Vanishing Ireland. Reviewed by
Michael Purcell 2006.
You do not have to be Irish or of Irish extraction or in any
particular age group to enjoy and appreciate this handsome, impeccably
produced book with over 130 superbly illustrated photographs of people,
landscapes and animals. Full of interesting and gripping detail with
in-depth portraits of people, providing a valuable chronicle of a way of
life fading fast into history. There is something in this book for
everybody. It is a book about people and their relationship with their
environment, the land, the rivers, music, animals, history and culture.
Virtually all aspects of life and survival come alive between the covers
of this book, but it is their outlook and philosophy on life captured by
Turtle Bunbury that shines through. In his fine introduction to the
book, Turtle states " some of those people we met spoke profound truisms
that no philosopher has yet considered" indeed so it is, spoken from the
heart and from experience, the truisms are as relevant today as they
were in generations past. For those of you who do have Irish or indeed
European ancestry this book will prove informative and invaluable.
Before I retired as historian and genealogist I was often asked" how
did my antecedents live", "what was life like for them", in the lives of
the people featured here you have the answer. Not only does it capture
the rapidly passing present but in many instances the people portrayed
throughout this book are today providing a living link to a way of life
which in many aspects has remained unchanged in this area of Europe for
the past 400 years, indeed some of them are living for many generations
in the same house, on the same land, living a lifestyle that has almost
disappeared. It is all recorded, how they thought, worked, played,
struggled and survived, from Cromwell and before to De Valera and
beyond, from auld Gods time to no Gods time, musicians and singers,
coalminers and canal men, makers and menders, sailors and fishermen,
dancers and chancers, from housemaids to old maids, famine to plenty,
war to peace, yes it is all here and then some.
The author, Turtle, is fast (pun intended) emerging as one of the
finest writers on the scene today, this is his fourth book in three
years. He has several well earned titles to his credit, award-winning
travel writer, historian, explorer, freelance correspondent, in this his
most recent endeavour he manages with precision and insight to combine
all four talents and adds a fifth dimension, that of master-storyteller,
observing and capturing as he does here, many "a moment" moments that
will cause the reader to laugh and at other times be moved to shed a
tear. I challenge anyone to read the chapter on Mick Lawlor and not be
moved by the loss of his jennet, Pegasus, and by the absence of Mick on
the list of those still living or to learn to laugh along with Nellie O'
Toole as she recalls "a wonderful life - you couldn't have better" or
the 103 year old cigarette puffing bachelor farmer, Paddy Gleeson, not
yet ruling out marriage "as maybe he will meet someone his own age soon"
. Turtle also states in the introduction "posterity does not generally
acknowledge the common people - their life stories have always faded
into the archives" - faded yes but unfortunately faded into oblivion in
most cases, so many lives and stories have remained unrecorded, lost
forever. This book is a timely reminder to do something about this
before it is too late. He tells us that at the time of going to press,
six of the people interviewed for this book had died.
Readers and generations to come will be grateful to Betty Scott for
inspiring Turtle and James to undertake this "Vanishing Ireland" book
and to Wendy Walsh for her support and Hodder Headline Ireland for
publishing it. Turtle's empathy, humour and magpie capacity for picking
up detail are equally matched by the considerable achievement of
photographer James Fennell adding an extra sensitivity with his charming
images. I have published three books on photographs but I am afraid that
my descriptive powers fail me in attempting to do justice to the
splendid images photographed by James for this book. In my youth we had
the world renowned Canadian portrait photographer "Karsh of Ottawa” who
once stated "within every man or woman a secret is hidden and as a
photographer it is my task to reveal it if I can", well now we have, I
believe, his equal "Fennell of Kildare" . His work is of the highest
order and makes the book worth buying just for the photographs alone.
His pictures complement Turtle's observations with stunning clarity and
With the exception of an incorrect date on page 128 (placed there, it
might seem as did the rug-makers of old insert a deliberate flaw in
their work so as to pay homage to the perfection of the Gods) this is a
seamless and flawless production. A book of the year, any year, a
timeless masterpiece, by two skilled craftsmen. One word of advice, buy
it, read it but do not lend this book to anyone for you will never get
it back . It was Abraham Lincoln who when asked to review a book simply
stated " People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of
thing they like "to paraphrase Abe let me add that people who like life
will find this the sort of book they like .......I love life ...and you
can quote me, Michael Purcell, Ireland.
"Vanishing Ireland" by James Fennell and Turtle Bunbury
- ISBN 0340 92277 X / ISBN 978 0340 92277 4
- Printed by Hodder Headline Ireland. 2006.
- The information contained
in these pages is provided solely for the purpose of sharing
with others researching their ancestors in Ireland.
- © 2001 Ireland Genealogy Projects,
IGP TM By Pre-emptive Copyright - All rights reserved