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The magazine of the art-form of the photo-essay “A free, really high quality photo-essay magazine.  Fabulous!” Stephen Fry. British actor, writer and film & documentary maker
Feb 2016 back issue
Vanishing Ireland
photographs by James Fennell
In their years travelling the Irish countryside, award-winning photographer James Fennell and author and historian Turtle Bunbury are constantly struck by the importance of friendship and community in the lives of the people they meet. Here, in Vanishing Ireland: Friendship and Community, they take to the roads of Ireland once again and, through stunning photographs and poignant interviews, bring us the stories, friendships and memories that form the identity of our nation.
From sea-swept Ballinskelligs where the traditions of music and storytelling have passed through generations, to the quiet calm of a group of Cistercian monks, we are reminded of a time when kinship and friendship formed the lifeblood of every community; a time before social media and mobile phones, where communicating with a neighbour meant a chat over a cup of tea, on a country lane, or over a garden wall. Through times of adversity and prosperity, the bonds of community between people – family, friends and neighbours – has remained a vital part of Irish life. Vanishing Ireland: Friendship and Community celebrates these bonds and reminds us of what it means to be Irish.
Atty Dowling (1916-2005) Farm Labourer Tobinstown, Co. Carlow. “O God it was a hard life. Everything - the hardest of work - was done with the hands. But it was a grand life. And whatever the hell way it was, people was somehow happier and more contented.”
Donal Duffy (1920-2007) Piper & Builder Ravensdale, Co. Louth. “I grew up in Belfast when the pogroms were on. My father was Catholic and we lived in a Protestant area. These two boys were outside the gate. “Are you Duffy?” “Yeh.” Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. Six bullets. But he didn’t fall. He grabbed the gate. My mother heard the shots and she fell down the stairs and came out to him. A wee Protestant girl on the far side of the street went for a doctor and priest. He got two in the chest and three in the stomach and he lost the use of his arm. My mother was only a wee lassie. I was two years old. So that upset the whole apple cart!’
Eamon Madden (1924) Blacksmith & Farrier Athenry, Co. Galway. “In any job, it’s a matter of studying. To watch a fellow building a wall, you might think it comes naturally but it is a skill and he has to check it over and over again. Experience is the thing that makes you.”
Bob Murphy (1909–2002) Gardener Rathvilly, Co. Carlow “Bob was the second youngest of seventeen children born to an assistant gamekeeper. A quiet man who loved the craic, he was well known to most drinking establishments in north County Carlow. His tipple was whiskey and 7Up, or a ‘7 ½’ as he called it.”
Paddy Gleeson (1904-2010) Farm Laborer Bodyke, East Clare. “Once, I was coming to school and I met two fellows leading a three-year-old bullock with horns. On his horns was a placard – ‘The Land for the People and the Road for the Bullock’. And beneath the bull, they were dragging a man who was after evicting a poor widow from her home. They’d knocked her home but the local people seen how fast it takes to build a house and she was inside a house that night they built for her in the day! Timber and galvanised!” Paddy Gleeson was the oldest man in Ireland when he died last year.
John & Pat Piggot (1931) Farmers & Musicians Glenbeigh, Co. Kerry Like many Kerry farmers, the Piggot twins have a keen sense of music. Pat is highly skilled in playing the melodeon or squeezebox. “I learned by the air”, he says. “By listening”, adds John ingenuously, as if that settles it. The music they play invokes memories of cross-road dances, lush green valleys and Atlantic steamers heading far away. As Pat plays and John taps his foot, we drift together into a distant world where unspoken sorrows mingle gently with hissing turf fires and winter rains.
John Murphy (1925–2006) Gardener & Farmer Waterville, Co. Kerry “We were going to set up a caravan park but all kinds of feckology came in about showers and water and things. I’d have built houses instead but they wouldn’t allow it – and now there’s houses all over the place, God bless us! Feck politics, amen.”
Nellie O'Toole (1908-2010) Nurse & Housekeeper Rathvilly, Co. Carlow “I flew to America in the 1960s and met my brothers who I hadn’t seen for forty years. We had a great time. It was like they were all back in Ireland again, you know, when they started singing! Ah well, they're all gone now. I beat them all! But, do you know, people don't laugh as much as they should. That's a shame - laughing is good for the heart.”
