FOR over five decades Mike Cowhey has been capturing life in Limerick. There isn't a part of the county or city he hasn't been to and has photographed tens of thousand men, women and children.
He doesn't just shoot with his camera. Mike shoots from the hip. And one of his acerbic one-liners could kill you stone dead! But it is always delivered with mischief in his eyes.
His journey with a camera in his hand began after he left school in 1967.
“I went in to learn my trade with Sean Cooke in O'Connell Street. I spent three years with Sean and anyone who remembers him will know he was a photographer who only knew one way to do things - the right way. Detail was everything with Sean. I learned how to form a group picture properly - setting up the picture was everything.”
After leaving Sean, Mike formed a partnership with a friend Brian McMahon, which lasted two years. He then went out on his own, “I was lucky Shannonside Tourism were looking for someone to do work for them, I covered the first Band Parade and did all the regional photography for Shannonside. It took me all over, photographing tourist attractions.”
Mike also dipped his toe into the newspaper business.
“I was also doing work for the Irish Press, Irish Times and stood in for Sean Clancy, the Independent photographer.” Then, as now, Limerick was a very busy news area. There is a book in those times when the only web was in the dark room.
“One of the longest running stories was when the Dutch businessman Tiede Herrema was kidnapped in 1975. The country was locked down with garda and army checkpoints all over.
“In 1978, I was at Limerick Prison when Rose Dugdale married Eddie Gallagher, who was in prison for the kidnapping of Mr Herema. They became the first convicted prisoners in the history of the State to wed behind bars.
“My good friend Cormac Liddy - who was well connected - kept me well informed. It came to the stage when I arrived at the prison that someone would come out and ask me what's happening!”
Mike was one of the first photographers to arrive in Bantry when 51 workers tragically lost their lives when the terminal exploded. “I covered all major stories for the national and English papers. I was on call twenty four hours a day seven days a week.
“Brian McLoughlin was the Irish Press reporter. We used to do features for the Sunday Press all over the region. We covered some big stories together.”
Mike also does a lot of work for the Greyhound Stadium and is a familiar face at the Limerick Show.
“After a time in rehab I was at a loose end when I came out. I was very lucky a friend of mine, Owen South got me work in the Limerick Leader freelancing. It was a great break and gave me work.
“In the Leader I worked with Patricia Feehily. We did leisure and farming. At one stage we were filling five pages a week. It was such a pleasure to work with Patricia. We had such fun doing jobs. It could be a fashion shoot in the morning and then a visit to a farm in the afternoon. Brendan Halligan was the editor and he was great.”
In 2008, Mike was asked to go in and run the Leader's photographic department.
“I ran that for 12 years. Alan English was the editor for most of it. Alan was a very good editor. He knew what he wanted and expected to get it. He pushed me to the limits but it made me a better photographer as you knew second best would not be accepted.
“My time in the photographic department was great. I worked with great people and was very happy until I got a phone call on March 16 telling me I was no longer required from that day on.”
Now aged 73, Mike is as enthusiastic as he ever was.