O’Connell Street in its current form started life in the late 1700s as a residential development for some of the more posh and wealthy citizens of Dublin. Back then it was known as Sackville Street and only extended from Parnell Square to Henry Street. Today it runs right to the River Liffey and is home to illustrious tenants such as Dr Quirkys Arcade, Supermacs and Ann Summers.
Despite being home to some less than fancy outlets (although Ann Summers is quite fancy…. somebody who’s been there told me), O’Connell Street still retains its air of grandeur and is lined by some very fine buildings. The General Post Office is probably the most famous of these and was the scene of intense fighting during the 1916 rising. It makes for an interesting if at times challenging (for a number of reasons as we will see) photography locations. The photographs in this series were taken during both the morning and evening blue hours.
O’Connell Street and Dublin Spire from O’Connell Bridge
In this first shot, I set up my tripod at the far end of O’Connell Bridge. In the frame, you can clearly see the “Dublin Spire“, erected to mark the millennium. The famous Nelson’s Pillar used to occupy this space until 1966 when the IRA decided the street would be better off without it. On the night of March 8th, a bomb went off that had been hidden inside the pillar and Admiral Nelson took the first (and last) flight of his life. A few months the head from the statue was brought out on stage during a Dubliners concert.
We Dubliners have a tradition of giving our landmarks nicknames that rhyme. The Dublin Spire has been bestowed with several: The Nail in the Pale; The Stiletto in the Ghetto and ahem…. the Stiffy by the Liffey. Hey, we’re not the city of Samuel Beckett and James Joyce for nothing you know.
Corner of O’Connell Street and Eden Quay
For this next photo, I focused on the corner of O’Connell Street and Edan Quay. Again, I used a slow shutter speed to capture the traffic light trails which provide some foreground interest in the scene. In this photo, the statue of the Great Daniel O’Connell stands proudly on his plinth to the left of the frame. Known as the “Great Emancipator”, O’Connell’s statue was a more popular addition to the streetscape than Admiral Nelson. So much so that the street was renamed in his honour in 1924.
Just before I took this shot, a charming young denizen of the city dressed in a classy white tracksuit tried to relieve me of my camera. She grabbed a tripod leg and tried to run off. Fortunately for me, her sense of co-ordination had been dulled by whichever narcotics were bouncing around her system at the time and she tripped and fell flat on her face. On dragging herself from the ground, she warned me not to take her photo or she would “burst me”. She truly was a delightful young lady.
Jim Larkin Statue
O’Connell Street itself is actually quite a difficult place to take photographs. there are lampposts, traffic lights, tram wires, trees and assorted poles dotted all over the street (not to mention aggressive tracksuit clad young ladies). Necessary as most of these are, they make it difficult for a photographer to shoot an unimpeded view on much of the street. The next time I photograph, this area, I’m going to have to bring my angle grinder.
In this photo, I decided not to fight this forest of obstacles and just included them all in the frame.The columns of GPO are visible to the left and the base of the Dublin Spire is in the centre of the frame. For me however, the most striking part of the photograph in the silhouetted statue of trade union leader, Jim Larkin. Larkin was famous for his impassioned speeches delivered with his arms held aloft as is depicted in the statue. The bicycle at the front provides foreground interest but despite my best efforts I couldn’t remove the lock. I really need to get an angle grinder.
General Post Office – Scene of A Battle
The General Post Office (GPO) is without a doubt the best known building on O’Connell Street. Completed in 1818, this neo-classical edifice was almost completely destroyed during the 1916 Rising. If you look closely, you can still see the bullet holes from the street battles in the columns at the front portico. It was from the front steps of the GPO that Padraig Pearse read out the Proclamation of the Irish Republic.
This is a photograph that would be impossible to take today as since I took this shot, the area has been criss-crossed with dozens of overhead tram lines. At the time, this was one of the few vantage points on the street with an unobstructed view. I took this simple photograph of the front facade early during the morning blue hour, a time we often overlook for urban landscape photography.
Clery’s Department Store at Christmas
Clery’s has been a Dublin institution since it opened its doors in 1853. Generations of Irish couples have met under its imposing clock. Like the GPO, it was mostly destroyed during the events of Easter 1916 and the current building dates from 1922. Sadly, it closed its doors rather suddenly in 2012, Staff were given a measly thirty minuted to collect their belongings and leave. The building is set to reopen as part of the newly developed “Clery’s Quarter“.
Once again, I took this shot before sunrise while the sky was still dark. Like many urban centres, Dublin is a fantastic photography location at Christmas with several large Christmas trees dotted around the city including the most famous one of all here in front of Clery’s. For a few years, it had been replaced by an awful modernist “tree” that looked like a pile of tacky multi-coloured baubles before city councilors finally saw sense and restored the classic Christmas tree.
One of my favourite stories featuring Cleary’s took place as the finishing touches were being put to the Dublin Spire. As all of the construction equipment was being removed, one Dublin wit among the watching crowd with was heard singing “I can see Clery’s now, the crane has gone”.
With a few good shots in the bag that morning and the sun beginning to rise, I headed down the street to dine among the finery of Supermacs. For my non-Irish readers, Supermacs is an Irish version of McDonald’s but a bit less classy. As I sat chewing on something described on the menu as a breakfast burger, I looked out on O’Connell street and wondered how long it would take me to cut down the Spire with my axle grinder. I could use it as a giant monopod.
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