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"Melancholy Witness": The Seán Hillen Collection at the NLI

Seán Hillen | Northern Ireland

These photographs are of scenes from the 1980s, a period of conflict in Northern Ireland known as 'The Troubles', taken by Irish artist Seán Hillen. This is a small selection of approximately 700 photos which have recently been acquired by the National Library of Ireland Photographic Archive.

A book with 120 of the photographs and captions by the artist was recently published by The History Press Ireland, entitled" 'Melancholy Witness".


I was born in the small town of Newry in South Armagh, close to the Irish border.

I got addicted to photography as a teenager, then left to study in art schools in London; The London College of Printing and the Slade School, and became a professional artist, but these photos, which I continued to take over the period, when I lived mostly in London, were at first taken and used for source material for photocollage works which became my main work, but were never seen or exhibited in their own right and most had never even been printed.
In fact the negatives were eventually stripped of their protective sleeves and stuffed for a decade into a carrier bag.

After several years trying to get them collated and scanned,  almost by accident they came to the attention of the National Library of Ireland's Photographic Archive who eventually acquired 700 of them in 2011 as 'The Seán Hillen Collection', as an addition to their permanent collections,.

They were exhibited in 2012 and a record-breaking 17,000 people attended the exhibition, a huge number for Dublin.

The History Press Ireland have just published a book of 120 of them, with captions by me, entitled "Melancholy Witness" .

Seán Hillen

12 Mountjoy Parade
Dublin 1

+353 87 696 7733


The book 'Melancholy Witness' of these photos has recently been published by The HIstory Press Ireland and is widely distributed so available through your local bookseller. It is also available from their website:


And most economically from the Book Depository:


Here is a review of the book at the Irish Times:

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