Paddy Fagin (1924) Forester & Farmer Enfield, County Meath. “I’m just ticking over,” says the eighty-two-year-old forester, while tippling several litres of petrol from a billycan directly into a chainsaw without spilling a drop. “And once you keep ticking, you’re not too bad. We grew our own vegetables because we couldn’t buy them. You can buy anything now so long as you’ve got money. If you haven’t money, you’ll buy feck all. It’s as simple as that.”
George Thomas (1926-2009) Farmer Rathdrum, Co. Wicklow. In George’s paraffin-lit kitchen, the only noise was that of the turf burning on the vast open hearth, the fire gently fanned by a wheel-operated under-floor pipe. Above the fire was the crane with a couple of hanging pots, used by George for both baking and cooking. The pots and kettle could be raised or lowered, or moved sideways as the occasion demanded. “You couldn’t bring any lady to live under my conditions,” he joked. “It’s been declared unfit for human habitation – but luckily I’m not human.”
Baby Rudden (1923) Cattle farmer Redhills, Co. Cavan. “There were no school buses when we were young. We knew no different because we were all hard up. My father used to beat the water off the ferns on the rocks so we’d not get our feet wet. We had to gather whins [gorse] to get the school fire going. We brought our own turf too. Your children c ould be back to doing that yet,” says Baby with a merry cackle as news of a further economic downturn ekes out of her wireless.
Con Riordan (1912) Farmer Glenbeigh, Co. Kerry. “I spent my life mowing the fields, planting potatoes, cutting turf, looking after cattle and sheep. Every sod I ever turned was turned with a spade. And when you’re gone past 90 years you’ve turned a few sods in your time.”
Timmy & Stevie Kelleher (1925 & 1930) Farmer & Hackney driver Dingle, Co. Kerry. The Kelleher’s answer to the drink-driving conundrum is to have two houses – a farmhouse, where they spend most of their time, and a townhouse in Dingle, where they rest on drinking nights. “We go out four nights a week and we stay in town then,” says Stevie. “We weren’t out last night because the night before was very wild and I didn’t close an eye. So I said to Timmy ‘We’ll go to town tonight and have a couple of drinks and we’ll stay in town and we’ll sleep.’ ”
Din Lane (1923) Turf-Cutter Glin, Co. Limerick. “We had two teachers the very same and if you made any complaint, the priest was as bad as either of them. One of the teachers had a bamboo cane and was always looking for an excuse to give you a few slaps of it with a full, living belt. I just don’t know what sort of satisfaction they got out of it.”
Johnny Fyffe (1930) Gardener Killegar, Co Leitrim. “I got a brand new BSA 150 motorbike in 1957 and I paid for it with rabbits. The butcher paid me half a crown a rabbit and that bike cost me thirty-six rabbits. I had it paid for in eleven months. But myxomatosis was very bad around here. The rabbits are all gone now.”
Jimmy Fanning (1942) Farm Labourer & Fiddler Glenbally Valley, Co. Wexford. “You can make life very miserable, or you can make it very good. Tis up to yourself, but you never miss the water till the well goes dry. ‘I went for a lot of ladies. And respected them but I never got married still. But you never know who you’d meet anywhere; tis a thing accidental and you may yet get the biggest surprise.”
Joe Flynn (1923) Coal Miner Arigna, Co. Roscommon. “We were shovelling coal on the ton, all day. Drawing and shovelling it into the hutches. That’s what they called the little wagons they used to put the stuff into. It was all rail at that time, a two-line rail with full wagons coming out and empty ones going back in, around and around and around. Aye, it was dangerous. But all mines are the same, wherever you’re born, South Africa, Chile, Australia or Arigna.”
Joseph Hanrahan (1930) Farm Laborer and Trap driver KilSheelan, County Tipperary. “I’ve seen a lot of changes but for the good or the bad I don’t know which. People say they are happier now than they were but I don’t believe they are. Money is not all. In the old days you could go out in the morning and pick up an odd job. But now you won’t get work like that anywhere. It’s a very different world.”
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