Pictures of the Past: Tipperary life in 1917
By Pat Bracken
A new window on Irish social life has opened with the digitisation of a large collection of photographs that span a period of remarkable social and political change. In this feature for Century Ireland, Dr Pat Bracken explains the provenance of the Murphy Photographic Collection, Ballinamona House, Cashel, Co. Tipperary, and reflects on its value to Ireland's decade of centenaries.
In late autumn 2016 ‘Tipperary Studies’, a resource dedicated to documenting, preserving and making accessible the collections of the county’s library, received a new donation. It came from the present owners of Ballinamona House in Cashel, the Clifton-Brown family.
The donation concerned the papers of the Murphy family, the previous owners of Ballinamona House. Included with the collection was a remarkably rich photographic record, encompassing 1,251 negative images. While most of the images relate to Ballinamona House, its grounds and the Murphy family, there are images from various parts of Tipperary, Ireland and England, with a lot of varied images of social life, farm animals, horses and families.
At the time the images were taken the owner of Ballinamona House was Lt. Col. Edmond William Murphy (died 6 February 1947) and his wife Mary Ellen Murphy (died early 1931). They were married on 11 April 1883 at Bavarian Chapel, Westminster.
The first lot of images, based on age profile, tentatively date from the late 1890s to around 1912. These were taken by brother and sister Edmond William Montague Murphy (born 10 October 1886) and Mary Kathleen Murphy (born 1888). The next lot dating from August 1913 to September 1932 were taken by Edmond W.M. Murphy. Edmond was Hon. Secretary of the Irish Rainfall Association. He died on 20 March 1965, aged 78 years. Kathleen died in early February 1975, at Ballinamona House.
Edmond’s images for the so-called ‘decade of centenaries’ period belie the fact that there was great civil unrest in Ireland and that a Great War raged in Europe. In all the images there are only two, taken in March 1923, of the burned out courthouse and barracks in Cashel.
In 1917, there was a heavy snowfall at the start of April, which gave Edmond a great opportunity to get out and about with his camera. That was a constant theme throughout the collection as both Edmond and Mary Kathleen travelled countrywide taking photographs of notable country houses and scenic areas. Co. Westmeath featured strongly in the collection in 1917.
The most intriguing of the images from there are of the now ruined Tudenham Park, taken on 26 May 1917, and that of the nearby Belvedere House, also taken on the same day. Both houses were owned by brothers George and Robert Rochfort respectively. Tudenham Park was destroyed by fire in 1958. These contrast with the rural nature of Glenough School, Rossmore and Hollyford village, both in Co. Tipperary. There were tennis games on manicured lawns back in Ballinamona where friends, family and acquaintances met during the summer months, yet another theme of the collection. Edmond finishes off 1917 with some more views of people living near to Ballinamona House, quite often workers on the estate.
He concluded 1917 with some local images including that of P. Diviney and family at the door of their house.
The photographic collection of Edmond and Mary Kathleen Murphy are important to the history of not only Tipperary but Ireland in general. Edmond’s images are numbered sequentially from 1913 to 1932. The images portray Ireland at a time when there was great civil and political unrest nationally and internationally. This was all too apparent for the Murphy family as a son and brother, Lieutenant-Colonel Alfred Durham “Durrie” Murphy, DSO, MC (born 30 April 1890), was killed in action on 6 November 1917, aged 27 years, while serving with the Leinster Regiment in World War I.
The Murphy family was not immune to the tragedy of war, but this is in no way reflected in the photographic collection. Lawn games of tennis and croquet, cricket and horse racing infer an air of contentment, at a safe remove from life as experienced by many other people throughout Ireland at that time.
There is nothing to identify the type of camera used by Edmond and Mary Kathleen. All negatives are film, with no glass plate negatives in the collection. The negative film, which constitute the undated images c1898 - c1912 measure 2¼ x 2¼ inches (6 x 6 cm). Mary Kathleen’s negatives are in a Kodak negative album. Edmond’s images are held in a Newlyn wallet for photographic films or prints. These measure 2¼ x 3¼ inches (6 x 9 cm).
Dr Pat Bracken is a librarian at Thurles Library and Tipperary Studies