Welcome to Irish Photo Archive where Irish historical images and documents have been made available for you to purchase online.

We sell historical, archived images from every day Irish life as well as significant events in the country’s history.

From an archive of over 3.5 million images you can see the many significant characters that visited Ireland over the years. Have a look and enjoy!

Friday, 31 July 2015

Miami Showband killings

On the morning of the first day of August in 1975, Ireland woke up to the shocking news of the paramilitary murder of three members of the Miami Showband. This very popular band, often dubbed ‘The Irish Beatles’, had been ambushed by the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) at a fake roadblock on their way back from a gig in Banbridge, County Down, where the shootings occurred. Two members of the band survived.

The Miami Showband played the same type of music as all the other showbands of the era: covers of chart music, with some Irish ballads and traditional songs mixed in. They did not sing political songs, or make any comment on the Troubles or Northern Ireland politics.

The Miami Showband was where Dickie Rock first rose to fame, and they had seven No.1’s in the Irish charts in the 1960s and ‘70s and were the first Irish artist to go straight to No.1 spot for their single, ‘Every Step of the Way’. They also represented Ireland in the Eurovision in 1966 and appeared on British TV.

The Miami Showband celebrating their third anniversary as a band
29 November 1965
Members of the Miami Showband check their photos at Baily Gibson Printers
2 December 1964
The line up of the band changed several times before 1975, with the biggest upheaval in 1972 when Dickie Rock went solo. On the night what became known as ‘the Miami Showband Massacre’, the line-up was Des Lee (saxophonist), Brian McCoy (trumpeter), Tony Geraghty (guitarist), Fran O'Toole (lead singer), Steven Travers (bassist) and Ray Millar (drummer – who survived the attack when he drove back to Dublin by himself).

The armed forces in Northern Ireland regularly set up roadblocks at that time, so it was not an unusual event to encounter one. When the band pulled up in their van, they were politely asked to leave the vehicle as it was being checked. The men at the checkpoint, all dressed in British Army uniforms, talked to the musicians about the gig they’d had that night while the van was being ‘checked’.

However, under the pretense of the security check, two of the UVF men were installing a bomb in the back of the van. It was set with a timer, but detonated as they left the van, killing them both instantly. All the members of the Miami Showband were knocked into the field or ditch beside the road with the force of the blast. The remaining gunmen panicked after the blast, and started firing at the band to eliminate all witnesses to the event.

Brian McCoy died almost instantly in the first volley of shots, with Fran O’Toole and Tony Geraghty shot down as they tried to run away. Des Lee had been knocked into the ditch by the door of the van, which also helped conceal him from the gunmen. Steven Travers had been hit by a bullet, but survived by playing dead.

It is believed that the bomb was intended to detonate within the Republic, and that the musicians could then be accused of transporting arms for republican paramilitaries. All the attack did was increase tensions across Ireland in an already volatile time, and make other showbands reluctant to travel to Northern Ireland. It brought the careers of some much loved musicians to a brutal end, and added to the toll of innocent people caught in the middle of the Troubles.

All images available @ Irish Photo Archive

Friday, 24 July 2015

Radio and the Irish national identity

The national radio service, Radio Eireann, was envisaged as a tool for shaping a suitable national identity in the aftermath of independence, built on three pillars of religion, sport and culture.

The first regular Sunday Mass was broadcast by Radio Eireann in 1948, the year the Republic was born. The Angelus was first broadcast on Radio Éireann  in 1960, and the tradition is still continued to this day on the national TV station.

We have spoken about the strict control the church hierarchy held over dance clubs in Ireland previously here in our Dancing in the Moonlight blog. However, céilí music proved to be very popular on the radio, and people gathered to listen to dancing on the radio. This may seem ridiculous today, but the compere would call out the dance steps so that the audience could follow, and perhaps learn the dance at home. Denis ‘Din Joe’Fitzgibbeon was perhaps the best known compere, as he guided the audience through many episodes of ‘Take the Floor’.

'Din Joe' Fitzgibbeon recording an episode of 'Take the Floor'
11 April 1957
Radio Éireann was always dependent on advertising as well as license fees for revenue, which lead to the introduction of sponsored programmes. These programmes often included jazz or popular music not otherwise approved for broadcasting on the national radio station, and were accused of lowering the cultural tone.

