They say a picture is worth a thousand words. When it comes to historical events this old addage rings especially true. Preserving photographic evidence of Ireland’s history is incredibly important to understanding and remembering our heritage which is why the Irish Photo Archive is dedicated to digitizing the massive amount of film that is stockpiled in the small Dublin-based office.
The content of the 3.5 million negatives the Irish Photo Archive curates covers 60 years of Irish history from visits by US President John F Kennedy, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Muhammed Ali to quiet photographs that document every day Irish life, industry, sporting events and nature.
The photographs are used for a multitude of purposes; to illustrate books, be displayed at museums or photography exhibits, for use in newspapers or simply for a personal collection.
The process of digitizing the photos is fairly straightforward, consisting of scanning the negatives in a PC, enlarging, rotating and enhancing the image before uploading it to the Irish Photo Archive website. While the process is simple, the sheer amount of images that have been accumulated over the company’s 60 year history makes this a gargantuan task for the Lensmen’s small team.
A typical day would consist of scanning a box of negatives from the many that line the wall of the office. One set of negatives was recently digitized by the request of a dosumentarian, putting together a film about extreme weather conditions in Ireland. After receiving the request we consulted the handwritten logs left by Lensmen’s previous photographers, going to the year of 1963 to find the details of the photographs of the weather conditions that year. After finding the entry in the log book we find the box that corresponds to the number in the book and proceed to scan the negatives and perform any digital enhancements that may be required.
Irish Photo Archive – boxes of negatives
1963 saw one of the harshest winters Ireland has ever faced, covering most of the nation in thick layers of snow and ice. The pictures in the archive depicted scenes of neighbourhoods blanketed in snow, icy ponds and snowball fights. Blizzards and snowdrifts affected people living in the eastern parts of Ireland, creating dangerous living conditions for weeks as the temperature plummeted below freezing.


Children playing in the snow – 1963

Once scanned and sent to the requestee, the photos are then added to the online archive helping to weave the rich tapestry that is Ireland’s national history. While not all of the photos document a momentous event in Irish history, they all offer a snapshot of Irish life throughout the years, tapping into our shared notalgia for simpler times. Explore the online photo archive for yourself to look more about Ireland’s days gone by.