Newcastle West in close-up: A snapshot of bygone days

Norma Prendiville

Reporter:

Norma Prendiville

AN evocative book about Newcastle West, which draws deeply on people’s sense of place and pride of place, will be launched in the town this week.

Entitled ‘Newcastle West in close-up: Snapshots of an Irish provincial town’, the hardback tome does exactly what it says on the tin, allowing the reader to dip into the town’s past through a series of photographs, bill-heads and snippets of history.

And it has come into being thanks  to the efforts of a small group of men, under the auspices of the Newcastle West Historical Society: Seán Kelly, John Cussen, Pat O’Connor and Vincent Carmody.

It is, retired academic and writer Pat O’Connor says in the introduction, “an act of loving retrieval”. But it is also an homage to “hometown”.

“This book may elicit nostalgia but there is nothing maudlin to be had,” he says. “We are fetched back to another place where things were done differently.”

Instead, the book gathers in a wide treasury of documentary sources - principally photographs but also bill-heads and maps and accompanied by short explanations. A similar book about Listowel was produced some years ago by Vincent Carmody, John Cussen explains. “We thought we could do the same for Newcastle West.”

John himself had a “massive amount” of bill-heads while Sean Kelly had an impressive archive of old photographs. Over a period of six months, the four met regularly and the result is a 200-page hardback book. “We wanted to publish a popular book. We felt the town deserved it,” John Cussen said.

Many of the photographs in the book have never been seen before, Sean Kelly explained. He inherited a large number of negatives from his father and uncle dating back to the 1930s and,  inspired by this, he took up photography himself in order to print off the negatives in his own darkroom. 

He also began collecting old photographs, many of which also appear in the book. It underlines, and to some extent traces, the enormous changes that have taken place in the town over a century. At each turn of the page, the past looks out, with its long-gone faces and characters and the shops and businesses that are no more. But it speaks too of the endurance of family names and businesses in the town.

The publication of the book is also timely, coming, as it does, as Newcastle West is embarking on an ambitious five-year plan.

“Our best hope is that, having revisited the ‘salad days’, we may revitalise and regenerate Newcastle West which was described in 1752 by Cork land surveyor, Joshua Wright as ‘a town of great trade in my remembrance.”

“We remember our hometown in the exact same way. The challenge is to make it great again,” Pat O’Connor says.

Dr Pat Wallace, former director of the National Museum of Ireland, will launch the book at 8pm in Newcastle West Library on December 8. All are welcome to attend.