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CITY TRIBUNE

Adding a splash of colour to the history of Galway

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The Galway and Salthill Tram, taken c. 1885. While some of the buildings visible in the background have changed dramatically, the facade of the Bank of Ireland remains largely unchanged to this day. NLI Commons.

History is often viewed through a black and white lens, encapsulated in old photographs that have stood the test of time and have engrained on our minds a particular understanding of how things once were.

Whether it’s a battered photo of two children of a particular era, or a stately figure that has shaped all of our lives, our perception of them has been informed by black and white stills shared, sometimes among families and other times in the pages of history books.

With the wonders of modern technology, a professor at NUI Galway has given some of these photos a new lease of life – unlocking a whole new understanding by adding colour to those photos and bringing to life the characters and locations they illustrate.

John Breslin, known for his innovation through setting up boards.ie, adverts.ie and co-founding the Galway City Innovation District, began to colourise old photos while on a quest to compile his family tree.

It was out of his dabbling with genealogy that Old Ireland in Colour was borne – colourising photographs of both historical figures and places, along with ordinary people who represent life in Ireland in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.

For John, who does this work in his free time, colourising these photos is about more than giving us all something enjoyable to look at, but also educating people and making history accessible and competitive in a world that moves so fast.

“It brings the photographs to life. We are living in a very media-saturated culture. A lot of stuff is very ‘in your face’ and it’s hard for history to compete with that,” he explains.

By adding colour to these photos, and posting the results on Twitter and Instagram, it makes that history accessible. So, whether it’s a colourised photo a crowds packing into Dublin City Centre on Republic Day in April 1949, or a group of people waiting for Mass on Inis Meáin, the significance of both is not lost on a generation obsessed by the lure of modern photography.

“I am not a history buff, but I’ve learned a lot more since I started this process last year,” says John.

“There is a process of taking various historical characters and collating their story to add context to the photograph,” he continues.

Michael Collins, De Valera, Countess Markievicz and the seven signatories of the Proclamation are just some of those characters given to us in colour through this process, and the addition of their story has captured the attention of many social media users that might only have had fleeting knowledge of what these monumental figures in our history stood for.

By adding sounds and 3D effects to some of the photos such as audio of farm animals on stills of the Aran Islands, John can take a static black and white photo and invigorate it in a way that attracts a younger audience that might not have been interested before.

The process of colourising these photos uses DeOldify software, an Artificial Intelligence mechanism which John says bring you “a good bit of the way”.

“It does require some manual intervention,” he says. “Invariably, with AI, it generates everyone wearing purplish-coloured clothes, but you look into the historical records and change the clothes to different colours.”

While it’s never going to be 100 per cent accurate, by looking at those historical records and at paintings from the time, an appreciation for the type of clothing worn can be garnered. An example of this is achieving the right colours for the Galway shawl, worn by many women in photos of old Galway.

One of the benefits of posting these creations online is that it’s open to correction, and according to John, it’s a constantly evolving process whereby those in the know can contribute to getting these photos as accurate as they possibly can be.

“There was one scene from Dublin where I thought men in uniforms were Irish Volunteers, but it turned out they were British soldiers,” he says, obviously meaning a different colour uniform.

“You are always getting that feedback and you have to be willing to take it.”

Most of the photos used by John are taken from open access sources including the National Library of Ireland, the National Folklore Collection Dúchas, the Library of Congress and New York Public Library to mention a few.

In what has obviously become a labour of love for John, he has also started to purchase collections of old photographs with the aim of colourising and sharing them.

This process has unearthed interesting stories that pique the interest of Old Ireland in Colour’s online following, and is bring forgotten histories to a new audience.

“On Monday, I found a photo of Brother Walfrid who founded Celtic FC. I was actually looking for something else that happened in 1887 – the Bodyke evictions – and I came across this.

“I hadn’t realised it was an Irish man who founded Celtic FC; he was from Sligo and they’re now doing an article about him in the local newspaper,” says John.

One of the fascinating aspects of the work is achieving detail in the faces of those captured by a photographer’s lens, often over a century ago – and such is the detailed work that goes into this that in some cases, those who spot the pictures online find relatives they might not have been expecting to see as they scroll through their Twitter feed.

In one case last week, a man inadvertently unearthed freshly colourised photo of his grandmother holidaying on Inis Meáin, says John.

In the near future, he hopes to hold an exhibition of these photos in Galway, but in the meantime, Old Ireland in Colour continues to offer its growing online following a new look at the old, and a different perspective on a previously black and white country.

