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Collection preview

Ritchie-Pickow Collection


  • In March 2021, to improve the findability of the collection, we now provide top-level topics that portray the varied content within the collection. This has made it easier to view specific themes within the collection without having to scroll through hundreds of images. We chose the topics to show the traditions, lifestyles, and institutions of Ireland at the beginning of the 1950’s and these photographs are particularly interesting to compare to how our lives look today.
  • In 2017, the archive was re-digitised, metadata enhanced, and the entire collection was published on the digital repository.

It is with sadness that the Library noted the passing of George Pickow on the 10th December 2010.

The Archive

In 1952/3 George visited Ireland with his wife, noted folk-singer and collector Jean Ritchie, and took over 2000 photographs. These included many of the singers and musicians that Jean recorded as part of a project to trace the roots of many of the songs and tunes she would have grown up with in the Southern Appalachians. While in Ireland George photographed other aspects of Irish life, where many traditions remained, but which was also on the cusp of great change. The originals are available for consultation in our Special Collections Reading Room. It is hoped that this resource will form part of George’s legacy, supporting research in many different aspects of 1950s Ireland.

It is with sadness that the Library noted the passing of George Pickow on the 10th December 2010. Professor Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, NUI Galway History Department has written an appreciation of George Pickow, published in the Irish Times, 14 February, 2011.

The Ritchie-Pickow Collection Description

In 1996 the Ritchie Pickow Phototgraphic Archive was acquired by the James Hardiman Library, National University of Ireland, Galway, along with tapes of sound recordings. The photographs were taken and the recordings made by the husband and wife team George Pickow and Jean Ritchie on visits to Ireland in 1952 and 1953. Two exhibitions of the Ritchie Pickow Photographic Archive have been held at NUIG in 1992 and 1996. It was under the auspices of Dáibhín Ó Cróinín, lecturer in the History Department of the university and a grandson of one of the vocalists recorded by Jean Ritchie, that the collection was acquired for the Library Archives.

Jean Ritchie, singer, folklorist and dulcimer player was born on 8 December 1922 in Viper, Kentucky. She was the youngest of a family of 14 children, known as ‘The Singing Ritchies’. Jean graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1946 and taught for a time. In 1952 she was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to enable her to research the origins of her family.s songs in Great Britain and Ireland. Her husband George Pickow, a photographer, accompanied her and they spent approximately eighteen months recording folk songs and traditional musicians and taking photographs. The photographs include photographs of many well-known uileann pipe players, for example Seamus Ennis, Michael Reagh, the McPeake trio, Leo Rowsome; vocalists, including Elizabeth Croinin, Sarah Makem and Mary Toner and story tellers, such as Patcheen Faherty from the Aran Islands.

As well as assisting his wife in her research George Pickow also used the opportunity to do features on aspects of Irish life. Christmas celebrations with straw boys and wren boys, life on the Aran Islands, Dublin scenes, the American Ambassador and his family in Ireland, the story of St Patrick, the development of Dublin Airport, operations of the Garda Síochána at Dublin Castle, and Irish sporting activities, such as road bowling, hurling, coursing, hunting and racing. Photographs were also taken of traditional Irish crafts, for example spinning, weaving, thatching and crios and sliotar making. In a video recording made with George and Jean Pickow in the early 1990s regarding their visits to Ireland, George says that these photographic stories were for the ‘Sunday News’ in New York.

The photographic archive is comprised of one hundred and sixty seven sheets of black and white contact prints with corresponding negatives, numbering one thousand eight hundred and eighty seven photographs in total. The majority of the photographs were taken using Kodak safety film and these negatives are unfortunately not numbered so the sequence cannot be followed. The last ten sheets of photographs were taken using Eastman 5 6 super xx safety film and Ilford hypersensitive panchromatic film, these negatives are numbered. There are also one hundred and ninety prints in two sizes, 19x19 cms and 27x27 cms, of which ninety five are mounted. Many of the mounted prints were used in the exhibition of 1996 and a few have captions. Some of the contact prints are old, perhaps dating back to the 1950s but the majority are more recent and for some photographs there are both old and new contact prints. For other images there are only photocopies of the contact prints. These photocopies cover the Aer Lingus sequence of photographs and the original sheets of contact prints may have been used in connection with the production of the book by Hugh Oram to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Dublin Airport, in which two of George Pickow.s photographs appear unacknowledged, see pages 103 and 105 of Dublin Airport: The History (1990).

