1890 - Patrick O’Brien’s Kodak image of two policemen ‘shadowing’ Rev David Humphreys in Tipperary during the rent strike.

The Plan of Campaign’s combination of politics and photography came to a head in Tipperary town in 1890. During a major dispute between tenants and the landlord on the Smith-Barry estate, the construction of new streets and a market arcade for the evicted tenants became national and international news. The National League led a huge drive to publicise and fund the building project, which became known as New Tipperary.

The Lawrence Company in Dublin dispatched a photographer to document the events, and made the images commercially available very soon afterwards. Credited to Robert French, the images featured in political slide shows and formed the basis of newspaper illustrations, which energised the narrative at home and abroad. Around the same time, Patrick O’Brien (MP for North Monaghan), one of the campaign’s national leaders and an enthusiastic amateur photographer, used his Kodak camera to document police surveillance and ‘shadowing’ of the local campaign leaders, including a local Catholic priest, the Reverend David Humphreys. O’Brien’s images were used for political ends: he made lantern slides of them, and had them projected as agit-prop spectacles onto the Houses of Parliament in London – bringing the issue directly to the centre of power.

The images also provoked an enthusiastic response from the Kodak Company, which saw past the politics of O’Brien’s use of the camera, and instead saw their power as a high-profile advertisement for the new camera.

Image courtesy: National Library of Ireland

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