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Adding a splash of colour to the history of Galway



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.


Mercury hit 30°C for Galway City’s hottest day in 45 years



From this week’s Galway City Tribune –

Wednesday was the hottest day in the city over the past 45 years when with a high of 30.1 Celsius being recorded at the NUI Galway Weather Station.

The highest temperature ever recorded in the city dates back to June 30, 1976, when the late Frank Gaffney had a reading of 30.5° Celsius at his weather station in Newcastle.

Pharmacists and doctors have reported a surge in people seeking treatment for sunburn.

A Status Yellow ‘high temperature warning’ from Met Éireann – issued on Tuesday – remains in place for Galway and the rest of the country until 9am on Saturday morning.

It will be even hotter in the North Midlands, where a Status Orange temperature warning is in place.

One of the more uncomfortable aspects of our current heatwave has been the above average night-time temperatures and the high humidity levels – presenting sleeping difficulties for a lot of people.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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Property Tax hike voted down in Galway City



From this week’s Galway City Tribune – A proposal to boost Galway City Council coffers by half a million euro every year by increasing Local Property Tax (LPT) did not receive the support of city councillors.

Councillor Peter Keane (FF) failed to get a seconder at this week’s local authority meeting for his motion to increase the LPT payable on Galway City houses by 5%.

Cllr Keane said that the increase would net the Council €500,000 every year, which could be spent evenly on services across all three electoral wards.

It would be used to fund services and projects city councillors are always looking for, including a proposal by his colleague Cllr Imelda Byrne for the local authority to hire additional staff for city parks.

The cost to the taxpayer – or property owner – would be minimal, he insisted.

“It would mean that 90% of households would pay 37 cent extra per week,” he said.

Not one of the 17 other elected members, including four party colleagues, would second his motion and so it fell.

Another motion recommending no change in the current rate of LPT in 2022 was passed by a majority.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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Galway City Council needs 40 more workers to help deliver on projects



From this week’s Galway City Tribune –  Forty more workers are needed at City Hall ‘right away’, the Chief Executive of Galway City Council has said.

Brendan McGrath has warned city councillors that the local authority is understaffed and it needs to hire more staff immediately to deliver its plans and projects.

The total cost of the extra 40 workers, including salary, would be between €1.75 million and €1.95 million.

Mr McGrath said that the City Council had a workforce now that was below what it had in 2007, but the city’s population has grown and so too had the services the Council provides.

The population of Galway City grew by almost 11% in the 10 years to 2016, he said, and total staff numbers in the Council fell by 13.6% during that period.

Though more staff were hired in recent years, Mr McGrath said that the Council was at 2007 and 2008 staffing levels, even though the Census will record further increases in population since 2016.

Mr McGrath said that the City Council now provides 1,000 services across a range of departments, far more than during the 2000s.

He said that currently, 524 staff are employed at the City Council. This equated to 493 Whole Time Equivalents when part-time workers such as school wardens and Town Hall workers are included.

Mr McGrath said that 12% of all staff are in acting up positions, with many more in short-term or fixed-term contracts. There was a highly competitive jobs market and the Council was finding recruitment and retention of specialist staff difficult.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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