Those pictured above -- more likely both of them -- had witnessed and survived another pandemic, the Irish Famine, where generations of whole families were swept away by starvation, typhoid and influenza. Their weather-beaten lined faces tell a story of resilience, and perhaps determination and pride. Their home-spun, bespoke clothes are not of the poorer quality, there is some money here, even for his cravat and her wool shawl. Were they in Lisdoonvarna, for the match-making festival, seeking a bride for the son, seeking health from the sulphur spa and the bracing cliff walks.
If so, why the elaborate and expensive photograph?
Photo top was taken in Lisdoonvarna, circa 1890, probably from the Lawrence Collection of photos, housed in the National Library. Photo courtesy of Pat Herbert
Look more closely. Aside from his cravat and bowler hat and bushy beard, he is holding some sort of memorial card, perhaps, or a boat-ticket, or even, a land-deed. ... He is holding it up very deliberately, he wanted it to be part of the photo, wanted it to be recorded and preserved, it's definitely a message, perhaps intended for the recipient of this especially posed photograph, not an inexpensive luxury for the time, this was taken professionally by a photographer in a studio.
For whom was the message intended?
Maybe he, or she was someone who had emigrated -- to America, Canada, Australia?
Perhaps they'd paid for memorial cards, for the old lady's husband?
Or maybe, perhaps it is a travel ticket, to America, for one or both of them to reunite with the wealthier, now emigrated family member overseas?
Yes, to me this photo is an enigma, but it is a fascinating mystery? I don't have the right answer as to why they'd gone and had it taken, but using my imagination, my favourite explanation is that this is a land-deed document that he is holding, the title deed to a small farm, somewhere in County Clare.
Maybe these two had been sent money by their family overseas, to buy out their Irish farm, perhaps from an encumbered estate, or an unwilling and previously harsh and uncaring land-lord and this was proof they'd done as requested, and had bought the family farm, or house, using the monies remitted to them from overseas.
So many people had been evicted over the previous 50 years in Ireland and in County Clare, where my dad's folks come from -- evictions were commonplace and devastating.
That is my guess: They had been evicted, with devastating consequences for the family, some of whom had emigrated, and now 50 years later, the farm is bought back, free and clear, 500 years of subjugation, brutalisation, degradation and eviction, yet, all made good by an emigrant's hard work and determination to right a wrong, to reclaim their land, their heritage and their pride.
Yes, I do love this photograph, and the quirky memories it evokes.
These are the stories I tell in O'Connor's Bar in Salthill Galway O'Connors Bar Galway during my Fireside Tours, and on the streets of #Galway, on my Walking Tours of Galway ... Hopefully all will be back to normal again soon, and we can once again be walking and talking on the streets of Galway and Salthill. Stay well. Stay safe. See you on the other side!