The lens of an Irishman reveals the face of exile

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A treasure-trove of photographs documenting a wave of Irish migrants who from the Forties onwards turned parts of the capital into a home-from- home has been saved by a north London museum.

The work of Waterford-born Paddy Fahey, who died in 1994, spanned all aspects of life of the tens of thousands who, like him, left Ireland during economic stagnation seeking work and a new start in Britain.

Fahey trained in Ireland in the Thirties and moved to London in 1941 where he worked first as a labourer before establishing himself in his chosen profession in the Fifties. Over the next three decades he worked freelance mainly for the Irish Post, the weekly newspaper for the Irish community in Britain, and the Cork Weekly Examiner. He also supplied Irish nationals with British material.

An exhibition of Fahey's work mounted by the Grange Museum, in Neasden, is now on display in City Museum, Fitzgerald Park, in Cork until the New Year and thereafter in Wexford, Tipperary, Waterford and west coast venues.

Six-thousand of his photographs were purchased last year from his widow, Peggy, by the Grange Museum, with help from the Ireland Fund of Great Britain. They are now held at the Brent Archive in Cricklewood, north- west London.

Fahey's clear, uncontrived style caught vivid images. His subjects span gaelic sports, religious events, celebrities such as Eamonn Andrews and Val Doonican, dances and visiting Irish musical stars.

He also covered political tensions, from small London protests by old IRA men against Irish and British governments' policies. Pictures captured then of assertive nationalism disappeared in the Seventies as Fahey became disillusioned with the Republican cause in the wake of the IRA's Birmingham and Guildford pub bombings.

"After the bombings he got sickened by the public side of Irishness and was upset by the reaction against the Irish community," said Finbarr Whooley, senior curator at the Grange, who knew the photographer towards the end of his career. "It was his generation that was thrown sideways by the reaction, and [by] the Troubles in Ireland."

His political photos captured unique events, such as the trooping of IRA colours in Parliament Square in 1951. But it was indance halls and churches that he caught a special human quality. His photos of twisting nurses and the exuberant showband era of the Sixties and Seventies radiate excitement. Venues such as Banba and Galtymore dance halls in north London became familiar Fahey destinations, where packed audiences flocked to see Brendan Bowyer, Joe Lynch and later Big Tom.

Earlier pictures of temperance outings and huge attendances at missions and Catholic churches suggested a more uncertain period as a new community found its way in a foreign country.

Long afterwards some of the faces featured acquired greater notoriety. In a photo of cheery clerics at the 1969 dinner dance of the Galway Association in London, is one Father Eamonn Casey, then a London priest and housing organiser, afterwards Bishop of Kerry and later of Galway. In 1992 he went into exile in South America after the scandal surrounding his secret fathering of a son by an American woman, Annie Murphy.

Also caught at the microphone in 1966 was the Singing Priest, Father Michael Cleary, exposed after his death two years ago as a cynical seducer of women in his care, who yet publicly preached from pulpit, radio, and newspaper columns a hard-line narrow-minded morality.

Fahey, who never made a fortune from his work, was still working in his late Seventies as a portrait photographer in Goldstone, London, when he died. A book of his photography is to be published next year.