Did you get your snap taken while on Cork city's Pana?

Who remembers those Cork city street photographers of yesteryear? Or a strange shipwreck? So asks JO KERRIGAN in this week’s Throwback Thursday
Did you get your snap taken while on Cork city's Pana?

A Robert Day picture of old Cork. His earliest photographs date from the 1860s and continue until his death in 1914

READER Tim Cagney wrote to us recently to ask how many of you have an old sepia picture in your albums, showing yourselves as toddlers with your mothers in the streets of Cork.

These would have been taken by the opportunistic cameramen who, back in the 1940s and ’50s, and perhaps even up into the ’60s, patrolled Pana and other crowded shopping areas, seizing the opportunity to ‘snap’ a charming mother and child or other likely subject.

They would then hand out a card, and the picture could later be purchased from the business office, usually upstairs over a shop.

Nowadays, observes Tim, when nearly everybody owns a mobile phone that takes excellent pictures, it might seem difficult to imagine a time when possessing a camera was almost unheard of among the general population, being more or less reserved for the well-to-do.

“Indeed, when I was a ‘garsún’ - more than 70 years ago - such contraptions were mostly seen in brown leather cases, hanging from the necks of corpulent returned Yanks,” recalls Mr Cagney.

“My own father never owned a camera, but used to borrow one - a Box-Brownie - from a friend, for the purpose of recording our annual trips to Crosshaven, for the holidays.

“It’s highly likely that he didn’t even know how to load the film - he probably wound the spool on, as necessary, until all frames were exposed, and then handed the entire device to the local pharmacy, who would extract the film and send it somewhere for developing.

“About 10 days later, a bulging packet, containing the prized prints, would be retrieved from said outlet, and brought home for eager inspection by the family.

“Most of the images were, of course, in black and white - colour was only found in magazines, such as National Geographic. (I wasn’t allowed read such material, of course, on account of the proliferation of naked tribal breasts displayed in its pages!)”

In Cork - and elsewhere, in the ’50s and ’60s - a common feature of life was the street photographer, says Tim. 

“Such an individual (always a man) would patrol the city thoroughfares, camera in hand, and snap people at random.

“It is doubtful if he ever asked permission of his subjects whether or not they were willing to be photographed - can you imagine that, in the ‘woke’ culture of today?

“Remuneration was achieved by handing the subject a card, bearing a reference number. Such card would later be presented at his business premises, where the mysterious arts of the darkroom were practised, and the finished print retrieved. I wonder what they charged?”

Throwback Thursday reader Tim Cagney in the 1950s with his Aunt Molly in Cork city. “And yes, those curls are real! Strict ‘boys’ haircuts were still in my future!” Tim says
Throwback Thursday reader Tim Cagney in the 1950s with his Aunt Molly in Cork city. “And yes, those curls are real! Strict ‘boys’ haircuts were still in my future!” Tim says

Tim most kindly shared a treasured family photograph with us, dating from the 1950s.

“The delightful cherub in the accompanying photograph is none other than your humble servant. And yes, those curls are real! Strict ‘boys’ haircuts were still in my future!”

Tim adds: “Holding my hand firmly is my much-loved aunt, Mary (Molly) Cagney.

“‘Aunty Molly’ lived her entire life at 13a, Cattle Market Street (later re-named Glen Ryan Road). She never had children of her own, but doted on me and my younger brother, Con. Sadly, we lost Con to a brain-tumour in 2019.

“The photograph was, most likely, shot in Pána. It is, perhaps, a glowing testament to the photographic technology of the time, that the image is still viewable. 

"I actually ran it through an enhancing software known as Lightroom, but - other than cropping it - actually had very little to do. I wonder if prints of the digitised images we so randomly shoot today will retain their viewing quality, after the passage of 70 years or more?”

Indeed, Tim was recently told that many modern-day photographers - at the high end - eschew the convenience of digital technology in favour of film, and the traditional and more reliable techniques of the darkroom.

“I’m reminded of the battle between compact discs and vinyl!” he adds.

We did a bit of research on this topic, asking old hands like renowned photographer Billy McGill who such street practitioners might have been.

He was most helpful, suggesting that the Healy brothers, George and Val, could well have been engaged in this work, and they certainly had an office in Oliver Plunkett Street where the pictures would have been developed.

Billy also referenced the late great Roy Hammond, long a photographer with the Echo and Examiner, who, when he left the RAF in the late 1940s, engaged in just this sort of ‘snap on the go’ work before finding his metier with De Paper (and later RTÉ).

The developing prosperity of the later 1960s would have rendered such casual outdoor work superfluous, as personal cameras became less expensive and more generally available. Anybody could have a little snapping camera, with a slot-on flashbulb for taking shots at parties.

The professional photographic businesses morphed into working for organised occasions such as conferrings, dances, weddings, etc. That was hard work, though, as Richard Mills recalls.