CITY TRIBUNE

Matriarch of Scotty’s Diner donates kidney to her son!

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – A well-known family in the Galway restaurant trade have swapped chef whites for hospital gowns after the matriarch donated a kidney to her son.

Jenny and Andrew Ishmael, synonymous with Scotty’s Diner in Cúirt na Coiribe on the Headford Road in Terryland, are recovering in Beaumont Hospital after the marathon live donor operation.

It took place last Monday and staff are so impressed by the quick recovery of mother and son that they could be discharged as early as this weekend.

“It went really well. I’m still a bit sore. We’re still on the mend. It’s working perfectly,” says Andrew from the isolation ward of the hospital’s Kidney Centre.  “My creatine was over 1,000 when I came in and it’s already around 260.

“I felt weak after the surgery, but I could feel that bit of life in me again straight away. It’s amazing how quick it works. Mom wasn’t too great after the surgery – it was her first ever. She was quite sore, a bit iffy, but she’s good now.

“We have rooms back-to-back. We’ve been going for walks, going for breakfast together. It’s nice to spend that time together.”

Andrew – or Drew as he’s known to family and friends –  was diagnosed with kidney disease when he was just 16.

Berger’s Disease occurs when an antibody called immunoglobulin builds up in the kidneys and results in inflammation, which over time, can hamper the kidneys’ ability to filter waste from the blood.

He managed the condition well for over a decade without too much impact on his life.

The son of classically trained chefs who studied together at Johnson and Wales College in Rhode Island, he grew up working in his parents’ American-style diner, trading since 1991.
This is a shortened preview version of this story. To read the rest of the article, see the February 3 edition of the Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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CITY TRIBUNE

New River Corrib rescue boat to be deployed following ‘significant donation’

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – The provision of a specialist rescue craft on the Corrib – upstream from the Weir – could now happen over the coming weeks or months following a ‘significant voluntary donation’ in the past few weeks, the Galway City Tribune has learned.

Water safety issues on the Corrib were highlighted last month when up to 10 rowers had to be rescued after their two boats were sucked in by the currents towards the Weir.

The Marine Casualty Investigation Board has launched an investigation into the circumstances of the potentially catastrophic incident which occurred around midday on Saturday, January 14.

A specialist D Class lifeboat is now being sourced as part of a multi-agency approach to try and improve emergency rescue operations upstream from the Weir which would be accessible on a 24/7 basis.

While the cost would be in the region of €40,000 to €50,000, the overall figure would rise to around €80,000 to €90,000 when specialist personnel training costs were included.

Galway Lifeboat Operations Manager, Mike Swan, told the Galway City Tribune that he was aware of a lot of work going on behind the scenes to try and get the Corrib rescue craft in place as soon as possible.

“I suppose we’re all trying to work together to ensure that a full-time rescue craft is provided on the Corrib and I believe that real progress is being made in this regard. This would be very good news for everyone,” said Mr Swan.
This is a shortened preview version of this story. To read the rest of the article, see the February 3 edition of the Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Three years on and ‘Changing Places’ facility on Salthill Promenade still not open

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Mayor of Galway, Cllr Clodagh Higgins at the site of the Changing Places facility, for which she had ring-fenced money. Work on the project only began last February, despite initial predictions that the facility would be open in January last year.

From this week’s Galway City Tribune – The wait for accessible, specialised toilet facilities at Ladies Beach in Salthill goes on – three years after they were ‘prioritised’ by city councillors.

Galway City Council has confirmed to the Tribune this week that the ‘Changing Places’ facility at Ladies Beach is still not open.

Construction of the facility began almost a year ago, at the end of February 2022.

The local authority confirmed that some €135,600 has been spent on the unit, which is not yet open to the public.

“The initial stages of construction went well, with the facility now largely in place. There are a number of outstanding snags to be completed before the facility can open.

“Galway City Council is liaising with the contractor to complete out these snags, with a view to opening the facility as soon as possible,” a spokesperson said.

The local authority did not elaborate on what ‘snags’ were delaying the project.

But in January, Chief Executive of Galway City Council, Brendan McGrath, suggested that staffing issues were to blame for the delay.

(Photo: Mayor of Galway, Clodagh Higgins, at the site of the Changing Places facility, for which she had ring-fenced money).
This is a shortened preview version of this story. To read the rest of the article, see the February 3 edition of the Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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