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Adding a splash of colour to the history of Galway

Stephen Corrigan



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, 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.


Salthill funfair enjoying busy tourist season

Denise McNamara



The operators of Curry’s Funpark in Salthill are reporting a busy tourist season, despite a delayed opening and ongoing Covid-19 restrictions.

While it is nowhere near the busiest season since the amusement company took over the fun fair site in Leisureland in 2014, they are delighted at how the shorter season has been going under difficult circumstances.

With a separate entrance and exit in place and customers expected to queue apart from each other, numbers have been reduced in the park. But opening hours have extended from 11am to 11pm to allow the public to avail of longer hours to enjoy the rides, explains owner Owen Curry.

“There’s a good turnout of people and a great response from our customers at being open. This year adults in their 20s are really coming in the late evenings, whereas before we would have been quiet in those last few hours.

“There’s nothing like getting out in a bit of fresh air and do something together. Without a doubt there are a lot more Irish people this year and an awful lot of them are people who haven’t ever been to Salthill which is surprising.”

After initially bringing in the equipment in February to prepare for a St Patrick’s Day opening, at one stage it looked like it would all have to be removed when lockdown was introduced, with Owen running the business from his home in Derry.

Were it not for the great support he got from the business group The Village Salthill, the park may never have opened on July 1, he says.

The opening happened after a two-day inspection, all staff undergoing courses and a lot of work implementing all the guidelines set out in a 90-page document for the operation of amusement parks.

“All our other events have been cancelled – we’d normally have equipment travelling around the country to festivals and events. We were delighted with the support and help from other businesses in Salthill. They helped with advertising and getting the word out there.”

While the park is weather dependent, he enthuses that Salthill is at least blessed to have Leisureland, the Aquarium and plenty of cafes and restaurants alongside the famous beaches and Prom.

“The staycation is definitely working for Salthill – despite the weather,” Owen remarks.

Still lit in the signature Big Wheel is the blue heart in honour of those working at the frontline during the pandemic.

“It was originally meant to be a digital screen for advertising and when we couldn’t open we decided to light a blue heart as a thank you to the front line workers until the Covid finished – we didn’t think it would be still be there but that’s the world we’re in.”

The funpark’s season is likely be extended into the Autumn.

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Galway Pride Festival makes the move online

Denise McNamara



The Pride Parade in Galway last year.

For the first time in its three decades of breaking taboos, Galway Pride will not be holding a parade.

Instead, organisers have switched to a full schedule of almost exclusively online events.

There will be just three events out of more than two dozen where people can gather for Galway Pride week, which begins today (Monday).

There will be the traditional flag-raising event in Eyre Square at midday to mark the launch with a number of speakers and those attending will be asked to social distance and wear masks.

On Wednesday evening, they will host the annual vigil in Eyre Square, while on Sunday morning, a new event will see the community on their bikes for a coffee and cake session in collaboration with the Galway Cycling Campaign.

Last year for the festival’s 30th anniversary, an estimated 2,000 people marched through the city in the parade – a cornerstone of the celebration – with thousands more lining the streets to watch.

Event chairperson Scott Green said that having even a limited number of chances to meet and come together in person safely is really important for the community.

“Undoubtedly isolation is difficult for us all and sometimes it can be taken for granted that your home is a safe and welcoming place. For too many members of our community that safety is not guaranteed.”

“The safety of our community is paramount and so for those who cannot join us in person we will bring our passion and vibrancy to you digitally until it is safe for us all to meet again.

“This will not be a stereotypical Pride but it will still have the same heart and soul put into its organisation,” Scott said.

The Community Awards 2020 will honour those who have been important role models, ran campaigns and helped out in community groups

Several panels will also take place across Pride with topics on anti-racism, mental health, workplace well-being, activism, and trans and non-binary voices.

On the entertainment side, there will be music nights, ‘movie watchalongs’, and a rainbow cake tutorial.

Scott says like many organisations, Galway Pride has had to “learn on our feet” to put together a suitable schedule.

“We had imagined a very different Pride before Covid-19 but we have gone ahead with a mostly virtually calendar of events to deliver another Pride Week because we know how important it is for our community.”

The theme for Pride 2020 is ‘Ní Neart Go Cur Le Chéile’ or ‘strength through unity’.

“It’s a sign of the times in many ways. Never before have we all had to stick together by making choices and sacrifices not just to keep ourselves safe, but to keep others safe. It’s why this year we have dedicated our ‘virtual grand marshal’ role to all healthcare care workers, for exemplifying these selfless principles.

“There are those that are increasingly trying to target the most vulnerable of our community and increasing incidents where a seedy underbelly in our society attack our community members with the utmost of bile. The LGBT+ community stands completely united, and united we will continue to progress as a society.”

All events can be accessed through the Galway Pride Festival Facebook page.

(Photo: Last year’s Galway Pride Parade).

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One year wait for hearing of criminal trials in Galway

Enda Cunningham



It takes up to one year for criminal trials to be heard in Galway Circuit Court, according to new figures from the Courts Service.

According to the service’s newly-published annual report for 2019, in the Galway courts area, it took an average of 9-12 months for criminal trials to go to hearing, which is unchanged from the 2018 figures.

The shortest waiting times in the country were in Carlow and Tralee, where cases are heard at the next sitting of the court, while the longest wait was in Monaghan at 18-24 months.

The wait for sentence hearings (from the trial date where a guilty plea was entered) in Galway was 3-6 months, unchanged from the previous year.

Appeals are heard following a 3-6 month wait, which is an increase from two months recorded in 2017 and 2018.

The report shows that civil cases – both trials and appeals – and Family Law cases (contested, non-contested and appeals) are generally heard at the next sitting of the Circuit Court.

Civil trials in Dundalk can take between 12-18 months to be heard, while contested and appealed Family Law cases can take 6-12 months.

Meanwhile, in district courts in Galway, domestic violence barring order and protection order applications take four weeks to be heard – the previous year, such cases were held at the next sitting of the court.

However, urgent applications relating to domestic violence in Galway are heard on the next day the district court sits.

Criminal summonses in Galway District Court can take 16 weeks to be heard (the previous year it was a 12-15 weeks wait), while charge sheets are heard at the next sitting of the court, the same as the previous year.

Summonses in Carlow can take 20-28 weeks to be heard, while in Tralee, the wait is 8-12 weeks.

In Family Law sittings in Galway, applications for maintenance or guardianship take between 4-8 weeks to be heard, compared to 6-8 weeks the previous year.

Last year, civil cases took 16 weeks to reach the District Court here, compared to an 8-12 week wait the previous year.

That compares to 12-16 weeks in Portlaoise and Letterkenny and four weeks in Roscommon and Waterford.

In the High Court, waiting times for civil and family cases stood at two months, unchanged from the previous year and the shortest in the country. The longest wait was recorded in Limerick at 25 months.

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