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Image / Editorial

Five Instagrams to refresh your Irish history

by Amanda Kavanagh
13th May 2020

Irish history is being presented in tiny digestible formats by a number of dedicated curators.

With tours and talks on hiatus, Irish history followers are at something of a loose end. Sure, you might have the time to read that weighty biography that’s been gathering dust on your bookshelves, but do you have the attention span right now? I know I don’t.

Thankfully, there’s a number of dedicated historians and hobbyists continuing to publish daily on Instagram, with timely tidbits of history that are a window to the past, and a reflection on the present.


Irish curator and writer Matt Retallick, who is based in Manchester, is the creator and curator of, an ode to design in Ireland from 1916-1996.

He started the account just over a year ago and has created a visual archive of Irish design, architecture and culture of the modernist period, and chronicles everything from book covers to advertising, political posters to record covers, airline tickets to architecture, stamps to callcards, and more besides. 

“I hope that the posts inspire people to think differently about Ireland as a place that at times was way ahead of the curve. For instance, you might not have thought your school dictionary was worth considering as a design object, but look again”, he urges. “I aim to show Irish design modernism from the most unassuming ticket stub, to a brutalist bank, it’s all there.”

When he started the project Matt had an idea that he “would find a reasonable amount, but little did I know I would reach over 400 examples in just over a year. People are really kind and send me stuff they find all the time, which I love.” The project is designed to give Irish design modernism the limelight it deserves, and Matt says, “Hopefully it gives people new ways of thinking about or approaching the design legacy of Ireland.”

As such, the Instagram account is just the beginning for Matt, who has just launched a Patreon to fund the first website devoted to Irish design modernism. Subscribers will receive exclusive blog posts and material swag as a thanks, with top tier €10 a month supporters receiving a print, badges and their name listed on the new website. 



Historian Donal Fallon is a prolific publisher on many platforms, and known to many for a decade of work on Come Here To Me!, a blog about Dublin life and culture. His own Instagram account mixes imagery of his collected ephemera, with phone snaps out-and-about in Dublin city and its suburbs, as well as historical pictures, and the occasional pint.

These days he’s behind Three Castles Burning, a seemingly freewheeling but deeply knowledgable podcast available for free on Spotify, or with perks on subscription at Patreon and has now a dedicated @threecastlesburning Instagram of its own. Each episode is under and around the 30 minute mark, and we recommend starting with the Elizabeth Bowen as a spy in the Emergency story.


Giving a new lease of life to familiar images from Irish history is a project from NUIG, which colourises historical black and white photographs using artificial intelligence.

In an interview with The Corkman, project director John Breslin named De-oldify as the programme they’re using, which remembers textures from other photographs and applies colour. 

For those wanting to have a spin themselves, he suggests trying yourself on My Heritage or Colorize.


Conflict in the North of Ireland was well documented by both local and international photographers. In many instances, photographers working on regional papers and quite everyday local stories found themselves as war correspondents on their own home turf.

These stories are expertly told in the documentary ‘Shooting the Darkness’, available on RTÉ Player, and these photographers are the source of many of the images found here.

Two guys in their late twenties from Belfast, who prefer to stay anonymous, run @NIstagrammed. R+D tell me by email, “In the beginning, it was just lesser-known photos of The Troubles that we liked. More and more people wanted to know the stories behind the images and the page grew from there. The page is a hobby really.”

“Photographers like Marc O’Sullivan, Andrew Moore, Alan O’Connor, and Paul Clifford have chatted with us through Instagram about their pics and experiences of that time. They would have been our age at the time, which is pretty mad.”

As well as bringing reminders of a close history into your Instagram feed, they also post older historical pictures, with the occasional series of themed posts around big events like International Women’s Day. 


Not content with simply marking a Guinness with marks out of ten – although this is useful information – the lads behind this review account go that bit further, chronicling the history, the famous characters and the literary mentions of public houses found between the Royal and Grand canals.

Recently, and understandably, posts have taken a wistful turn, but a scroll through the grid will unearth plenty of little nuggets about Dublin you never knew. 

Featured image: Flight textile design for the Signa Design Company by Louis le Brocquy, c. 1954, and highlighted by

Read more: Lisa Hannigan tells Lucy White how she’s spending isolation – including her Other Voices performance

Read more: The world’s best online art galleries right now

Read more: 40 books to read before you’re 40

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