Saturday 10 December 2016

Forgotten images are 'a crystal ball into our past'

Published 30/10/2016 | 02:30

From on high: Alexander 'Monkey' Campbell Morgan and some of his spectacular aerial shots of Dublin and around the country
From on high: Alexander 'Monkey' Campbell Morgan and some of his spectacular aerial shots of Dublin and around the country

During a period when wartime pilots were seen as the heroes of the skies, aviator Alexander Campbell Morgan stood out.

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The RAF wingman was not regarded as your typical wartime pilot - ­­not only because of his down-to-earth manner, but because he went to war in an unarmed aircraft.

Crumlin Photo: Independent Aerial Photographic Collection
Crumlin Photo: Independent Aerial Photographic Collection

A quiet and unassuming character, Morgan was nicknamed 'Monkey' during his school days and the name stuck because of his knack of always appearing elegantly dishevelled.

After World War II, the Londoner set up shop in Ireland, founding a light aircraft and photography business.

He roamed the skies above Ireland, documenting towns and villages across the 32 counties before dying in an air accident in 1958.

Many of the images were bought up by Independent Newspapers which continued to use them after his death.

Salthill Photo: Independent Aerial Photographic Collection
Salthill Photo: Independent Aerial Photographic Collection

However, as Ireland developed and the urban areas sprawled and grew, many of the images became dated and the negatives were eventually donated to the National Library of Ireland.

There, they remained untouched in a box before being rediscovered by Independent Newspapers image expert Michael Hinch, who was archiving digital material for a series of magazines.

Among them were 300 images captured by 'Monkey' Morgan from Ireland's skies between 1951 and 1958 as he zoomed across the country in his plane.

They are now included in a new hardback book, Ireland from the Air - Independent Archives 1951-1958.

Killarney Photo: Independent Aerial Photographic Collection
Killarney Photo: Independent Aerial Photographic Collection

"I realised that there was a goldmine of images of Ireland in its formative years as a nation," said Michael Hinch.

"Until I scanned them, I had no idea of what they contained or what areas they covered. I was elated by what we found.

"Images of old towns and villages caught in time mixed with new housing estates sprouting up around our cities. Places that were once little villages have today developed into sprawling towns surrounding Dublin. Belfast at the Albert Bridge in the 1950s looks nothing like it does today, with a factory, railway yards and a power station replaced by hotels and the Central Station," he said.

Among them are the images included here, of Crumlin, Rosslare Harbour, Ballyjamesduff, Killarney, Salthill and Killiney.

Ballyjamesduff Photo: Independent Aerial Photographic Collection
Ballyjamesduff Photo: Independent Aerial Photographic Collection

"This book is a crystal ball into our past," he said.

"The images are of such high quality that the detail just leaps out. Every time I look at them, I see something new."

'Ireland from the Air - Independent Archives 1951-1958', compiled by Michael Hinch, is published in hardback by the Collins Press, priced €29.99. It will be available in all good bookshops next week, and online from www.collinspress.ie.

Reader offer: Get 15% off at www.independentarchives.com with code BOOK15

Rosslare Photo: Independent Aerial Photographic Collection
Rosslare Photo: Independent Aerial Photographic Collection

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