Peter Lacey’s cache of photographs from the 1930s to the ‘60s have only recently seen the light, reports Dan Danaher.
MEMORIES of learning to swim at Pier Head, Killaloe have come flooding back for numerous people in the twin communities after a treasure trove of “gold” negatives were developed by the local historical society.
Peter Lacey, who was elected at the first Lord Mayor of Killaloe and Ballina in 1980, taught hundreds of people in the locality how to swim, despite the fact he wasn’t a strong swimmer. A keen photographer, he also took countless photographs of people and places in the riverside communities.
The negatives of old photographs extending from the ‘30s into the ‘60s were kept in a small Major cigarette box. Even though the negatives are very small, Killaloe Ballina Historical Society secretary, Deborah Dudgeon managed to find a way to bring them back to life through digital processing and has circulated them on social media.
Deborah recalled Peter came to Killaloe from an orphanage in Dublin in 1924 and worked in a farm while he was in his early teenage years. In 1986, he died unexpectedly at his home in Canal Bank at the age of 75.
Peter became a painter and decorator, who did a lot of renovation work in the town. While Peter could only swim a short distance, he made it his life’s ambition to teach people how to swim. He snapped young children learning how to swim back in the ‘40s and ‘50s. These people who are now senior citizens are enjoying looking back at photographs of what they did in their younger days.
Deborah told the Clare Champion his photographs are attracting a lot of attention over the last week. “Peter Lacey definitely made his mark on Killaloe. He taught a lot of people how to swim, which was important in a riverside community. They are beautiful old photographs chronicling social history in Killaloe. It is a great interesting collection of photographs. People are going through the photographs and are identifying certain individuals in them.
“It is great to be able to share these old photographs. What is the point in having negatives in an old cigarette box? We are considering mounting these photographs on an outdoor photo album for people who don’t have Facebook or email. We like the idea of printing them big like an election poster and hanging them on the site where the photograph was originally taken. The photographs are generating a great response. It is lovely to be able to give people all these old memories.”
When Peter used to take photographs, he printed them for people and also showed them to others as part of his slide collection, which he displayed in his house. One of the photographs that was published on social media featured Peter with Tom Cooney (103), who died last year and Michael Connolly at Pier Head, Killaloe in 1967.
Deborah emailed one photograph of a woman with four children at Royal Parade to former Killaloe native, Paddy Crowe, who now lives in Inisheer, and he identified two Crowes and two McKeoghs. The photographs include old shots of Josie Reddan’s pub near Killaloe bridge and when the Anchor Inn only had two floors and the old lockhouse, which is now Killaloe Library. Other photographs show the shoreside from the old station house in Ballina before any of the houses were built near Flanagan’s Bar.
Peter used to live in a house at the end of the Aillebhaun and had it beautifully painted, which is no longer in use. Brian McMahon, who previously lived in Mr Lacey’s house, found the cigarette tin box with and gave it to Paul McGrath during the early ‘90s. One of Peter’s cameras was also found – the Kodak Brownie was in production from 1959-1963. It takes 127 film, which had a small negative.
Paul recalled a man from Limerick came looking for a photograph of the old cinema in Killaloe and he gave him a negative from Mr Lacey’s collection. When the man returned with a photograph of the old cinema after developing the negative, Paul realised they could be processed and passed them on to Deborah.
“I always treasured them as I knew they were pure gold. There was never any danger they were going to be thrown out. When I see some of the photographs now I am so happy that people can see and enjoy them. For this generation and the next generation, it is important these photographs are being made available. It is important to have old photographs of the Lakeside Hotel, Palister House, the old cinema,” he said.
Paul recalled Peter used to paint Lena Courtney’s public house and shop near where the East Clinic is now located.
“Peter was a great painter and decorator. He was very talented. Peter was ahead of his time. I am living overhead Crotty and on one of the old bedroom doors there is a porcelain door plate to protect the door. One day when the door slammed and the porcelain cracked I found an inscription ‘Peter Lacey painted this door in 1942’. The fact they Peter could think of doing this so it could be found again in 40 or 50 years. He could get a crepe paper and make a flower out of it. Peter used to run the arcade where Raw Interiors is located in the seventies. The arcade was owned by Hector Newham, who used to own the Lakeside Hotel.
“My brother, Johnny must have about 1,000 of Peter’s slides and photographs. I love one of his photographs of Collins’ Pharmacy when it had a wooden front. Peter painted it a lovely maroon colour and took a photograph of it. When Sean Collins was 40 years in business I gave him a framed copy of it.
“When young people were being taught how to swim they were put on a harness with a rope, which Peter used to teach them. In McGrath’s house, once you got off the rope, you could go up to Jimmy Kennedy’s and get a fishing rod because you were able to swim then,” he said.
Peter was a founder member and former secretary of St Lua Swimming and Lifesaving Club, Killaloe. The club erected a plaque at Pier Head bearing his name to acknowledge the fact he taught hundreds of people how to swim. He also organised swimming galas, and accompanied local swimmers to galas throughout Munster.
Fundraising was another passion, organising concerts and dances to raise funds for the club. He joined the Gaelic League, sang and recited at the St Patrick’s Night Concerts where his performance always attracted widespread applause.
One successful swimmer that came out of Killaloe was Michael Crowe, who swept the boards to become All-Ireland champion in the U-14, U-16 and U-18 category.
One of Peter’s famous sayings was, “Once you drink half pints and stick to the same brand of cigarette you are all right.” However, he was a strict disciplinarian when it came to preparing young swimmers for races, ruling out all smoking and drinking before entering the water.