A Snapshot of O’Connell Street in 1964

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Dublin lamp The black and white photograph chosen for the cover of this year’s Dublin Festival of History programme was taken in 1964 and depicts a busy O’Connell Street teeming with pedestrians and traffic. It is one of almost 10,000 images contained in the Fáilte Ireland Tourism Photographic Collection, created by the Irish tourist authority and later donated to the Dublin City Library and Archive.

Dating from the 1930s to almost the present day, the photographs in this collection capture people and places from all over Ireland, in particular well-known tourist sites.

In this instance, the photograph of Dublin’s main thoroughfare was taken from the Aston and Burgh Quay end of O’Connell Bridge. A look at the famous clock outside Clery’s Department Store on the right of O’Connell Street shows that the photograph was taken at approximately 4:10pm, and considering how congested the scene is it was likely a weekend. The No.11 bus can be seen making its way to Clonskea. Other Dublin bus routes at the time included the No.10 to Donnybrook and No.20 to Inchicore.

The photograph succeeds in capturing the scale and frenetic activity of O’Connell Street while ensuring that the G.P.O. and thoroughfare’s monuments honouring Daniel O’Connell and Horatio Nelson all appear to advantage side by side. Although popular establishments on the left of the street such as Lemon’s Pure Sweets Confectioners Hall (now Foot Locker) and the Metropole Cinema (now Penneys) are omitted, the photograph captured was ideal for promoting Dublin as a desirable holiday destination.

O'Connell Street 1964

Other 1964 Fáilte Ireland photographs of O’Connell Street, perhaps taken on the same day by the same photographer, reveal that the Metropole screened the Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn thriller The Charade that year, while traditional pipe and tobacco manufacturers Kapp & Peterson at 32 Lower O’Connell Street (now Starbucks) displayed a large “Guinness Is Good For You” sign.

In the photograph a man and woman walking beside the O’Connell Bridge lamps and potted plants appear prominently in the foreground. Both are well-dressed and the man is holding a camera in his hand, unsurprising considering the location. At a distance directly behind the pair stands the towering Nelson Pillar. Erected at the centre of what was then Sackville Street during the early nineteenth century, this enormous granite column in honour of British naval hero Admiral Horatio Nelson was severely damaged by explosives planted by members of a left-wing republican faction in March 1966 and destroyed shortly afterwards by the Irish Army. In the photograph one can see several people inside the viewing platform cage beneath Thomas Kirk’s statue of Nelson, enjoying an unparalleled panoramic view of Dublin. The cage had been added to an original parapet of iron railing near the top of the Pillar for safety reasons. Since 2003 this site has been occupied by the Spire of Dublin.

Standing proudly at the entrance to the street named in his honour, the bronze and granite monument honouring Irish nationalist politician Daniel O’Connell – designed by sculptor John Henry Foley and unveiled in August 1882 – is surrounded by people sitting on benches and parked bicycles. The imposing size of Foley’s sculpture means that in the Fáilte Ireland photograph one cannot see the smaller granite and white marble monuments to nationalist figures William Smith O’Brien and Sir John Gray that stand between it and Nelson Pillar, or the fact that prior to the area becoming pedestrianized the centre of O’Connell Street was used as a place for parking cars.

A large selection of historic photographs of O’Connell Street, some depicting scenes of calmness and some as bustling with people going about their business as the image discussed in this blog, can be freely accessed online via the Dublin City Libraries and Archives Digital Repository.


James Curry, Historian in Residence, North West Area Dublin City Council.


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