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JIM GAFFNEY - AN APPRECIATION

Jim Gaffney (1928-2008) Naas -
photographer and gentleman:
an appreciation
 
 
 
THERE is a wise saying which says that one picture tells a thousand words. If there is any truth in that maxim then Naas photographer Jim Gaffney could claim a literary output rivalling that of the Bard of Avon.
For the previous fifty years Jim’s  images of life in the county town and its environs have graced the pages of the Leinster Leader.
Jim Gaffney took his first pictures for the Leader in 1957 and since then hardly a week passed without three or four Gaffney images appearing in this paper.
In the process he created the basis of an unrivalled record of personalities, characters, episodes and events in the life of Kildare’s county town in the latter half of the 20th century.
It all started by accident. Jim had been working in Manchester in the mid-1950s and he returned to Naas in 1957 to take pictures at the wedding of his great friend Tom Doyle from the Town Hall.
He had been doing a correspondence course in photography during his time in Manchester and was happy that his prints were of publishable quality. He sent the wedding picture to the Leader in June 1957 and from there his photographic career took off.
He recalled: ‘ I had other friends who were getting married about the same time and they asked me I could get their pictures into the paper, so I obliged. Then the Leader rang me to take a picture at some local function, I got another call the following week and the one after that. That’s basically how it continued for the following fifty years.’
 
Jim grew up in Back Lane immediately behind the Town Hall in the centre of old town Naas. It was a time when the Lane and the streets in the town pounded with life, with large families in rows of simple cottages. ‘ I remember going home from school when all the half-doors on the houses would be open and the women chatting to each other. Everybody knew everybody else in the Naas of the 1930s,’’ recalled Jim.
 
When he finished school Jim joined the ranks of the Kildare County Council roadworkers. He was based in the Caragh area and right throughout the Emergency era helped surface the roads of west Kildare with an occasional diversion to the turf-cutting schemes on the Bog of Allen.
 
Like many young men of the time he enlisted in the Local Defence Forces (LDF) and quickly gained repute as a marksman, becoming a member of the North Kildare Battalion’s crack shooting team.
 
It seems that the attributes of a keen eye and steady hand which underpinned his later photographic career had become evident during his military service. These qualities certainly stood him in good stead when he joined the Army proper at the Curragh in 1950 where he became a trooper in the Cavalry Corps and was able to follow up his enthusiasm for machinery and worked with armoured vehicles and weapons.
 
However Army life in the 1950s was characterised by a high degree of boredom and a low degree of pay and Jim decided to join other members of his family who had moved to Manchester.
 
“I worked on the buses over there. My most vivid memory is of how bad the smog was in Manchester. I often had to walk in front of the bus with a lamp to guide it through the smog,’’ he said.
 
From there he moved to Lincolnshire to a locomotive building plant where he was on the engineering team for Britain’s first diesel-electric railway engines. It was in England too that he met and married Kay Doyle from the Town Hall in Naas. That meeting was to lead to many happy consequences including Jim’s returning to Naas, that first photograph in the Leader 1957 and fifty years of service to the local media.
 
Keeping track of the busy Kildare social scene was the main call on his new photographic career. “In those early years the main events were the farmers’ dances in places such as Lawlors in Naas and the factory socials, the likes of Kingswear night in the Downshire in Blessington for example,’ Jim recalled.
 
Provincial newspapers were beginning to appreciate the value of the visual impact to lighten up their dense newsprint and Jim soon found himself accompanying the Leader reporters on stories throughout Co. Kildare.
 
‘ I often went out with Myles Mahoney who was based in Naas but covered the Maynooth, Kilcock areas. I had no transport but Myles drove and old Hillman. The problem was that most of the news-gathering seemed to take place in the vicinity of licensed premises so we nearly ended up being the story ourselves”, he laughs.
 
Among the Leader reporters that Jim worked with were Chris ‘Scoop’ Glennon, (later Political Editor with the Independent Group), Tom Brady (now Security Editor with the Independent), the late Niall Hanly, Michael O’Toole who went on to the evening press and John Lynch with whom he worked covering many of the local authority and political dramas of the 1980s.
 
There was another – literally life-saving -- dimension to Jim’s commitment to the Naas community. In 1957 he joined the Naas fire brigade, then equipped with a basic Thames truck on which a 300 gallon tank had been mounted. For many years Jim joined his fellow crew members as they turned out to the wail of the klaxon from behind the Town Hall and headed for an emergency. Most of the calls were to minor fires but, alas, the Naas brigade soon found itself dealing with many bad accidents on the high-speed dual carriageway opened in the mid 1960s. Jim continued to serve the community on the Naas engine until he retired from the brigade in 1984 after a remarkable twenty-seven years.
 
Jim continued to be on call for the Leader in later years though his work tended to be more confined to the immediate Naas area. The demands of the news agenda in more modern times saw a shift towards covering topical episodes such as demonstrations and protest marches as well as the more set piece social events. As a result Jim found himself photographing everything that hit the headlines such as election counts, the Naas water crisis of 1991, visits of Presidents and Bishops, as well as the hardy annual assignments such as the Walking Sunday festivities at Punchestown and the arrival of Santa Claus at Naas Town Hall.
 
Moving past year 2000 Jim was still to be seen with his camera at events around the Naas area. He had also had time to enjoy his off-duty interests; he was keen on traditional music and indeed an exponent of an instrument that is rare enough nowadays – the mouth organ.
 
Recognition from the wider community for the longevity of his contribution to Naas was also given formal expression. He was made an honorary member of the Naas Local History Group and the subject of a special night in the Group’s annual programme. An even greater accolade in the civic realm was to come in latter months of 2007 when Naas Town Council, in the presence of the Mayor and Councillors, conferred Jim with the Town’s Hall of Fame award for that year.
 
However despite this welcome recognition of Jim’s contribution he remained the modest, gentle-spoken personality that he always had been. Those who had worked with him or encountered him in his remarkable half century of service as photographer will always have the greatest of memories of  the gentle Jim Gaffney as one of the enduring figures in the story of Naas throughout the second half of the twentieth century
 

 - Liam Kenny with thanks to James Durney and Mario Corrigan of Kildare County Library.

An article on the late Jim Gaffney, well-known Naas photographer, by Liam Kenny. 


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