Photos of Ireland in the 1930s: The past is a foreign country

This amazing collection of colourised photographs was taken by an American photographer Branson DeCou (1892-1941) between 1932 and 1935.  DeCou spent nearly thirty years travelling the world and his images of Ireland give us a rare glimpse into a way of life that has long since disappeared. His fantastic catalogue of photos is now stored at the University of California, Santa Cruz where they can be accessed digitally here. The photos were originally taken in black and white and colour was then added by DeCou with aniline ink.


Connemara woman

Connemara woman

Connemara men

Connemara men


Bringing the turf home, Connemara

Blacksmith/wheel wright, Connemara

Co. Clare

Creamery, Co. Kerry

Digging turf, Kiltoom, Co. Kerry

Nolan’s pub, Tralee, Co. Kerry

Chimney sweep, Tralee

Ladies selling vegetables, Tralee

Macroom, Co. Cork

 Newcastle West, Co. Limerick

 Carpenter at work, Adare, Co. Limerick

 Cottage garden, Adare, Co. Limerick

 The Treaty Stone, Limerick city

 School children, Co. Kerry

 Cattle drover, Hanlon’s corner, Dublin city

 Bringing the hay home, Co. Dublin

 Delivering kegs of guinness, Dublin city

 Feeding the hens, Co. Donegal

 Arklow harbour, Co. Wicklow

 Cottage, Co. Mayo

The Claddagh, Galway city

Clothes drying, The Claddagh, Galway city

Inside a Claddagh cottage

 St. Anne’s church, Cork city

 Georgian doors, Merrion Square, Dublin

 St. Laurence’s gate, Drogheda, Co. Louth

 Bunratty castle, Co. Clare

 Monasterboice, Co. Louth

Glendalough, Co. Wickow

Carrickfergus castle


65 thoughts on “Photos of Ireland in the 1930s: The past is a foreign country

  1. Beautiful photos, the color adds so much detail but seems odd too. Like, they are staged from a Disney film. Very interesting to see. Thanks

    1. Actually some Disney cartoons back in the day were actual film tapes of real life actors, just painted. Obviously the little characters like fairies etc. were drawn into the film.


  2. Wouldn’t be interesting to see the black and white photos beside the coloured images. The colours seam so unreal.

  3. Great photos. Thanks for uploading. Just one quick point. Bunratty Castle , Co. Limerick tends to rise the blood of Claremen!!! – Brian.

  4. They look more like paintings than photos. But, they are beautiful nonetheless. I loved them. I’ve been to that wonderful mother land but once 5 years ago, and the pictures made me yearn to return. Thank You.

  5. Do you have any photographs of Euston street in Greenore county louth around the early 1950s or late 1940s. I was born in Greenore in october 1949 and we lived at 27 Euston street before moving over to England in the early 1950s. My father and mothers name was Bernard and Rosh Matthews. (Benny).

    1. Gerard,
      Have a look in
      Carlingford Lough and The Cooley Peninsula also
      Dundalk Northend and Friends for lots of old photos of Greenore ,
      All on Facebook ?

  6. The Pictures are great, i enjoyed looking at the old fashions. Were they the actual colors or just an artists impression when they were inked.

    Did he write or keep any journals of his travels in Ireland?

  7. Hi,
    Can anyone please help me out. I’m looking for the name of a Tobacconist shop in Cork 1930s or 1940s. I think it was in Dunbar Street.
    My email is
    Any help would be really appreciated.


  8. I run a page on here for the village I was born in ,Would it be possible to share the photos on there,I know our members would love it,
    Pete Lyons.

    1. Hi Mary, turf is by far the most widely used term for peat in Ireland. A bit more info can be found here All the best, Colm

    2. Mary
      Its Turf, I grew up in Clare. We to the bog every year with the old man to cut “THE TURF”

  9. These are beautiful pictures. I love the colour as it brings them more to life for me. To have our past portrayed in colour brings the subjects of the pictures closer. I see them as real people in the pictures rather than shadows of people in black and white. Interestingly, those cottages and gardens still exist in Adare now! Thank you for sharing. Smiles, Annie B.

    1. I think there’s a tearoom in that cottage now in Adare 🙂 Such a beautiful garden – I wish I could have one just like it!!

  10. I was wondering if anyone could provide some insight into my heritage. The maiden name of my grandmother was (Lany) Shaver, grandfather (Howard) Forsyth until my grandmother decided there should be an e after the name. Any information on these names would be so greatly appreciated. Thank You

  11. Pic of woman selling vegetables is actually pic of mrs jim cooper who had a vegetable stall at the market cross in killarney co kerry

  12. Thank you for sharing these awesome photos. My ancestors were from Ireland. Although I have never had the privilege of traveling to the Homeland, I feel an affinity to the land. Most likely because I love and am very proud of my heritage and the bravery my grandparents possessed to come to a foreign land, The United States of America.

  13. My darling wife , Kathleen, sent me these pictures long ago and I’ve only just looked at them. She died in May and I cry each day for her and now for old Ireland. Be proud. Sun on your pillow Colm.

    1. I’m very sorry to hear of your loss Mick, my thoughts are with you.I hope the images bring you some small bit of happiness. Colm

  14. Stunning collection. I love hand coloured work and to have them tinted by the original photographer is superb! Hand tinted photos are gorgeous and can resemble paintings. A definite lost art and much better than the digital hand colouring used today.

  15. Lovely photos. I was born in 1954 in the west of Ireland remember scenes like some of the photos from my childhood.

  16. Colm, i just can’t thank you enough for these beautiful photos. With a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye, I can honestly say they make my heart hurt for “home”. My maternal grandmother was an O’Sullivan, and although I was born in the United States, my soul is Irish, through and through. I haven’t been to Ireland in this lifetime, but my soul knows it’s spent more than a few of them there. 😉 Hence, the aching homesickness. The vivid colors bring these photos to life in more ways than one for me. I tip my hat to you Colm. Thank you again, and God bless!! ~Sincerely, BellaDonna

  17. Hi Colm, I saved one of your photos some time back and I clicked on it today and I looked at all of them .
    Very outstanding ,thanks for posting , I’ve been visiting Ireland since the 60’s as my Wife of this Feb will be 50 yrs . We will be home for celebration .
    When I first arrived in Ireland in the early 60’s it was at the train station in Waterford , did you every see and photos of the station ? Thanks

  18. Thanks so much Colm,

    The images stir something in me: resonance, recognition, remembrance. I can “smell” them !
    A “foreign country” maybe: but maybe not so “foreign.” For me, more like archaic “home.”
    Sister Kathleen

  19. Brilliant collection, just wondering if anyone knows if there are any copies of the original black-and-whites on the interwebs anywhere?

  20. My name is Martin Sullivan, I just discovered these pictures today Sept. 2, 2018 at my home in Florida, USA. I am looking for my Mother’s passport will write more later. My Mother passed

    away shortly after I was born in April 1934. Her maiden name was Margaret O’Keefe she died from

    TB so my Grandmother (fathers side) took me to her Mother in Ireland for a year or two. More on t

    this later, I know nothing about my Mother not even a picture.

    Martin Sullivan

  21. Hi I’m back checking to see if you have posted any more photos. I have a couple of photos of my Grandmother & her Mother and me in front of their cottage in Ireland. I had a photo of my Mother, a small one liker you would get in an arcade machine 4 for a dollar at the time 1934, my Father took it and had a painting done for me. It is a great picture but he never gave me back the photo, If I ever figure out how to post them I will. Thank you for the photos. Marty Sullivan. Sunday July 7, 2019

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