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Tuesday 23 January 2018

How the otter half lived in Ireland's Big Houses

Exhibition reveals idyllic country life of 19th century rich

Jason O'Brien

Otter hunting, croquet, shoots and beekeeping -- it's a glimpse of how the other half lived, and it comes as little surprise to learn that they lived rather well.

A new photographic exhibition on life in Ireland's 'Big Houses' during the mid-1800s and early 1900s will be officially opened today.

And for those on the right side of the social divide, it is depicted as an idyll. Family parties are also amongst the less-than-strenuous activities recorded as the landed gentry kept itself amused.

The work, meanwhile, is left to the hired help -- as it should be -- and is also recorded, such as in the atmospheric shots from Clonbrock estate in Ahascragh, Co Galway, in the 1800s. "In 1836, Lord Clonbrock paid summer wages of eight pence and winter wages of six pence per day, without meals, to his constantly employed male labourers," the caption on 'Workmen' reads.

"Women and boys were paid four pence in summer and three pence in winter, less one-and-a-half pence if fed in the servants' hall."

Many of the images featured are of homes that remain famous landmarks, such as Ashford Castle in Cong, Co Mayo, and Carton House in Maynooth, Co Kildare, which has recently hosted famous footballers from Juventus and Manchester United.

And it is obvious that the pampering isn't a modern phenomenon.

"Life at Curraghmore (Waterfod) revolved around various types of hunting parties and an active social calendar," reads the caption on a picture of women hunting in May 1901.


"As otters are notoriously elusive nocturnal mammals, it is more likely that the enthusiastic hunters in this photograph were out for the thrill of the chase than for the kill."

The photographs are drawn from the National Photographic Archive's collection of 630,000 images, dating from 1840s to the present day.

The oldest are drawn from the collections of wealthy amateur photographers such as Luke Dillon, fourth Baron Clonbrock, and his wife, Lady Augusta.

Digital cameras were a long way off, but 3D imagery was alive and kicking -- and a talking point amongst the chattering classes. "The Stereo Pairs Collection mainly comprises picturesque scenes from 26 Irish counties," a spokeswoman for the National Library of Ireland said yesterday.

"It is so called because photographers used a camera with two lenses side by side, simultaneously taking two virtually identical images; the mounted print was viewed through a stereoscope, creating a three-dimensional effect."

For others, a status car was a major selling point.

"Women drivers were very novel in 1904," reads the caption on another photo from Clonbrock.

"By 1904, automobiles were beginning to facilitate more freedom of movement for the wealthy, allowing them more time and flexibility for socialising."

'Power and Privilege: photographs of the Big House in Ireland 1858-1922' is on show at the National Photographic Archive in Temple Bar, Dublin and will run until December.

Irish Independent

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