The true story of a ‘remarkable photograph’

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Issue 3 (May/June 2010), Letters, Letters, Revolutionary Period 1912-23, Volume 18

Sir,

 

78_small_1274199626—The photograph on the cover of a recently published book, The War for Ireland 1913–1923 (see also Bookworm), is credited inside thus:

‘This remarkable photograph, taken on 14 October 1920 by 15-year-old John J. Hogan, an apprentice photographer, is of British intelligence officer, Lt Gilbert Arthur Price RTR, only seconds before he was killed in a gun battle with the IRA during a raid on the Republican Outfitters in Talbot Street, Dublin. IRA leader Seán Treacy was also killed during this incident.’

The same photograph—captioned ‘14 October 1920—Lieutenant Price (top),
British intelligence officer, opens fire on Sean Treacy in Talbot Street, Dublin’—accompanied an article on the January 1919 Soloheadbeg ambush in the Spring 1997 issue of History Ireland (p. 43). The authenticity of this photograph has been the subject of doubt amongst many history ‘buffs’. Indeed, when the photograph was used as recently as 2008 in Justin Nelson’s Michael Collins—a fitting farewell, the author noted that it was probably a setup.
78_small_1274199647A 2006 DVD from the Irish Film Institute resolves the matter. The film, Irish Destiny, written and produced by a Dublin GP, Dr Isaac (Jack) Eppel, was made in 1926 and was the first film set in Ireland during the War of Independence. The hero of the film is a member of the IRA, Denis O’Hara, and is played by Paddy Dunne Cullinan, a noted Irish horseman. A portion of the film has the hero travelling to Dublin to warn a Collins-like figure of an impending British raid on Vaughan’s Hotel. Having completed his mission (in Parnell Square and certainly not in Talbot Street), the hero is challenged by a group of Auxiliaries and is seriously injured in the subsequent shoot-out. It is a still photograph of this shoot-out that has long been erroneously described as being of Lieutenant Price’s last moments.

 

Beside the ‘shoot-out’ photograph on the book cover is a ‘grab’ from the DVD version of the film. The similarity between the two images will be seen immediately. A viewing of the DVD will confirm this identification, as well as showing other scenes that have appeared elsewhere purporting to have been taken during the War of Independence. Hogan may indeed have taken the still photograph—not as a precocious fifteen-year-old in 1920 but as a more credible 21-year-old in 1926—as his is taken from a different angle to those in the actual film. Either he was in the vicinity while the action scenes were being shot or he was the accredited stills photographer on the set. It may also be of interest to note that the exterior shots of Vaughan’s in the 1926 film show the hotel as it would have looked when it served as one of Michael Collins’s meeting places a few years earlier.

 

 

—Yours etc.,
ROBERT PORTER
Belfast

With regard to the mis-captioned images in History Ireland, I think it is now safe (after 13 years!) to come out with my hands up and say ‘fair cop’ to an excellent piece of visual detective work by Mr Porter. Other scenes from the film may well have appeared elsewhere purporting to be genuine images of the War of Independence but matters are complicated by the fact that Irish Destiny is intercut with contemporary newsreel footage of the conflict. Rebecca Grant, document archivist and librarian at the Irish Film Institute, tells me that the only photographer referred to in their Irish Destiny file is James G. Maguire (who later went on to run a photographic studio in South Anne Street). There is no mention of the precocious John J. Hogan. (Who was he?) Neither is it clear how or when British intelligence officer, Lt Price, was erroneously attributed to the image. This one could run and run.—Ed. To see the video from the Irish Film Archive click on the link

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mVQXuhBWEWI

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