Above: The late and always dapper John Shannon.
When James presents Mary Looney with the photograph he took of her late father in 2004, she covers her face with her hands and starts to weep. “He would be so proud of that photograph”, she says at length. “He was always dressed up. He said it didn’t matter how you were so long as you had a clean shirt, collar and tie”. By good chance, John did actually see the photograph before he died. It was one of six that featured in Cara magazine in August 2005 as a sort of launch-pad for the Vanishing Ireland Project.
John died in September 2005. I never met him but our friend Nick Wilkinson enjoyed a good talk with the man. Nick was impressed by John’s philosophy that people had a much greater understanding of happiness when they had to struggle for it. John’s father was one of the many small dry-stock mountain farmers living in West Clare. He had five children in quick succession before passing away suddenly in his late 20s. His twin daughters died soon after and the surviving children were raised by his tireless widow until John was old enough to take over the farm.
“Years ago everyone was very, very poor”, explains Mary. They worked hard during the week and conglomerated in Ennistymon to share the banter at weekends. Ennistymon used to have over forty pubs, the legacy of a politician who granted pub licenses in return for votes.
John’s son John now runs the farm while his daughter Mary works in TJ O’Mahoney’s Drapers. “He was a great old worker”, she says, “and a great one for telling stories. The next generation coming up, we know nothing. All the information from them times will be gone. When you’re young, you don’t really listen. And by the time you get interested, they’re all gone”.