However, these programmes proved far more popular with the general audience, especially to evening programmes on Radio Éireann when most of the audience would switch to BBC or pirate radio stations. One of the most popular of these programmes was ‘The Kennedys of Castleross’, which started broadcasting in 1955. It was the first soap opera in Ireland, and indeed one of the first in the world.

Radio Éireann began live coverage of the All Ireland finals from the year it was created, one of the first European stations to offer live sports coverage. The coverage of the All Ireland finals became a ritual for the station, and later on for national television also. These broadcasts not only emphasized the importance of the games unique to Irish culture and heritage, but with the attendance of heads of state and the clergy at finals, Irish politics, religion and people were bonded together.

Michael O'Hehir commemtating at Croke Park
17 August 1952
This control over Irish airwaves could not continue indefinitely, and with the introduction of television, 2FM, and the ready access to UK and US television or pirate radio stations, Irish people were able to easily look elsewhere for content to suit their individual tastes or whims. 

These days, Sunday Mass is still available on medium wave broadcasts, and the All-Ireland finals remain a very popular feature, but the airwaves are also full of jazz, pop and even rap. And still, something that happens on the radio can capture the attention of the whole nation, and spread to the TV, the internet, and conversations in the pub.

All photographs available @ Irish Photo Archive

Friday, 17 July 2015

Muhammad Ali in Ireland

Conor McGregor and Katie Taylor may be ruling the world of combat sports right now – both in their own inimitable style – but in 1972, Ireland was obsessed with a boxer from a foreign shore when Muhammad Ali cameto fight in Croke Park.

The fight was a scheme dreamed up by Kerryman native and London pubman Butty Sugrue, who first came to public notice as a strongman capable of holding up a man seated on a chair by his teeth, etc. Other publicity stunts he pulled involved burying a man alive for 61 days in his garden, and claiming that the head of Nelson’s statue would appear in his London pub after the monument was blown up in 1959.

Muhammad Ali talking with Jack Lynch, with Butty Sugrue in the background
12 July 1972
Sugrue also brought Joe Lewis and Henry Cooper on tours to Ireland, but the Muhammad Ali gig was his most high profile endeavour. Lining up Al ‘Blue’ Lewis as an opponent also meant that the fight could not be considered a walkover for Ali. Lewis was known as a heavy hitter, and was avoided by most of the top boxers out of fear he could do damage to them. Ali accepted him as an opponent because he wanted to give him a fight, and afterwards, he continued to rank Lewis as one of the toughest boxers he’d faced.
Muhammad Ali at Dublin Airport
11 July 1972
Muhammad Ali touched down in Dublin Airport to a crowd of adoring fans a week before his fight was scheduled, and not many people believed he would appear until they saw him waving a shillelagh at RTÉ cameras. His week was full of publicity events and occasions that allowed him to mix with everyday people. He would walk up O’Connell Street to the Gresham, where his manager Harold Conrad was staying, bringing the whole street to a standstill as pedestrians and motorists stopped to flock around him.

Ali was also brought on official visits to places such as Stewarts Hospital in Palmerstown, the Oireachtas buildings where he had a sit-down with Taoiseach Jack Lynch, a veteran of Croke Park battles. Leinster House also ground to a halt that day, as TDs, Senators and service staff all fell under the spell of ‘The People’s Champion’. His interview with Cathal O’Shannon is still famous today, with clips featuring on the documentary I am Ali.

Ali surrounded by fans and members of his entourage at Stewarts Hospital
15 July 1972
In the meantime, the organisers behind the fight were growing concerned at the slow pace of tickets sales. Sugrue tried to assure them that the venue would be swamped on the day, and that their purses were safe. He was proved right about Croke Park getting swamped on the day of the fight, but unfortunately most punters forgot to pay their entry fee as they slipped in over the walls or through unprotected gaps. The two fighters got their fees in full, but Sugrue took a huge hit to his finances as he absorbed the brunt of the losses.

The fight
19 July 1972
Nobody in Croke Park for the fight would have looked for their money back anyway, even if they had bothered to pay. Ali never looked in danger, but he still had to manage to avoid the famous Lewis southpaw. The fight lasted until the eleventh round, when it was obvious Lewis could not take any more pounding from Ali. After Ali was declared the winner, the crowd burst into the ring to congratulate their hero in person. Souvenirs were swiped from the ring, and it took half an hour to get the boxers back to their changing rooms.

