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in photos

Small Lives: The Irish childhood in pics

National Photographic Archive gathers together a moving pictorial record of children in Ireland between 1880 and 1960.

THE NATIONAL PHOTOGRAPHIC Archive is running a new exhibition that brings the child out in us all – a photographic record of Irish childhood past.

Small Lives, to be launched today by Arts Minister Jimmy Deenihan, will stay on display until June 2012. The 50 photographs span over 80 years and depict the trials, joy and (very) occasional luxury of being a child in Ireland from the 1880s to the 1960s.

Aoife O’Connor, curator of the exhibition at the Archive’s Temple Bar premises on Meeting House Square, said:

We didn’t want to focus exclusively on people who could afford to have their photographs taken. I trawled through thousands of photographs before I managed to select the final 50.

This is a selection of the photographs on display:

Small Lives: The Irish childhood in pics
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  • Playing in the Water circa 1900

    Two girls have their long skirts tucked up and are holding onto each other as they paddle in the sea.
  • Bleeding Statues 1920

    During the War of Independence local people believed that a miracle had stopped Templemore from being completely destroyed. Around 15,000 people a day came to pray at the statues outside Dwan's shop. The statues were said to have begun bleeding while the town was being attacked.
  • St Patrick's Day 1924

    A group of dancers prepares for St Patrick's Day festivities in Dublin.
  • Children's Party 1924

    The note on the back of this photograph says "Party given by gentlemen to children, Dublin".
  • Saying Hello 1934

    This little girl is being introduced to a donkey at Dublin Zoo in the Phoenix Park. Her mother has given her some bread for the donkey but the little girl has decided to eat it herself.
  • Aran Island Girls 1939

    The girls in this picture are wearing a variety of traditional Aran clothing: pampooties, crios belts and crossover shawls. Pampooties are simple shoes made from a single piece of leather laced over the foot with thongs. A crios is a wide hand woven belt. The stitching on their homemade clothes is clearly visible.
  • Children play Red Cross during the Civil War 1922

    Children's games often reflect what they see around them. Here the children are acting out what must have been a familiar scene in Dublin in the years of the Civil War.
  • Na Fianna Eireann ca 1914 1923

    Military-style youth organisations for boys were popular all over Europe in the early 1900s. These boys are learning first aid.
  • Net Making circa 1890

    These boys are in the industrial Fishing School in Baltimore, County Cork. The school taught them a useful trade but conditions were very harsh.
  • Metal Man circa 1900

    This is one of three pillars built to help prevent shipwrecks at Tramore. The Metal Man is part of local folklore. These girls are perhaps a bit young to be testing the legend that if you hop barefoot around the Metal Man three times you would marry within the year.
  • Photographer's Children circa 1900

    Violet Poole and her brother help their father with some experimental photography.
  • Baby's First Pony circa 1910

    Sitting on his pony in a basket saddle this baby looks rather puzzled. His parents are obviously very proud of their first son.
  • Sisters? 1906

    This is in fact brother and sister. Young children were often dressed alike at this time. Props and poses were used to show whether the child was a boy or a girl in art and photographs - this boy is standing and has been given a toy animal instead of a doll.
  • Dress as Loosely as Possible 1910

    This teacher from Waterpark College, County Waterford has not read Simple Lessons in Drill. The book advises "the unfastening of a button on the coat or waistcoat or at the neck may often be desirable".
  • Gathering Turf 1963

    A pair of shy young girls pose for the photographer. Collecting turf was a job for the whole family. Photographed in 1963 they show a way of life that existed in Ireland for hundreds of years but is now disappearing.
  • Froebel's First Gift circa 1892

    Pictured outside their school in Connemara, Co Galway, these children are being shown Froebel's "first gift" a sphere (ball) on a string. Froebel's gifts were coloured shapes designed to teach children through touch and play.
  • School Boys circa 1892

    The poverty of the "congested districts" of Donegal and Connaught is captured in this picture of school boys.
  • School Girls circa 1892

    The girls' school is photographed on the same day as the previous picture by Major Ruttledge Fair for James Tuke. Tuke visited the west of Ireland in 1880 to report on living conditions. As part of his work to help the poor he sponsored some families to emigrate to Canada.
  • A Place to Read 1969

    Sitting in a tea chest is one way to get away from a busy market place and enjoy a book. Cumberland Street market is still held every Saturday in Dublin.
  • Skipping 1969

    The Ballymun flats in north County Dublin were built in 1966 as part of a plan to move families out of the crowded city centre and away from tenement life.
  • Posing for the camera 1969

    A young girl enjoying the sunshine during the Corpus Christi festival. Henrietta Street is one of Dublin's oldest wealthy Georgian streets where the buildings later became tenements for the working classes.

All photographs courtesy of the National Photographic Archive

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