Recapture over 120 of John Hinde’s scenic photos of Ireland

SCNES that became the public face of Ireland have been “recaptured” in a new book that is photographer Paul Kelly’s second who follows in John Hinde’s footsteps past monuments that appear on glossy postcards more than half a century ago.

Before the magic bus and package holiday flight to the “costa”, John Hinde postcards “flying” between Ballybunion and Bundoran gave generations of Irish tantalizing hints of what an Ireland in the sun, and indeed the sun itself, might look like.

So imprinted in the mind were these sunny, gleaming postcards of the summer landscape, a kind of hyper-reality was created, and scenes like Glengarriff’s never seemed so real when visited.

Johnstown Castle near Wexford, now a Teagasc Research Center, sat on the shores of Lake Como, it seemed.

O’Connell Street in Limerick brims with style.

Hinde, a war photographer in London, had first visited Ireland in 1947. By the 1950s, he and his wife Jutta had moved to the southern end of Dublin Bay.

They started their postcard business in 1956 with six giant colorful postcards to sell to the new wave of visitors arriving at Shannon Airport.

In 1972, with the help of a team of British and German photographers, there were 300 postcards. These were the idealized versions of an Ireland suffering from mass emigration and a stagnant economy.

The vibrant colors to transport Ireland to the Mediterranean were often added in a lab in Italy, Kelly explains in the cleverly titled In Hinde-Sight.

Eventually, the techniques Hinde used here were exported to Britain, Africa, Australia, and other countries. In 1972 the company was sold to Waterford Glass.

“A photographic window into Ireland’s past and present,” Kelly describes the book. More than 120 scenes from Ireland of the 1950s and 1960s have been re-captured. The new images are taken during the lock and the strange face mask appears. Hinde-Sight is also a social history, with each duplicate image accompanied by an informative blurb. Both techniques and arrangements are discussed. The red car in O’Connell Street from the 1960s is repeated, as is the bicycle.

While some scenes have changed drastically – Kinsale’s azure toy boat harbor is now full of pretty sailboats – other scenes like Cahersiveen have barely shifted.

Apart from one-off homes on the hill, not much has changed between the 1950s and the Covid-19 picture in the south Kerry town. Or so it seems.

But pictures can hide a thousand words, whether updated in an Italian lab or taken during the silent depression of a pandemic. Glistening, emerald green Cahersiveen was a thriving town when John Hinde visited in the 1950s, “a hive of activity ” he tells us, bustling with railroad, grocery, drapery and hardware stores, a large dance hall and cinema.

Today, tourism, the only show in town, has created its “beehive of its own”, albeit much less vibrant than its previous mix of trade, transport, fishing and industry.

The newfound fame of tourism is probably captured in the new image if you look closely. The former army barracks of Cahersiveen has been converted into a tourist attraction.

On the other side, the railway bridge still seems intact. Neither “snaps” tells of how the railroad was closed in 1960 and the population declined or how the new replacement greenway is expected for nearly a decade. Pictures and their thousand words, indeed!

Hinde had first visited Ireland in 1947. The postcards seem a world away from the Blitz and dark war experiences. And indeed his philosophy seems deliberately optimistic. “John Hinde had a clear vision: we need to be exalted rather than depressed,” Kelly notes.

For Hinde, a photo should always convey a positive, good feeling, “something that makes people happy, makes them smile, makes them appreciate tenderness,” Kelly quotes from Hinde’s own words.

In Hinde-Sight follows Paul Kelly’s very successful first part Return to Sender.

Hinde’s iconography of Ireland deserves closer examination. It profoundly influenced the public mood here and shaped a global attitude towards Ireland for decades. This new book, which graces a fine hotel lobby, will itself be looked back on with interest in the coming years.

  • In Hinde-Sight: Postcards from Ireland’s Past by Paul Kelly – Gill Books, €19.99

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