Launch of ‘WESTMEATH LIFE Through The Lens’ 2019 edition this week

Men let their hair grow long; women wore theirs short. Men and women alike wore long collars and wide trousers, and men lived in suits.

Nowhere is the adage that ‘the past is a foreign country’ more obvious than when browsing through the pages of newspaper files, or the stockpile of old pictures from past issues.

And the long collars and wide trousers style was how the residents of that ‘foreign country’ that was the Westmeath of the 1970s and 1980s dressed.

To say there is a wealth of history among the files is not to overstate things, for these sorts of pictures are invaluable for the stories they tell, the memories they evoke and the occasions and personalities captured by photographers such as John Mulvihill, Matt Nolan, Sean Magee, Paddy Devanney and PJ ‘Poncho”’ Murray – to name but a few of those who supplied this newspaper with photographs during those years.

Last year, The Westmeath Examiner and The Westmeath Independent collaborated to present a photographic archive in book form, ‘Life Through the Lens’.

This year, we’ve gone back and compiled a further collection, largely from the 1980s but with some going back to the 1940s or even beyond that again, along with some shots from the 1990s and it really is a fascinating publication, and something that you will return to again and again.

We have done our best to ensure that everyone in the book is named – but there will be hours of entertainment to be had if you take a magnifying glass and pore over the faces in the crowds in large shots seeing if there are others you recognise; or if you use it to squint over the streetscapes, trying to recall what names were over various shops and pubs.

Like an episode of Reeling In The Years, this book can create a yearning for the past, as it shows a way of life now gone. This is a snapshot of a time when people travelled the county to dance to live bands; when huge numbers were involved in political parties; when participation in the Catholic Church was taken for granted – and when mobile phones, the internet, Tinder and Snapchat were all in the future.

Sport was popular – but there was less participation than today; and women’s sport was less of a force than it is now.

Women were notably absent from many fields, and one striking photo from the early 1990s, taken during a visit to Mullingar by the-then Minister for the Environment, Michael Smyth TD, features 25 decision-makers of the time – councillors, national politicians and top council officials – all of whom were men.

Many of those involved in community life in that era are still involved today – but what the photos cruelly display is how quickly time passes, and how awfully it ravages us humans.

Inevitably too, many of those who feature in the pages of Life Through the Lens are no longer with us, and what this publication does is remind us of them; of their place in Westmeath life and Westmeath’s social history.

The book features pictures of events of note, such as Albert Reynolds’ first visit to Mullingar as taoiseach; the opening of the Mullingar bypass and various social functions, but it is fair to say all aspects of life locally are represented, with photos from sporting events, schools, workplaces, religious ceremonies and various other occasions.

There are also plenty of the type of photo that journalists rather ignominiously refer to as ‘mugshots’, or ‘head and shoulders’ shots.

For anyone from Westmeath, this book would make a great gift – serving as a reminder of faces and places from a not-too-distant past. It’s a happy book and full or surprises – but there is a touch of poignancy too to the contents of its pages.

The book is being launched at the library in Mullingar this Wednesday, December 4, at 11am, and all are welcome to attend the event.

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