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Wandering Wicklow with Father Browne

Wandering Wicklow with Father Browne » is a new book by Messenger Publications offering fresh perspectives of the Garden County and one of the most beautiful parts of Ireland’s Ancient East.

It juxtaposes historic black-and-white photographs by Ireland’s famous photographer and Jesuit priest, Fr Francis Browne, with modern colour photographs of the same locations, by Paula T Nolan. A historical text by well-known writer and arts commentator, Robert O’Byrne, greatly enhances the reader’s understanding of Father Browne and his vision.

Long sea coasts, picturesque towns and renowned beauty spots portray the Garden County as well as key moments in the development of a newly-independent Ireland.

Glencree Valley, on the way to Powerscourt (1925)

In the introduction, Robert O’Byrne writes:

“Father Browne was a priest first and a photographer second. And yet, as the present selection of pictures demonstrates, his vocation for both was equally strong. Making a choice from among the thousands of photographs he took of County Wicklow therefore proved challenging; so many of them merited inclusion, his eye invariably alighting on the visual equivalent of the ‘mot juste’.

Of course, in this he was helped by the fact that Wicklow is an exceptionally beautiful part of the country, justifiably renowned as the ‘Garden of Ireland’. In addition, it offers an infinite variety of scenery, with a long sea coast on its eastern side and the great Wicklow Mountains running like a spine down its centre.

It rejoices in picturesque towns, such as the port of Wicklow itself, along with the likes of Blessington and Baltinglass, Enniskerry and Ashford, together with famous beauty spots like the Meeting of the Waters and the Glen of the Downs.

There are abundant antiquities, not least those found at Glendalough, as well as fine historic houses. And all of this on the doorstep of Dublin, making access easy for Father Browne, especially when he was living in the capital.”

The book is designed as both a guidebook and a photobook. It is divided into some interesting day trips, and there is a guide map to help you on your way. Ideal for Covid restrictions, you can leaf through it to whet your appetite, and then tuck it under your arm as you head off when restrictions ease.

The images in the book illustrate both the beauty of the landscape and the history of the region. Accompanying the stunning photos such as those of Dargle Glen, Powerscourt Waterfall and Glendalough, Robert O’Byrne gives an insight into the painterly nature of Browne’s work. He writes:

“Like many painters before him, Father Browne frequently introduced the human figure, or at least evidence of human life, into his landscape pictures: it helps to provide the viewer with a sense of scale.

Both the cyclist on a mountain road near Glencree (above) and the farmer with his pony and trap above Lough Tay (page 115) suggest how small and insignificant man can be compared with the grand scale of the natural environment.”

A selection of contemporary images by Paula T Nolan recreate some of Father Browne’s iconic images and demonstrate from a present-day perspective the timeless quality of some of the landscapes.

From the top of the falls, Glenmacnass (1925)

From the top of the falls, Glenmacnass (2020)

Robert O’Byrne is well known for his writing on great Irish houses, and Powerscourt, Kilruddery, Shelton Abbey and others are beautifully represented.

Images of Wicklow history cover such projects as the Poulaphouca Dam and the Solus Teoranta bulb factory in Bray.

Everyday life is represented by people in Arklow waiting for a train during the ‘Emergency’, sheep-dipping in Glen of the Downs, the display in a hat shop in Wicklow and children on Bray promenade (look out for the extraordinarily similar photo of children in the same location in 2020).

Paula T Nolan is a graphic designer with many years of experience working in the Irish publishing industry. Currently she does graphic design for Messenger Publications.

Robert O’Byrne is a writer and lecturer specialising in the fine and decorative arts in Ireland, and the author of more than a dozen books.

Wandering Wicklow with Father Browne is suggested as a gift book, guide book and photography book. It is published by Messenger Publications and priced at €19.95.