Book Review: ‘Ballsbridge Then & Now’ by Hugh Oram

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The History Press Ireland have published many fine books covering numerous aspects of Irish history.
Amongst their extensive output are multiple examinations of towns and villages across the country, the latest of which should be of much interest to residents of Dublin Four.

‘Ballsbridge Then & Now’ has been lovingly compiled by Hugh Oram, a Dublin based historian who has written for more than fifty individual publications, including ‘The Irish Times’, over a forty year career. Previously he has provided readers with historical accounts of Limerick and Dublin Airport, amongst others, but is staying closer to home for his latest endeavour.

As it’s title suggests, the book contrasts the busy suburb we know today with it’s ever changing appearance through the centuries. Oram examines over forty different Ballsbridge locations, some of which have changed so much as to be unrecognisable from their previous incarnations.

To illustrate the changing face of the area, Oram provides recent pictures taken by himself as well as vintage photographs, some more than a hundred years old. In some cases, the history of the location pre-dates photography and so drawings are provided.

The illustrations show not just how the area has changed, but also public attitudes. Take the Swastika Laundry, for example, whose chimney still stands today. Up until the fifties, both the chimney and the laundry’s fleet of vans were emblazoned with the Swastika symbol. The company had been set up long before the rise of Hitler at a time when the symbol represented good luck rather than the dark connotations it would later acquire. Another subtle contrast is seen in the two photographs illustrating the duck pond in Herbert Park. Oram gives us a shot of a lady, dressed in early twentieth century finery, pushing a child’s pram through the park. The opposite page shows a recent image of a child similarly being wheeled along, though this time by a man, something unthinkable at the time the first picture would have been taken.

It’s amusing to see how some aspects of Dublin life have come full circle. For instance, many of the archive photographs show the city’s old tram network in operation. In these days of the LUAS, it’s easy to forget that as a mode of transport it’s by no means new to Dublin.

Though it’s the images which draw you in at first, the text is equally engrossing. Rather than merely detailing historical facts, Oram provides many an amusing anecdote, most of which revolve around local characters and their unscrupulous behaviour.

While many of the contrasts illustrated in the book span centuries, some involve far more recent developments. To show how much things have changed in just the past decade, we are told the selling prices of some of the area’s more illustrious residences. One house on Shrewsbury Road, for example, fetched €58 million in 2005 but had shockingly dropped to a mere €15 million only six years later.

‘Ballsbridge Then & Now’ is a must have for anyone interested in the history of the area, functioning equally as a coffee table book and a riveting page turner.

Reviewed by: Eric Hillis