The Johnny O’Brien Collection is a vast collection of images relating to the sporting, commercial, local and social history of Portlaoise town and vicinity.
Johnny O’Brien was proud to be from ‘old Portlaoise stock’ and had a passionate interest in the local history of his native town and its inhabitants. He began collecting old photographs, often from private family collections, which he later published in a series of popular photographic books greatly enjoyed by Portlaoise people locally and internationally. His books include stories and memories of Portlaoise town contributed by Johnny’s many friends at home and abroad. The complete book collection is available in Laois Libraries and is an incredible resource for those interested in the local and social history of Portlaoise and the surrounding area.
The value of this collection is greatly enhanced by Johnny’s knowledge of local people and events which he endeavoured to record in his books and on the reverse of images collected. A natural and gifted detective he used his local knowledge and contacts to uncover as much as possible from every image. The contextual information discovered and recorded by Johnny and his many valued friends makes exploration of the collection more meaningful and has future proofed its value.
In 2019 Johnny began the long process of transferring his collection to Laois Libraries. With the support and assistance of his loving wife Maura and granddaughter Pauline, the collection was transported to Laois Local Studies where it will be available to the general public. Johnny and the O’Brien family were anxious that the collection should remain in Portlaoise and be accessible to all for research and pleasure.
This year Laois Libraries, with the support of the Heritage Council Stewardship Grant and Laois County Council, commenced a preservation project to rehouse the historic images in archival quality enclosures, albums and boxes. This ensures the images will survive for future generations to access and explore. With the support of Creative Ireland, the collection is being digitised to enhance preservation and accessibility. A selection of the digitised images can be viewed below. The online images will be added to as digitisation progresses.