Eleanor Hughes reviews The Ruins of Dublin, 1916 – A Photographic Record by Thomas Johnson Westropp made available by The Library of Trinity College Dublin & Google Cultural Institute.
The sheer amount of events and exhibitions celebrating the centenary of the Easter Rising is almost overwhelming. However one showcase of particular note is the Library of Trinity College Dublin’s new online photography exhibition, The Ruins Of Dublin, 1916 – A Photographic Record By Thomas Johnson Westropp. It is in collaboration with and available on Google Cultural Institute. The Google Cultural Institute partners with cultural institutions from around the world to bring the world’s heritage to your screens and fingertips. This exhibition falls under the theme Ireland Easter Rising 1916, on a platform where many other Irish cultural institutes have also contributed material. Google Cultural Institute crops some of these images from the original album to maximise viewing potential online.
‘These images bring vividly to life the impact of the Rising on everyday life in Dublin.’
The Ruins of Dublin, 1916 documents the rubble and ruins of Dublin city, just after the 1916 Easter Rising. The photos were mainly taken between the 17th and 18th of May 1916 by the photographer, Thomas Johnson Westropp, (1860-1922) an alumnus of Trinity College Dublin. He was also an archaeologist, Irish antiquarian and a member of the RIA. His documentary and archival approach to the ruins is evident in this photographic survey. They have been carefully labelled and mounted, suggesting that when he was documenting these buildings, he was aware of their importance for future generations. Westropp takes us on a journey of the city and its buildings, from Mount Street to Sackville Street (now O’Connell Street) where combat evidently took place between Irish rebels and British forces. Crumbling exteriors, shattered windows and bullet pierced walls characterise these photographs. The pictures of the G.P.O. are particularly striking as Westropp captures its fragile gutted interior, while its landmark colonnaded portico remains stoic and solid. As noted by the Library of Trinity College Dublin, ‘these images bring vividly to life the impact of the Rising on everyday life in Dublin.’ Indeed the excellent zoom feature employed by Westropp allows examination of the smallest details of life, from WWI posters on the street, to shop signage, to people’s clothing. The merits of the digital medium of display certainly triumphs traditional display for this particular intrigue of these photographs.
The rawness of the events in the Easter Rising is evident through the behaviour of the people in these photographs. Many stop and stare at the ruins before them or continue to go about their everyday business. Westropp is ultimately part of this general curiosity surrounding the ruins. On Google Cultural Institute Westropp’s photographs are accompanied by video archival footage by Pathé, which documents similar scenes to the photographs. The note accompanying the video footage on the platform says: ‘It is tempting to think that Westropp himself could be amongst the crowds.’ Westropp’s photographs allow a fascinating insight into what the everyday Dubliner witnessed in the aftermath of the 1916 Rising.
The Ruins Of Dublin, 1916 – A Photographic Record By Thomas Johnson Westropp is available on www.google.com/culturalinstitute.
The original document MS 5870 can also be discovered on: http://digitalcollections.tcd.ie.