Ali left Ireland the next day, another fight done and dusted for him. However, the visit seemed to hold much greater significance for Lewis. Not only did he get a chance to box with one of the greatest, but he seemed to really enjoy his time in Ireland too. Years later, he told the sportswriter Dave Hannigan, “I do love Ireland though, they treated me like I was somebody over there. Like I was somebody.” For a former convict and a black man growing up in the racial tensions of the sixties in the US, the Irish welcome probably was a memorable occasion in his life. After all, though Ali was the star in the ring, it always takes two to rumble.

All photos available @ Irish Photo Archive

Friday, 10 July 2015

Dancing in the moonlight

These images of a nighttime roadside dancein County Tipperary in 1958 may look like a light-hearted summertime event, but sadly, church disapproval of dance halls as ‘dens of vice’ meant many people had no other option if they wanted an outlet for social dancing.

Roadside dancing at Kilcoran, Cahir, Co. Tipperary
10 July 1958
The Ken Loach film Jimmy’s Hall was centred around this theme of local people battling against the church authorities and their influence over social, educational, political and business circles. It tells the story of Jimmy Gralton, who tried to reopen a dance hall in County Leitrim in 1932 after his return from the United States, only to come up against the wrath of the local clergy and politicians. Gralton was deported from Ireland in 1933 after he also became involved in fighting evictions of tenant farmers.

The Public Dance Halls Act was brought into force in 1935, whereby a license for a dance hall could only be obtained if approved by a district judge, many of whom were biased against jazz music and even set dancing. In Traditional Music and Irish Society: Historical Perspectives, the historian Kevin Whelan is quoted as saying ‘the impact of the 1935 Act was draconian, making it practically impossible to hold dances without the sanction of the trinity of clergy, police and judiciary.’

This stranglehold over Irish social life continued for the next couple of decades, so people began to create their own pop-up dance halls, usually in quiet, deserted areas where they hoped to be able to escape observation. The dance floors were constructed out of planks of wood, or maybe discarded doors, barrel tops, dismantled packing boxes – anything that provided a level footing for the dancers.

However, raids on these gatherings were common, either by the police or by the clergy. Bryan McMahon is also quoted in Traditional Music and Irish Society recalling how ‘wooden platforms were set on fire by curates; surer still, the priests drove their motorcars backwards and forward over the timber platforms; concertinas were sent flying into hill streams, and those who played the music at dances were branded as outcasts.’

The Dance Hall Act is still in operation, though perhaps not enforced with as much rigidity as previously. However, it was brought back into prominence in the twenty-first century when Peter Stringfellow opened a lap-dancing club in Dublin. Old habits die hard.

All photos available @ Irish Photo Archive

Friday, 3 July 2015

Fire at Power’s Distillery

In 1961, a large fire broke out in the Powers Distillery on John’s Lane in Dublin. Fortunately, the fire occurred when the distillery was not in use, but it did destroy a storage warehouse containing about 4,000 casks of maturing whiskey. The fire drew a crowd of onlookers, some of whom were delighted to find the whiskey flowing through the streets. Perhaps it was mixed with the water from the firehoses, and had a great smoky flavour as well!

Happy onlookers at the Power's distillery fire
5 July 1961
The Powers Distillery had been almost completely destroyed by fire in 1859, and as a result, the company installed several fire safety features, including its own fire brigade. This brigade, as well as the fire brigade from Guinness, was requisitioned by the Dublin service during the 1916 Rising, when O’Connell Street and other parts of the city centre were engulfed in flames.

Powers distillery on fire
5 July 1961
After the 1859 fire, Powers rebuilt their distillery, taking advantage of the destruction to create a state-of-the-art facility; one that was much admired by all in the industry and as a beautiful piece of architecture also. However, when Power’s joined up with Jameson’s and the Cork Distilleries to form the Irish Distillers Group, it was decided to move all whiskey distilling to a purpose-built site in Midleton in Cork. After 1976, no whiskey was distilled again in Dublin until this year, when the Teeling Distillery opened in Newmarket Square (with a beautiful café open to the public as well).

Tasting the blends
8 December 1965

Despite leaving their Dublin headquarters, Powers remained one of the leading whiskey brands in the country, well-known for sponsoring sports events such as the Irish Grand National. The National College of Art and Design took over the former site of the distillery, and voluntarily maintained some aspects of the original architecture.  The college is not officially open to the public, but if people ask politely at reception, the friendly staff have been known to show what is left of the distillery. A preservation order has now officially been placed on the remaining shell of the distillery, ensuring that the beautiful architecture will continue to last for prosperity.

Powers vans at Johns Lane
25 August 1965