IN THE AFTERMATH of The Emergency, neutral Ireland’s experience of World War II, the country experienced a couple of decades’ worth of intense change, no more than the rest of the world.
The 1950s and (particularly) the 1960s saw Ireland dragged kicking and screaming into a new, modern era.
How the capital evolved in those 20 years is explored, in text and evocative images, in ‘Dublin in the 1950s and 1960s: Cars, Shops and Suburbs’ by UCD geographer and Associate Professor Joe Brady, the latest volume in the Making of Dublin City series.
The evolution of the city has been an interest of Brady’s all his academic life. A native of Fairview on the city’s northside he says: “any good geographer is always interested in the landscape around them.”
“The new book looks at what things were like in Dublin in two very contrasting decades,” he says.
“The 50s were quite gloomy, but not for everybody. It’s true there was probably a lot of dull and fairly dark things happening in Ireland in the 50s, but for others life went on.”
The book is just an attempt to get a flavour for what the city was like.
In Brady’s own words, he does so by looking at the bigger picture, and smaller, more personal vignettes, “like the Bowl of Light on O’Connell Bridge”, which was placed there in 1953.
The Bowl of Light was the centrepiece of the “An Tóstal” on O’Connell Bridge in 1953 @LouiseClissold #Dublin pic.twitter.com/vFYH59ROH0
— Old DublinTown. com (@OldDublinTown) September 1, 2013
The Bowl was the centrepiece of An Tóstal, an annual festival that ran throughout the 1950s. “The row over it went on for nearly 10 years,” laughs Brady. “The population was horrified when they saw it – this bowl with its rotating flames.”
So you have a Trinity student who grabs the plastic flames and throws them into the Liffey, and then you have a whole load of cartoons of the Liffey flinging them back!
But the book also looks at how Dublin came to evolve into its current guise – that means infrastructure, retail therapy, and house-ownership.
“The only real difference in the 1950s from the previous era was that car-ownership was on the increase,” says Brady. “And the growth in cars couldn’t be totally accommodated, but you could do so to a certain degree.”
This leads to the 40 years of planning that went on up until a decade ago. The idea back then was to build urban motorways that cut right through the city. Fortunately, in the 1950s the money just wasn’t there.
This saw Dublin engaging in much “soul-searching” as to what kind of city would be needed by a car-owning population.
The other big movement in society, says Brady, was Dublin people’s discovery of the joys of suburban life, and the changing of the relationship between citizens and their city centre.
“This is all a product of the 1960s,” he says. “The car is opening out areas that couldn’t previously be used. With that comes new methods of shopping, and suddenly you have alternatives to the city centre.”
In the 40s there was only one Dublin city centre. Now there are many focuses for retail sales. So you’ve got shopping centres opening in Stillorgan and Cornelscourt in the late 1960s.
So how would he describe the two decades he’s been scrutinising?
“The 50s is slow and steady, the 60s is fast and energetic.”
In the 60s people were starting to see a bit of money in their pocket. Everyone had rented before but now people are starting to think about owning their own home. They’re thinking about the car and the television, even foreign holidays.
“Not everyone was of course. But it was the people who changed things.”
‘Dublin in the 1950s and 1960s: Cars, Shops and Suburbs’ is available now here