“This was before I went to work for the Examiner and Echo - I was still at UCC and keen to earn anything I could in my spare time. You would go down to the dance or the dinner, take as many pictures as you could, handing out the little numbered slips, then, as they got into the swing of the evening, you rushed back to the darkroom and developed the shots as quickly as possible, so as to be back at the venue before the evening finished. Otherwise, people would call round in the following days to collect their images.”

There are probably quite a few of those pictures still around, tucked into family albums. Let us know if you have any!

And do let us see any shots that might have been taken of you as a small child, being taken down town to do the shopping, as a treat. They are a great record of an older, simpler Cork.

Of course, Cork in all its charm, with all its fascinating street scenes, was captured on film by others too, who could not possibly be described as ‘street photographers’ and certainly had other concerns to attend to, leaving the camera work to their spare time, as a much-loved hobby. Probably the best known and most remembered for the splendid records they left behind, were Robert Day and Anthony Barry.

Both of these (though almost a generation apart) were well established businessmen of the city, and practised their camera skills on recording streets and groups for purely the pleasure of it. The idea of making money out of their hobbies would never have occurred to either of them.

Day (1836-1914) was both an antiquarian and a photographer at a time when the latter craft was still in its infancy. He was involved in his family’s extensive saddlery business on Patrick Street, which grew in later years into a large and splendid ‘shop of dreams’ for eager children yearning for a magical train set, seeking some rare stamps, or taking their dolls to buy a new wardrobe of specially made tiny clothes.

He also set up a sports shop well known to Cork anglers.

Day had married into the Scott family, who had an ironmongery business on King (now McCurtain) Street. Scott’s is still functioning, although now in North Main Street.

Day’s earliest photographs date from the 1860s and continue until his death in 1914. Full of atmosphere and depicting a Cork that has almost entirely disappeared, they are now part of the Day Collection, which also has photographs by his son William (‘Willy’) Tottenham Day (1874-1965), and grandson Alec (1902-1980).

It would be Alec Day who was familiar to anyone growing up in the ’50s and ’60s, sometimes to be seen standing outside his Patrick Street shop.

Another grandson was the noted writer and wood engraver Robert Gibbings, who created, among many other works, those two wonderful books which should be on the shelves of every Corkonian, Lovely Is The Lee (1944) and Sweet Cork Of Thee (1951). If you chance to find a copy of Forgotten Cork: The Day Collection. by Colin Rynne and Billy Wigham, published by the Collins Press in 2004, grab it.

Former Lord Mayor, Anthony Barry, had enough to do with growing the famous family tea business, but enjoyed taking pictures of his beloved city in any spare time he had, mostly in the 1960s.

The book Cork In The 1960s.
The book Cork In The 1960s.

Some of these were published in Cork In The 1960s (Mercier Press, 2014) compiled by his granddaughter, Orla Kelly, and her mother Terry, with the aid of local historian Michael Lenihan.

And it is good to know that a large collection of Barry’s photographs has been bequeathed to the city archives, thereby ensuring their survival for posterity.

Now, here is a fascinating shipping incident from the late 1950s, recalled by Pat Kelly from Blackrock.

“I had been working for a while in Thompsons, on the confectionery side, but longed for the outdoors, fresh air and sunshine. About 1958 or so, I was fortunate enough to be transfered to the bread vans, delivering, around Carrigaline, Currabinny, Ringaskiddy, Shanballagh, Raffeen, and Monkstown.

“On this particular day, we were returning from our rounds, and coming towards Monkstown, when we saw a shocking sight. It was a cargo ship which had somehow missed the channel past Monkstown and Carrigaloe, and was sailing up the Rafeem creek, where the water was getting shallower and shallower!

“Local people saw the ship sailing past, and waved frantically to the crew, GET BACK, but the crew thought that they were simply waving in welcome, and kept going.

“Of course, eventually the ship got stuck in the mud - truly up the creek, without a paddle!”

As we all know, every ship that enters Cork Harbour is met by a pilot who guides it through the safer, deep channels, but for some reason this particular pilot didn’t seem to realise what was happening. “I suppose you could say it was the cock-up of cock-ups!” comments Pat.

He wonders if any older residents in Monkstown recall the incident, where the ship was embedded in the mud, and had to wait for the next high tide to float it off? If so, get in touch! We will do some searching in the archives ourselves and come back next week with any more detail on this Wreck of the Hesperus...

Keep up these stories of a different time in Cork, urges Pat. “Sometimes they seem to be of a different city, things have changed so much.”

We will, Pat, and you keep remembering!

Anybody else with good memories of the past on Leeside, tell us about them. Email jokerrigan1@gmail.com. Or leave a comment on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/echolivecork

More in this section

Sponsored Content

Add Echolive.ie to your home screen - easy access to Cork news, views, sport and more