Gritty scenes of Dublin in the 1970s

Gritty scenes of Dublin in the 1970s

In his new book, Dublin City, Suburbs & County 1970s, photographer Keith Nolan relives the spirit and warmth of the Irish capital.

While enrolled in a boarding school in Dublin from 1958-1964, Keith Nolan discovered photography and was immediately hooked, devoting himself to it without a second thought. “I left college at the ripe old age of sixteen as my parents became aware that I wasn’t bothered about further academic achievements, only photography!” Nolan says.

After assisting a local photographer who specialised in weddings and commercial work, and operated a colour film lab, Nolan went out on his own in 1967. Working across commercial, advertising, public relations, and documentary projects, he was immersed in daily happenings, amassing expansive archive that reflects the spirit of the times collected in Dublin City, Suburbs & County 1970s (Café Royal Books).

“The city seemed to still breathe with the echoes of its past, evident in the remaining cobblestone streets, Georgian architecture, and lively pubs,” Nolan says. “Each corner told a story whether it was a literary legacy, the haunting presence of Dublin castle and what it once represented, or the quirky shops along the River Liffey.”

The city’s true heart lay in the people themselves, who forged a sense of community across public space. “The energy of the city was infectious, characterised by warmth, humour, and a deep appreciation for connection and community,” Nolan says. “This spirit of togetherness defined the essence of Dubliners during these years, leaving an indelible mark on the city’s cultural fabric and me.”

A consummate insider, Nolan crafts a layered portrait that explores the relationship between people and place during a period of intense social transformation. Against a backdrop of high unemployment, emigration, and inflation, communities built collective bonds, creating a sense of belonging critical to survival.

Nolan points to a personal photograph of onlookers standing in front of what remains of the British Embassy on the morning of February 3rd 1972. “It had been set on fire the previous night by a very large and angry crowd in response to the Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry on the 30th of January, when the British army’s Parachute Regiment shot dead 14 innocent civilians during a civil rights demonstration,” he says. “I was one of many onlookers watching the blazing embassy that previous night but didn’t bring a camera for that occasion!”

For Nolan, photographing Dublin is an intimate act of connection that comes from a place of love, respect, and celebration for the city with all its beauty and flaws. “Dublin’s character as our capital city was palpable; it was more than just buildings and streets. It was the spirit of its people, their resilience, wit, and warmth, they infused the city with life,” he says.

“The pubs I frequented served as meeting places, cheque cashers, messages left, stories were shared, songs were sung and new friendships were forged. As a photographer, capturing Dublin meant capturing its essence, its soul. It meant freezing moments in time that reflected the city’s rich tapestry of history, culture, and humanity.

Dublin City, Suburbs & County 1970s is out now.

Enjoyed this article? Follow Huck on X and Instagram.

Support stories like this by becoming a member of Club Huck