It’s an iconic image of the building of America: Eleven construction workers on a break for lunch, happily chatting away on a girder balanced some 800 feet above New York City.
The photograph, taken during the construction of the RCA building (now the GE building) in Rockefeller Center, ran in the October 2, 1932 edition of the New York Herald. For all its enduring popularity (the image is frequently reprinted and has graced an abundance of posters, greeting cards and desktop backgrounds), little was known about its history until fairly recently. The photographer, Charles C. Ebbets, was not properly identified until 2003, and the names of many of the men are still unknown.
Two, however, have been identified as Irish immigrants, and a new Irish documentary, Lon sa Speir (“Lunch in the Sky”), delves into their backgrounds and the history of the famous photograph.
Perched on the far left and the far right of the beam are Matty O’Shaughnessy and Patrick (Sonny) Glynn, brothers-in-law, who both came to America from Shanaglish, a small town in south Galway. As the photograph shows, they both succeeded in finding work in the midst of the Great Depression. Matty eventually returned to Ireland and became a farmer, while Sonny stayed in the U.S.
The feature-length documentary was made for TG4, Ireland’s Irish-language TV station. It was directed by Seán Ó Cualáin* and is narrated by Fionnula Flanagan. Lon sa Speir had its world premiere at the Galway Film Fleadh on July 13, and will be broadcast on TG4 in September.
Matty O’Shaughnessey’s son Gerry and Sonny Glynn’s great-nephew Patrick have been involved in commemorating their relatives and the photograph. On July 10, with a steel girder donated by Coen Steel, they helped the filmmakers organize a photo shoot in Galway’s Eyre Square, to re-create the image on their ancestors’ home turf.
*An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the director of Lon sa Speir as Eamonn Ó Cualáin, who was a producer.