Sunday, January 21, 2018

Vanishing Ireland by James Fennell and Turtle Bunbury

Vanishing Ireland is a beautiful, but sobering book. Fennell and Bunbury set out across Ireland to capture and preserve the stories of ordinary Irish people, people who worked the land, worked with horses, worked on the water, celebrated the music. Vanishing Ireland by photographer James Fennell and travel writer and historian Turtle Bunbury contains wonderful close-ups of each person interviewed. But, it was first published in 2006, and even before it went to press some of these eighty and ninety year old people were dying. It's likely that almost every one of the people profiled in this book are gone by now. It's truly a story of a Vanishing Ireland.

In the introduction, Bunbury discusses the welcome they received as the people were "Plying us with tea and whiskey while they coloured in the past with their memories and mused upon the quandaries of the present." Times were hard in Ireland when these people grew up. They farmed, watched brothers and sisters move to America and Australia, lost family members to sickness and drowning. But, almost every one of them said times were better then, better than when Ireland went through the years of the Celtic Tiger. They saw their trades, mining, and raising horses, and farming, fade away. They saw the closeness of neighborhoods fade away. And, even though many of them were alone in their eighties and nineties, they still celebrated their lives and their past.

What struck me in the book is the number of men. There were only about four or five women interviewed. And, so many of the men had never married. There were entire families, five or six brothers, and none of them married. Sometimes the men had married, but outlived their wives. That didn't always come as a surprise when they talked about the twelve or thirteen children. One man showed the author "a photograph of a family reunion where he sits like Queen Victoria amid a tribe of his sixty grandchildren, twenty great-grandchildren and four great-greats."

Turtle Bunbury's words are lyrical in this book, descriptive of the land. Here's just one example. "The cottage stands in the lush Kerry landscape of Glenbeigh, sheltered by the Seefin Mountains, overlooking the point where the Behy river meets the waters of Dingle Bay. The region is highly esteemed for its folklore - the nearby strand of Rossbeigh was where Oisin and Niamh took to the sea on their white horse to find new life in Tir na nOg, the land of eternal youth." There's music in his words, and you can hear the music of the people.

Vanishing Ireland is a book for smiles and tears. I've mentioned it before. Once in a while, a book makes you nostalgic for a place and a people you never knew, and never will. But, it draws you in. It has a heart.

James Fennell's website is Turtle Bunbury's website is There's also a Facebook page that salutes many of the people of Ireland, a page called Vanishing Ireland.

Vanishing Ireland by James Fennell and Turtle Bunbury. Hodder Headline Ireland, 2006. ISBN 9780340922774 (hardcover), 180p.

FTC Full Disclosure - My copy was a gift.


Gram said...

Just reading this brought tears to my eyes. I put it on my library list. Thanks.

Lesa said...

You're welcome, Gram. I know. I loved the people in the book. It was just hard, knowing most of them are gone.