Vanishing characters in Limerick documented

Anne Sheridan

Reporter:

Anne Sheridan

IMAGINE living to 100 years and never seeing the sea or never venturing outside the county you live in.

IMAGINE living to 100 years and never seeing the sea or never venturing outside the county you live in.

Some of the people featured in a new book have lived such ordinary lives, spared from the excesses and materialism of the Celtic Tiger generation.

Nor do they feel they have lost out, but rather that “the Ireland of old was a better Ireland”.

The third volume of ‘Vanishing Ireland - Recollections of our Changing Times’ by James Fennell and Turtle Bunbury is due to be published next week, after enjoying “outstanding” sales for the first two volumes.

It is a sparkling account of a country and its people no longer recognisable to many, and a source of nostalgia and longing for others. It may have been poorer country, but it was a simpler time.

Travelling around the country since 2001, in they have, in all, interviewed and photographed some 200 characters aged in the 70s-100s in a bid to document a people that time forgot.

There are, of course, many Limerick characters featured, including Din Lane, a turf cutter from Glin, who was born in 1923, and Moika Kinane, born in 1932, a farmer in Glenagragara.

Maurice Fitzgerald, a farmer from Glin born in 1919, showed them his prized boxing trophies, and recounted his career as a heavyweight.

“The doctor said to me, ‘you must be careful. It isn’t your fist that will do harm. It’s your big shoulders. You have big shoulders. If you do not mind your big shoulders, you will kill a man and go to prison for life.’

“He casts a wistful eye back at his boxing trophies and says, ‘so that was the end of my boxing days.’”

It was only when the pair made their way for the door that his daughter advised he had been pulling their legs.

They weren’t boxing trophies, in fact he never boxed. They had been won for his greyhounds.

Jack Connolly, a farmer from Glin born in 1916, revealed the advice that his four sisters received when they left Ireland in the 1930s for America and England.

“Keep your eyes open, your legs closed and send home your money.”

Emigration was in the blood, as it was in many other families of this era. Their uncle Mick sailed for India with the Christian Brothers a generation earlier.

“‘But you know what they say?’, says Jack with merry eyes. ‘The fool is always left behind’.”

Paddy Faley, a farmer and poet from Ballyhahill, recounted his time cutting turf during the Second World War when its price rocketed.

The former employee of Limerick County Council, born in April 1919, had made enough money from the bog in 1959 and bought a farm at Glenbawn, where he still lives today.

He moved there on his 40th birthday and that was the night he wrote his first poem, entitled ‘The Home I Left Behind’.

It reads: “My father was a labourer, and worked the humble spade, we could afford no luxuries from the wages he was paid, but still we were so happy and the peace of God did find, in that little earthly paradise, the home I left behind.”

A mixture of photographs from all three volumes of the hugely popular series is currently being exhibited in the Hunt Museum until October 23, where the book will be launched by Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh on October 20 at 6pm.

Award-winning photographer James Fennell told the Limerick Leader that this very “personal project” has been “a quest to document old Ireland.”

“When they die the cottages they live in, may be overhauled and you have a loss of a whole era. So we wanted to document this really important part of Ireland that we thought would soon be gone.

“A lot of younger people in modern day Ireland don’t have that much interest in the older generation, and it’s only when they’re gone, that they realise they should have spoken to them and got their stories. That’s the trouble with modern day Ireland – it’s moving so quickly, people don’t talk to their neighbours.”

It is a project and a book, he says, that puts life into perspective.

He has met people who have never left their home town to venture even to Dublin, and others in their 70s who have just picked up the travel bug and have been to America six times.

There have been challenges, travelling around Ireland in the cold winter months, seeking people out. Many things struck him about those he met.

“The way they talk, the sayings they have, and of course, their accents. Quite often it can be difficult to understand exactly what they’re saying.” But they have made their stories shine through.