The sheets of contact prints are now contained in five folders. They have not been arranged in a chronological sequence and photographs that belong together are not always on the same sheet or adjacent sheets, for example scenes from a market day in Kilkenny appear on the sheets numbered P1171 and P1178. The contact sheets were arranged in this fashion before they came to NUIG. With regard to dates it is difficult to follow the exact sequence of George Pickow’s photographs. As the Pickows were based in London, they visited Ireland on a number of occasions during the eighteen months. It is clear from evidence relating to the sound recordings, that the Pickows visited the Makem family, Co Armagh on 18 November 1952 and Elizabeth Croinin was recorded singing in Macroom, Co Cork on 24 November 1952. George Pickow may have visited Dublin Airport on more than one occasion but he was certainly there in 1952 as he took a photograph of the aeroplane E1-ACF St Kieran. This plane was damaged beyond repair near Birmingham on 1 January 1953. The American Ambassador to Ireland, William Howard Taft III, was appointed American Ambassador to Ireland on 2 April 1953 so the photographs of his family were taken after this date. It is apparent from the photographs showing the harvesting of the potatoes that the Aran Islands photographs were taken in late summer or early autumn. Two sequences of photographs do not date from the 1952/3 visits. The old contact prints for the scenes from the Dublin bird market are dated on the back ‘1947’ in one instance and ‘1948?’ in the other. The photographs of the Mc Peakes, a father and sons trio, who played uileann pipes and harp, date from 1964 and were taken at a festival in Wales.

The sheets of contact prints are numbered 001-167 and each individual image can be identified according to its sheet number (001, 002, 003 etc) and to its place on the sheet (01, 02, 03 etc). The collection number is P1, so for example the fourth image on the forty eighth sheet will be numbered P104804. There are also seven prints for which there are no contact prints or negatives, these prints have been number P116801P-P116807MP. All the prints have a letter after their number as follows, P = a print 19x19 cms, MP = a mounted print 19x19 cms, LP = a large print 27x27 cms and LMP = a large mounted print 27x27 cms.

Allen, Gregory The Garda Siochána (1999) Barry, Michael Across Deep Waters, Bridges of Ireland (1985) Brett, C E B Buildings of County Armagh (1999) Daly, Leo Oileáin Árann The Aran Islands (1975) Gallogly, Rev John The History of St Patrick.s Cathedral, Armagh (1880) Hamilton, Roy 100 Years of Derry (1999) Hopkin, Alannah The Living Legend of St Patrick (1989) McCarthy, Denis Dublin Castle (1997) McNiffe, Liam A History of the Garda Siochána (1997) Mullen, Pat Man of Aran (1935) Ó Croinin, Dáibhi The Songs of Elizabeth Croinin (2000) O.Donnell, E E Images of Aran, Photographs by Father Browne 1925 & 1938 (1998) O.Mahony, Felicity The Book of Kells (1994) Oram, Hugh Dublin Airport: The History (1990) O Riain, Micheál Aer Lingus 1936-1986: A Business Monograph (1986) Rankin, J Frederick Down Cathedral (1997) Richardson, Hilary and Scarry, John An Introduction to Irish High Crosses (1990) Robinson, Tim Stones of Aran Labyrinth (1995) Share, Bernard The Flight of the Iolar: The Aer Lingus Experience 1936-1986 (1986) Tubridy, Mary ed. The Heritage of Clonmacnoise (1987) Brigid Clesham September 2003