Thousands of Anthony Barry’s pictures have been donated to Cork archives. They offer a look at life on Leeside in decades gone by, writes Marjorie Brennan
BARRY’S Tea is one of the most recognisable Cork brands at home — and abroad, if the contents of many emigrant’s suitcases are anything to go by.
Now, the famous family name is adding to its legacy with the transfer of a large tranche of photographs taken by former Lord Mayor Anthony Barry to the city archives.
Father to the late politician and businessman Peter, and grandfather to current MEP Deirdre Clune, Anthony Barry’s main preoccupation was the tea business which made his family name famous, though the Barrys began at a more modest level.
Anthony owned small grocery shops in Bridge Street and Princes Street which had been established by his father James, and in time these premises were to provide the basis for the family tea business.
He was also deeply involved in local politics — he worked as an election agent and was elected as a TD for Cork in 1954 and 1961, when he was also Lord Mayor of the city.
It was also around this time that Barry, an enthusiastic and accomplished photographer, began taking photographs of city life. The donated collection comprises more than 200 albums of photographs taken in the 1960s and 1970s, which are now in the city and county archive repository in Blackpool.
It is currently in the process of being catalogued — a massive undertaking, given that the albums contain more than 5,000 original prints in black and white, and colour.
The donation and transfer of the photographs was officially marked at an event with the current Lord Mayor Tony Fitzgerald yesterday. The first phase of the archive presentation project was also launched at the event, with several hundred images from the archive now publicly accessible online.
The photos, taken on a Leica and Rolliflex, vividly evoke Cork life in the 1960s and 1970s and present a candid, unrehearsed record of the people of the city going about their daily business.
The fashions of the time are well-represented, with sharply-dressed shoppers and gentlemen in both snappy hats and soft caps in abundance in the street shots.
The photos are sure to strike a chord with anyone who remembers the Cork of 40 and 50 years ago — the traders and workers of the city, including the legendary shawlies of the Coal Quay, are portrayed, as are mothers in headscarves pushing classic prams.
Shop fronts which were replaced decades ago will find viewers racking their brains for the location, and there is also evidence that parking was a challenge for drivers in Cork even half a century ago.
Pictures from Barry’s travels abroad also feature, with an especially striking image of soldiers standing sentry in Nazi Germany, curiously holding shovels, not guns.
Some of Barry’s pictures were previously published in Cork in the 1960s which was released by Mercier Press in 2014 and compiled by Anthony Barry’s granddaughter Orla Kelly and her mother Terry, assisted by local historian Michael Lenihan.
As Orla Kelly told the Irish Examiner on the publication of the book, while none of the shots were published or exhibited in her grandfather’s lifetime, he took great care in printing and storing them. He printed thousands, but he probably took five times more.
“It was a laborious process back then to print photos, he developed them in the bath at home. When we visited, he’d tell us he was using the bathroom for three hours. And for nearly 8,000 images that he printed, remember he himself had already selected those [from the negatives] as the better ones from maybe 30,000 pictures he actually took,” she said.
The acquisition of the archive is a major coup for the Cork City and County Archives, which states that the collection would be significant alone in the fact it illustrates a city through the lens of a former mayor, but what is most striking is Barry’s sense of clarity, purpose, and a keen eye for the subject matter at hand.
The tea merchant and politician may not have been a professional snapper, but his instinctive empathy for his fellow citizens was obvious.
* Check out the archive here.
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