John Breslin & Sarah-Anne Buckley have produced a best-selling book of historic photographs which they have ‘colourised’, bringing them to vivid life. John writes about the genesis of the book and how it has captured the imaginations of Irish people all over.
In my day job, I carry out research at NUI Galway’s Data Science Institute, where we study various applications of artificial intelligence (AI) to real-world problems.
A couple of years ago I found out about a new program called DeOldify, which can be used to automatically colourise black and white photographs. I tried it out on some old family photographs and was amazed at the result. I then colourised some photographs from County Galway where I live, and later some more from around Ireland.
After seeing the huge interest in the photos I was sharing on my own Twitter account, I started up some Old Ireland in Colour social media accounts, and it went from there.
Originally, I think I considered putting together a calendar or some prints maybe – a book seemed like such a huge undertaking. However, I was really lucky to have the excellent Dr Sarah-Anne Buckley to collaborate with, as she did outstanding work on the narrative and on weaving the themes together. And we have the tremendous support of the publishing team at Merrion Press.
Old Ireland in Colour was produced in only five months, from contract signing to copies on shelves, which was extremely fast! Sarah-Anne and I had not even met before we connected and decided to do the book in early April, and we still haven’t met because of the pandemic.
The reaction to the book has been far beyond our wildest expectations. We knew there would be some interest given the social media following, but it has been amazing to see how the book has spread to new audiences, with so many people sharing photographs of their book copies on Instagram and Twitter.
It’s also been fun seeing all the people who’ve gotten copies as birthday or Christmas gifts for others but who then don’t want to part with them.
What has also been unexpected is the interest in specific groups or communities: from teaching history in schools to helping the elderly reminisce on events from long ago – as this is known to provide cognitive stimulation to those who may struggle to remember more recent events.