Elizabeth Kirwan, curator of the National Photographic Archive (left), and Melanie McQuade, Westmeath heritage officer, (second right) with Gretta and Joe Connell, Knockdrin, and Padraig Browne, Rosemount, at the photographic talk in Mullingar Library.

Library’s photo expert gave fascinating talk

More than five million images of Irish interest are held in the National Library of Ireland, and among them are some fascinating pictures of places around Westmeath.

Happily, the process of digitising the collection means anyone visiting the library’s website can see some of these pictures, and a taste of what’s available was presented onscreen by the library’s Elizabeth Kirwan, curator of the National Photographic Archive, as she gave a fascinating talk at Mullingar Library on Tuesday of last week.

Ms Kirwan was in town at the invitation of Westmeath heritage officer, Melanie McQuade, to give advice on how to preserve old photographs.

Sadly, over time, there tends to be a degradation in the quality of hard copy photographs, the rate at which depends on the chemicals and materials used in the original printing process. Colour shots tend to fade quicker than black and white. For extremely old and fragile pictures, Ms Kirwan advised that before handling, it is best to don plastic gloves of the type that came into use during the pandemic.

She also advised that to copy such pictures, it is best to have them re-photographed, without flash. Use of a scanner is not advised, as the burst of strong light from the scanner can damage the photographs.

The National Library do not accept collections of photographs, but if they are uploaded to a website, the library may try and webharvest the material.