Wexford People

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Snapshot of local history on public display for first time

An exhibition of rare photographs offer a glimpse of life in an isolated corner of Wexford a century ago


Colonel Magrath’s car at Monksgrange.

Colonel Magrath’s car at Monksgrange.

Colonel Magrath’s car at Monksgrange.

Never-before-seen photographs of people and buildings from the barony of Bantry in northwest Wexford taken over a hundred years ago, are due to go on public display at Enniscorthy Castle.

'Life in the Wilderness of Bantry' is a special exhibition of 19th century photographs by the historian Goddard Orpen (1852-1932) coinciding with Heritage Week.

It will be officially opened on Friday, August 16 at 7 p.m. by Cllr. Kathleen Codd-Nolan and the Wexford historian and author Eithne Scallan.

A large collection of rare photographic plates was uncovered recently in Monksgrange House, situated between Killanne and Rathnure, which was completed by Goddard Richards in 1769.

The grand house which is of national architectural and historical importance, survived the ravages of time, the 1798 Rebellion and the Civil War of 1922.

The precious collection of glass plates and acetate negatives are currently being archived and, by digitising the negatives, the images can now be viewed in great detail.

The exhibition which is organised by Jeremy Hill from Monksgrange Archives in conjunction with the Castle, features rare photographs of families, homes, buildings and local archaeology from the Barony of Bantry which covers the northwest part of County Wexford including Orpen's home, Monksgrange.

Some of the photographs will be reproduced and displayed for the first time in 100 years, offering 21st century viewers a fascinating snapshot of local history.

'The dense and ancient oak woods of the region were failsafe hideouts for the 18th century White Boys in the days of agrarian unrest when the area was known as the wilderness of Bantry', said Jeremy, the current owner of Monksgrange.

'Things were quieter at the latter end of the 19th century when historian, Goddard Orpen, took his plate camera round the roads and boreens near his home, and sometimes further, to photograph the daily life of friends and neighbours and their locality.'

'Unusually, these photographs of people, landscapes and machinery were not aimed at the commercial market but were personal images recording his own locality for himself.'

'The barony of Bantry may be an isolated part of Wexford but Orpen's neighbours seem content in their daily lives.'

Goddard Henry Orpen was an Irish historian whose main work was the four-volume book 'Ireland Under the Normans' and he also edited and translated 'The Song of Dermot and the Earl'.

'Life in the Wilderness of Bantry' will continue until September 3 and admission is free.

Jeremy will give a talk on the photography of Goddard Orpen in Enniscorthy Library on Thursday, August 22 at 7 p.m., examining the background to his previously unknown hobby, and commenting on individual images in the exhibition.

Known to have been a competent draughtsman and watercolourist, Orpen brought his knowledge of painting to his camera work in terms of subject and composition.

The talk will be illustrated with images from the exhibition and others in the collection.

Admission is free but people are advised to book by telephoning the library on 053 9236055.

Wexford People