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

St. Patrick’s cross, Cashel, Co. Tipperary

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

  1. tom November 1, 2012 at 8:27 pm #

    Looks a veritable shangri la…!

  2. Patricia Lyons November 8, 2012 at 1:53 am #

    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

    • Ibragim January 2, 2015 at 4:24 pm #

      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.


  3. Martin Mullen November 17, 2012 at 10:54 am #

    I really like these old photos Colm.
    Well done for putting them up


    • Colm November 17, 2012 at 1:33 pm #

      Thanks Martin

  4. Michael Ray Fox February 18, 2013 at 7:23 pm #

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

  5. Brian February 20, 2013 at 11:14 pm #

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

    • Colm February 21, 2013 at 10:40 pm #

      Sorry Brian! Can’t be having any angry Clare men. I’ll correct that mistake now :)

  6. Cuti-CLUE-les March 17, 2013 at 7:47 pm #

    I have to say I prefer he black and white look. The colouring makes them look a bit fake.

  7. Donna Fitzgerald April 6, 2013 at 3:56 pm #

    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.

  8. gerard matthews April 15, 2013 at 7:34 am #

    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).

  9. Natasha April 15, 2013 at 10:54 pm #

    Thanks for sharing. Does anyone know if the black & white images are still available somewhere?

  10. Quills Woollen Market August 1, 2013 at 3:57 pm #

    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?

  11. Thomas McLoughlin September 2, 2013 at 11:58 am #

    great views there, loved them, from Sydney Australia

    • Colm September 3, 2013 at 5:08 pm #

      Thanks Thomas!

  12. Justin Case September 7, 2013 at 12:10 pm #

    Splendid !!!

  13. James O Donovan February 4, 2014 at 8:05 pm #

    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.


  14. Pete Lyons June 5, 2014 at 6:19 pm #

    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.

    • Colm June 5, 2014 at 6:30 pm #

      Feel free to share Pete and you should probably credit the University of California Santa Cruz’s collection

  15. Mary Finnigan June 6, 2014 at 8:53 am #

    Its not turf, its peat.

    • Colm June 6, 2014 at 10:25 am #

      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

    • Aidan January 2, 2015 at 9:31 am #

      Its called turf in Ireland, what you refer to as turf we call sods.

    • Mike Thornton July 21, 2015 at 9:12 pm #

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

  16. Aine June 6, 2014 at 1:14 pm #

    Some of pics really great, I hope black and white pics will better.

  17. Mick Murtagh June 7, 2014 at 10:00 am #

    Took me back in time –Sincere thanks for the journey

    • Colm June 14, 2014 at 12:00 pm #

      You’re welcome Mick :)

  18. Ann B June 12, 2014 at 11:10 pm #

    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.

    • Colm June 14, 2014 at 11:59 am #

      You’re welcome Annie :)

    • Olwyn O'Malley March 29, 2015 at 11:09 pm #

      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!!

  19. BRENDA KING August 19, 2014 at 1:06 pm #


  20. Lorri Buschmann January 1, 2015 at 11:27 pm #

    I love Ireland an seeing pictures brings it close to me
    befor I die, I want to go back.

  21. Kevin Casey January 2, 2015 at 1:22 am #

    That might be a carpenter in photo #14, but it seems
    only some firewood he’s cutting… :)

  22. Sandi-Dee Forsythe-Welder January 2, 2015 at 4:46 pm #

    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

  23. Joanna Parker January 3, 2015 at 3:23 pm #

    Strange that it never seemed to be raining in Ireland back then… 😉

  24. pat rice January 11, 2015 at 11:06 pm #

    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

  25. Cathy Mansell August 14, 2015 at 12:49 pm #

    Thanks for posting these wonderful photos of times past, Colm.
    They were a joy to look at

    Do you have any mid 1940s photos of Co. Cavan?



  26. Cyndi Griffin August 22, 2015 at 6:46 am #

    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.

  27. Mick George September 9, 2015 at 6:31 pm #

    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.

    • Colm September 10, 2015 at 9:31 am #

      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

  28. Candace September 18, 2015 at 7:03 pm #

    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.


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