Friday, January 10, 2014

Ré Nua (1990)

Ré Nua (meaning New Era) was a series of Irish language books for kids from Junior Infants to Sixth Class, that were published by Folens in 1990. If you attended primary school in Ireland between the mid-1980s and the mid-1990s it is possible you used these books in school. It's probably self-evident why I've posted these scans from the books. I think they're gorgeous, beautifully illustrated, and were perhaps the best schoolbooks I ever used. If I can string a sentence together in Irish nowadays it is in no small part thanks to them.

The books were illustrated by Emil Schinkel, who I am happy to say is still working today and has a site containing other beautiful work. Schinkel did a lot of illustration for Folens including on the Siamsa and Spraoi magazines that you may recall, which were sent out to primary school classes periodically. The illustrations have a colourfulness, busyness, and humour I find very endearing and which remind me of the Richard Scarry books that were another fixture of my childhood.

I am not sure how widely studied these books were in Irish schools and it seems that even those only a few years older than me never encountered them. The series has never attained a standing in the popular memory comparable with the likes of say Ann and Barry and the rest of the Rainbow series. Nor do I imagine they'll ever be reprinted for the Christmas nostalgia market like Soundings and other secondary schoolbooks have been in recent years. However, there is at least one Irish band named for one of the books (Dioscó na mBó) which is perhaps some indicator that these books are fondly remembered by people other than me.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Young Dublin, Old Dublin (1960s and 1970s)

When I was a young lad the bookshelves in our home were packed with reams of material related to my dad's work as a careers guidance counsellor. He had numerous worthy and wordy tomes by child psychologists from fascinating sounding locales like Kenosha, Wisconsin or Montreal in Canada. These described in terminology I couldn't understand then, nor scarcely would be interested in understanding now, child development and the many issues adolescents face.

Several of these books were illustrated and included images of children and young adults at school, at play, and at home.  To my young brain these images were like transmissions from an alternate universe. These children were like me but not like me, they wore strange attire and haircuts and played games I had never heard of. It was only when I was a bit older it dawned on me why I found the photos perplexing. These were North American kids and the stock photos of them had been taken years before I was born.

Similarly, the Childcraft encyclopaedias my parents bought contained snapshots of children in every corner of the globe. These images were at once elegiac and exotic. I recall being intrigued by an image of kids in Vermont eating maple syrup, doughnuts, and pickles, with snow. Lots of other images come to mind from the encyclopaedias, like a kid using a public telephone in the Soviet Union, a Ghanaian child playing with a handcrafted toy lorry, and a gaggle of children in a Kindergarten in East Germany.

There's no particular overarching theme to this post. It contains images of Dublin from the 1960s and the 1970s which I found interesting and I hope you find interesting too. When I saw these images, particularly the black and white ones, I was reminded again of those books and those images I had tried to comprehend as a child. The images below provide glimpses of the depths of poverty people lived in in Dublin during those years as well as the resourcefulness and joi-de-vivre of the children of the city at that time.

These images originally appeared in Edna O'Brien's Mother Ireland, Young Ireland by Jack Manning, and Ireland Through The Looking Glass by Ted Smart. Unfortunately I can't find the source right now for the last couple of the images but if I find it again I'll edit this post to include it.

 This one was captioned "Boot Boys", Hardwicke St, Dublin, 1970s.

 Driving cattle down Great Denmark St, Dublin, 1960s.

14 year old lad just joined CIÉ, Dublin, 1960s.

 Young lady selling newspapers in Dublin, 1960s, the caption for which states that girls didn't typically do that job. The Irish Press she's selling is headlined "Ship Blaze In Dublin Port" so it may be possible to pinpoint the exact day this photo was taken on.

 Young lads kicking a ball around, somewhere in Dublin. Can anyone suggest where this might have been taken? It looks to me like somewhere around Thomas St but that's a guess. 1960s.

Young man on a bike, Fownes St Lower, Dublin, 1960s. This street, in the heart of Temple Bar, has changed as much as any part of Dublin except maybe the Docklands. The concrete fortress that is the Central Bank now looms in the background and the whole row of buildings on the right of the shot appear to have been completely replaced. My eagle eyed brother is to thank for finding where the photo was taken.

Young girls playing games, 1960s, in what looks to me to be Summerhill in Dublin, but again if anyone has a better idea of where this was taken please comment on the post.

 Boys paying close attention, or at least feigning close attention, to their Irish lesson, Dublin, 1960s.

This shot and the next one confused me. Because of the colours and the year the book was published I assumed they were taken in the 1970s. However, it quickly became apparent that the pillar is present in both photos which of course dates them to 1966 at the latest. There's a John Hinde postcard that has a similar quality which I featured in a previous post. The shots are very reminiscent of the house style of National Geographic at the time. It's of course, O'Connell Bridge and O'Connell St.

This lady waits on O'Connell Bridge, Dublin, 1960s, for someone or something. A sign exhorts all passersby to "Smoke Bendigo". 
 This melancholy image was captioned the "Pickaroon". The girl is collecting coal that has fallen off trucks. I can't say for certain but I believe this image is from the 1970s. Sadly, it looks like it could have been taken any time in the previous hundred years. It was taken in Dublin's Docklands, an area that has seen huge change in its built environment in recent decades.
Old ladies in the Liberties, 1970s. This beautiful image clearly shows the extent to which many parts of Dublin were let fall to rack and ruin in the 20th century.

 The lads, hanging out, somewhere in Dublin, 1970s.

This image taken in the Docklands in the 1970s works as a colour companion piece to the pickaroon image above. A lone figure, lost in a Dickensian wasteland.