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


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64 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.

    • Paul Dunahoo January 2, 2015 at 5:51 pm #


    • Betty Melia January 3, 2015 at 8:42 pm #

      I agree

    • Valerie Kerr November 11, 2016 at 4:00 am #


    • Elizabeth Slater January 4, 2017 at 5:46 pm #

      The eyes see a colour image.

  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).

    • Áine Quinn November 21, 2017 at 12:04 pm #

      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 ?

  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”

    • Ann Duignan Signorelli January 1, 2017 at 3:02 pm #

      We always called it turf when I was a child in Longford Ireland.

    • Elizabeth Slater January 4, 2017 at 5:42 pm #

      Hehe. Don’t argue depending where you live. Peat for the garden,turf for the fire. Leitrim.

  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

    • Michael Dunne September 20, 2017 at 8:13 pm #

      Are you referring to the two women selling vegetables allegedly in Tralee?

  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.

  29. Tess Heanue November 18, 2015 at 8:57 pm #

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

  30. BellaDonna November 21, 2015 at 8:23 pm #

    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

  31. Annie Coyle Martin February 27, 2016 at 4:03 pm #

    The stone walls and the milk cans bring back memories. Who ever coloured in the pictures did well.

  32. ronnie allen May 13, 2016 at 10:02 am #

    Love the photo of Carrickfergus Castle ….my home town, beautifully coloured.

  33. Mud Island Studios June 28, 2016 at 9:52 am #

    Wonderful collection of photos – a great inspiration for some of our own artists too.

  34. Klu Marshburn August 15, 2016 at 2:14 pm #

    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

  35. Kathleen Deignan, CND September 9, 2016 at 8:32 pm #

    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

  36. David November 10, 2016 at 2:46 pm #

    Isn’t that cashel in the last photo. I recognise the high cross.

    • Colm November 10, 2016 at 4:35 pm #

      Yep it is 🙂

  37. Terry November 10, 2016 at 2:54 pm #

    Hey, any pics from that time from the north? Co. Down in particular. 🙂

  38. Max Cottam November 11, 2016 at 7:42 pm #

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

  39. Michael Dunne September 20, 2017 at 8:16 pm #

    Re old chimney sweep in Tralee it was always considered a lucky omen by women to meet a sweep in the course of the day.

  40. Martin Sullivan September 2, 2018 at 5:20 pm #

    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

  41. Martin Sullivan September 2, 2018 at 5:50 pm #

    Martin Sullivan Sept. 2, 2018 12:45 P.M.


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