Source: John J Clarke via National Library of Ireland


As a student, he took photographs of the world around him, never imagining that in years to come they would give future generations an idea of how much Ireland had changed.

The photos, which are thought to have been taken between 1897 and 1904, show that he was a man interested in people, and not immune to a bit of fun.

vtls000168782 JJ Clarke Source: NLI

Thanks to some intrepid sleuthing by NLI fans, we know that in 1910 a young John Joseph Clarke was an undergraduate medical student aged 21 and boarding at 8 Albans Road (Merchant’s Quay) in Dublin.

He was born in Monaghan and could speak both Irish and English.

He was one of three boarders (all Catholic) staying at the Cooke home. The Cookes were headed by 40-year-old mother Margaret, who had a daughter aged nine and a son aged six.

Perhaps she took in boarders as her husband was deceased, or no longer living with the family?

By 1911, JJ Clarke was GP, and staying in a Co Monaghan hotel on the night of that year’s census.

The photos Clarke took, which can be found in the National Library, show that he was particularly interested in people, moreso than buildings.

CLAR_026 The junction of Nassau Street, Grafton Street and Suffolk Street. Source: John J Clarke via NLI

CLAR_032 Young man on Merrion Square, smoking a pipe. Source: John J Clarke via NLI


As a student, he spent much of his time around Westmoreland St, Grafton St, Merrion Square, Stephen’s Green and Earlsfort Terrace, where he took much of his photographs.

vtls000168597 Source: John J Clarke via NLI



He also took photos while traveling, capturing Bray, Kingstown, and some small villages.


CLAR_078 A young girl riding a tricycle along the seafront. Source: John J Clarke via NLI

Dr Clarke never married, and died at the age of 82. Thankfully his surviving prints and plates were donated to the National Photographic Archive in 2000 by his nephew, Brian Clarke.


CLAR_010 Two women walk down Grafton Street Source: John J Clarke via NLI

vtls000168823A ship moored at Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire)Source: John J Clarke

CLAR_041 Boy and girl sitting on a bathing box. Source: John J Clarke via NLI

Portraits like the one below show that Clarke had a keen eye for detail and framing, and knew how to use depth of field to draw the viewer in.

CLAR_142 Young girl eating a biscuit Source: John J Clarke

To view all of his photographs, visit the NLI archives.

Read: Heritage Ireland: Who is this man with the frightfully fancy tomb?>

Read: Can you believe these Clare sisters were photographed 127 years ago?>

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