Poverty meets prosperity as Ireland rebrands itself

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The Independent Online

Modern Ireland has been rebranded with a striking icon that sweeps away a sentimental past and replaces it with a dual image combining modern prosperity with past poverty.

The new image, which has won a competition to find a signature postcard for the Irish Republic, sets Dublin's gleaming new financial hub alongside harrowing representations of peasants starving during the Great Famine of a century and a half ago.

The photograph shows the sprawling financial centre on the far, north bank of Dublin's River Liffey while, in the foreground on the near side of the river, are statues of famine victims, evidently close to death, on their way to emigrant ships.

Its title is "From famine ships to partnership". The vividly arresting image is unlike most Irish postcards in providing a warts-and-all picture of the country rather than one aimed purely at attracting tourists.

Postcards have played an important part in depicting Irish life. A noted 1960s series portrayed it as a land of thatched cottages, donkeys hauling turf, smiling, red-headed colleens and freckle-faced children.

Those were the work of John Hinde, a photographer and businessman who single-handedly decided that Ireland should be depicted as a sunny, unspoilt land of wonderful scenery and happy folk.

Hinde, originally a circus manager who married a trapeze artist, settled in Ireland and turned to photography after his circus venture failed. He dispatched photographers out into rural Ireland with instructions to return with quaint, brightly coloured images.

Many of the scenes were elaborately staged, though they were presented as naturalistic. While much of that was artificial and indeed in many ways misleading, the postcards sold in the hundreds of thousands.

Although many later came to deride Hinde's cards as impossibly kitsch, one school of thought has come to regard them as a minor art form from a significant figure in the history of social photography.

Hinde said in an interview before his death in 1998: "I photographed donkeys and cottages simply because you can't imagine a Connemara bog without a donkey walking across it with panniers filled with peat. It's part of the landscape, the same way that the Irish cottage is like a living thing which grew out of the ground."

The Hinde Group has become an international company. According to Niall Howard, one of its executives: "The John Hinde high-quality postcards depicted scenes that have become etched on the memories of millions of visitors to our shores as well as the Irish themselves, both at home and abroad. I don't think that we will ever forget or lose the appreciation of their impactful, resonating imagery and design."

The new image was chosen from among thousands submitted in a countrywide competition whose judges included the Irish tourism minister, John O'Donoghue.

Entrants were urged "to consider the spirit of John Hinde's representation of Ireland in the 1960s when preparing their submission". Nonetheless, the winning entry, by the Dubliner John Kane, seems a world away from Hinde's vision, presenting misery alongside prosperity and displacing his romantic idealism in favour of unadorned realism.