Extract We searched for photos of momentous events as well as ordinary people's lives

A Nation Is Born is a new book by Michael B. Barry and John O’Byrne which is nominated in the An Post Irish Book Awards’s sponsored category.

A Nation Is Born celebrates a formative period in the history of the Irish state: the 15 years during which Ireland emerged from the rubble of wars and violence and set up as a fledgling country while establishing a diplomatic presence on the world stage. The photos presented have been hand-colourised by photographer John O’Byrne, infusing energy into this often-overlooked time. With over 150 photographs gathered from archives around the country, accompanied by insightful and accessible commentary by historian Michael B. Barry, A Nation Is Born brings a fresh perspective on our history and our past to life in a compellingly real way. Here is the introduction by Barry…

OVER THE PAST decades, Ireland has risen from being a relatively backward agricultural country to a prosperous nation with advanced industry.

In common with many first-world countries, there are great social problems (not to mention the imposed partition of the island), but in our 26-county state we can take pride that we enjoy one of the longest continuous democracies in the world and possess the first constitution ever adopted in a free referendum.

pg 130 Examiner - John Devoy Repatriation 16_06_29 View from the tender at Cobh. 1924. Examiner Examiner

Over recent years, there has been, understandably, a huge amount of attention given to the stirring period of the Irish Revolution, from 1916 to 1923. However, there is much less awareness of the decades that immediately followed. These were hugely important in the formation of present-day Ireland.

Pg 119 Bibliotheque nationale de France The whole island playing France on 31 December 1928 at the Stade Olympique de Colombes, near Paris. (Ireland won.)

Thus when John O’Byrne and I came to consider doing a book covering this period, we saw it as worthwhile, necessary and the logical continuation of our recent book The Irish Civil War in Colour.

Looking into the past

While we largely knew that this was the epoch that shaped Ireland, we had only a vague idea of the actuality. It was the time of our grandparents (in my case, my parents – in the late 30s, my mother, then a teacher in Bristol, sent money back to support her parents at their farm in West Cork, to help them survive the Economic War).

Pg 88 Examiner - Beamish Crawford Bandon 20_05_1931 The Cork brewery, Beamish and Crawford - in 1914 it acquired a brewery at Bandon, which became the Beamish and Crawford.

While in a general sense we were somewhat aware of Cosgrave, de Valera and the Blueshirts, the precise detail of the period was an unknown, a blank space (and I suspect it is the same for most of the Irish population). However, when we started investigating we were hugely impressed.

As we delved into this period, we comprehended better the important events in the constitutional, political and institutional sense, pivotal episodes that changed the nature and direction of the 26-county polity.

But, in addition to these worthy topics, it turns out that the period is a fascinating one. There were big events like the Tailteann Games, and underpinning the immense power of the Catholic Church, two great celebrations: the centenary of Catholic Emancipation and the holding of the Eucharistic Congress. The transformation from the previous Victorian way of life was well underway.

pg 168 NLI - Maude Gonne Prisoners 1932 Maud Gonne speaks at a large meeting in central Dublin.

Everything was changing – the style of dress, type of housing and social activities. There was modernisation, helped by the technical innovations of WWI such as improved cars, trucks and buses. The rapid advances in aviation had an impact: pioneering aviators of the 1920s and 1930s were drawn to this small island off the coastline of Europe, ‘the nearest parish to America’.

Choosing visuals

In selecting the images, we cast a wide net. We are fortunate that Ireland enjoys some outstanding and comprehensive archives and libraries. We searched for the photos that told of the momentous events, but also for those that depict the lives of ordinary people – the leitmotif we used was that the image must be interesting and impactful.

pg 140 ESB The ESB was established in 1927. ESB ESB

On the odd occasion, a very poor quality image had to be used to illustrate a key part of the story. In the course of writing my previous illustrated books, I have developed a particular style of accompanying each photograph with a granular caption that tells the story and helps to move the narrative along.

pg 179 NLI - Waterford 1932

There is an art in putting a large and nuanced amount of information in a small place: one has to pour a quart of information into the pint space available for the caption.

Michael B. Barry is a historian who has written many books including the bestselling Victorian Dublin Revealed, a trilogy of books on the Irish Revolution period, and the critically acclaimed An Illustrated History of the Irish Revolution 1916–1923. John O’Byrne is a professional photographer and colouriser. Over the last decade, he has specialised in colourising military scenes from the early twentieth century. A Nation Is Born is published now by Gill. It is nominated in the An Post Irish Book Awards 2023 in’s sponsored category, Best Irish Published Book of the Year. Find the full list of nominees and more information at the awards’ websiteYou can vote here

Michael B. Barry & John O'Byrne
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