Tony Murray’s image, one of a series exploring an Ireland in thrall to the Catholic church, carries a deeper poignancy today
Tony Murray’s book Holy Pictures captures the last knockings of an Ireland wholly dominated by the ritual and calendar of the Catholic church. This picture was taken in 1980 in Woodtown, Dublin, at a “pattern Sunday” festival for the local patron saint. The religious ceremonies at St Colmcille’s Well were followed by displays of traditional music. The boy is dancing for a small crowd seated on a grassy bank.
Murray had not long graduated from the National College of Art and Design and was working at In Dublin magazine, the city’s version of Time Out, alongside young writers including Colm Tóibín and Fintan O’Toole. In his spare time he took pictures of the country’s festivals and processions, its priests and pilgrims – in the mountains of Mayo or the shabbier parts of towns – always with a street photographer’s eye for comic juxtaposition or poignant contradiction. All of the pictures were taken after the visit of John Paul II in 1979, when more than half of the population turned out for a glimpse of the pope, but before the exposure of child abuse scandals that fatally loosened the church’s grip on Irish society.