You Are Now Entering Free Derry

Micah+Braughten+of+Hot+Springs

Victoria Stewart-Meyers

Micah Braughten of Hot Springs

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day and the world-famous World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade this year The Arts Council and Dublin City Council are exhibiting a photo archive titled, A Photo Album of Ireland, at the Hot Springs Convention Center on 134 Convention Boulevard in Hot Springs National Park. The show dates are Saturday, January 18 through Wednesday, March 18. Of the archive of over 8000 scanned photos, from some sixteen family collections, eighty-five photographs here show life in Ireland from the perspective of the ordinary people through their snapshots. Many of the images are “found photos” in that the photographer is unknown. The earliest is from the 1850s and varies through the 1990s. A quote taken from the event page at HotSprings.org describes the collections as “a celebration of ordinary and extraordinary histories, viewed from the perspective of private individuals and families.” In addition to each exhibit label with gives a brief description of each photo, there is a large map of Ireland with the locations of each contributing family as well as three more large plaques giving the informational description of the photo exhibit and information about the archive project including its ongoing nature. They also describe the role of early photography in capturing historically significant images during their time known as “The Troubles”.

Artificial overhead lights lit the exhibit housed in the Convention Center front hallway. Still, the windows across from the collection provide a warm sunny ambiance as one makes their way down the carpeted aisle gazing at each photo in turn. Some are just old family photos, while others more artistic in nature. A family stopping to take in the view along a stretch of an afternoon drive through County Monaghan circa 1960s (unidentified photographer), three Conlon family children laughing at the baby with a cigar in her mouth in the living room in 1966 (anonymous photographer), a group of young men, republican prisoners photographed in the exercise yard of the H.M. Maze Prison in Northern Ireland in 1982 (photographer unknown), a stern reproduction of a daguerreotype portrait of Mary Shackleton, taken in 1851 (unidentified photographer).

One particularly striking piece is titled Free Derry Corner. The photographer again is unidentified, and it lists as a digital reproduction from a Kodachrome print- “Courtesy of the Conlon Family Collection.” This black and white photo is undated and shows two men in casual suits standing in front of the wall painted with the words, “You Are Now Entering Free Derry.” The image is cropped to eliminate the word “You” and most of “Are” but this does not diminish its beauty. It isn’t very easy to date the time of the photo, the wall has been repainted many times over the years, and several of those times the font has resembled this photo. Judging by the sideburns and pompadour of the man on the left, one could guess this in the mid to late 60s. Both men are standing in relaxed, lanky poses, hands behind their backs. One man wearing a wide tie looking directly at the photographer while “Sideburns” is turned facing “The Tie” and seeming to look beyond him into the distance. The Free Derry Corner wall is now a free-standing historical monument, painted the first time while it was the side-wall of a large building. Visible grass tufts breaking through the concrete at the bottom of the wall, give the idea it was still a part of the building at the time of this photo. The building was at the intersection of Lecky Road, Rossville Street, and Fahan Street in the Bogside neighborhood of Derry City in Northern Ireland. Today this free-standing gable wall is a commemoration of “Free Derry,” which was the sight of both the Battle of Bogside in 1969 and Bloody Sunday in 1972.  It remains an essential landmark in Derry.