Turtle Bunbury

Writer and Historian

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The new Vanishing Ireland book was short-listed
for Best Irish Published Book of the Year 2013 at
the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards.

All four Vanishing Ireland books are available
via http://astore.amazon.com/wwwturtlebunb-20


The four books we’ve produced have been very generously reviewed and applauded across Ireland and amongst the diaspora living far from the shores of this island. Our aim has always been to simply chronicle these lives, as much as possible in their own words, so that we could provide future generations with an insight into how life was for the everyman and everywoman of this age.

I constantly receive letters and emails from people hoping we will come to meet their wonderful uncle / neighbour / parents etc. We can’t possibly meet all these people but I urge you, the reader, that if you do know someone whose stories should be heard, then why not pop over them and record an interview yourself?

It is remarkably simple really and very rewarding. You don’t need to worry about writing the story up at this stage. The main thing is that you sit down with a recording device, ask questions and record answers. If you’re stuck for suitable questions, here is a batch of suggestions that might prompt some amusing or fascinating anecdotes. These are just a guide for when the banter slackens; let it flow as much as possible.


Were you ever tempted to emigrate?

What is your family history of emigration?

Have you ever met an American?

Can you do an American accent?

Have you been out of Ireland?

Was there a sense of wanting to escape?

Why did people leave and where did they go?


How long has your family lived here?

Who built the house?

Did you thatch it in time's past?

How did you heat the house?

When did you get running water?

When did electricity arrive?

When did you get a telephone or television?


How did people have such big families?


Were you ever tempted to marry?

Why do you think there are so many bachelors in Ireland?

Do you enjoy the freedom of bachelordom?

Would you like to have had children?


How did you meet your other half?

Did you dance together?

Did people marry for love or was it mostly arranged?


What did you eat when you were young?

How did you cook? How did you light the fire?

Was it just the women who cooked?

Was fruit a rarity?

Did you ever have ice cream?

How did you make toast?

Did you drink coffee?

Do you like cooking?


Did you know any women who smoked a pipe?

What other forgotten customs do you recall?

Who had the most popular story telling house?

What sort of stories would people tell at night - was it legends and ghost tales or was it gossip and family news?

Were these stories that had been handed down or were there new ones being made up all the time?

Was humour a strong point? Any riddles or jokes?

Was music or sport important in your childhood?

Was there dancing?

Can they sing or play an instrument and, if so, who taught them?

What did you make of Elvis Presley or The Beatles?


Did electricity change the way people thought in the local town now that pavements were lit by night?

Did TV kill creativity?

When did people stop shopping locally for their messages?

Ddi they get involved in local music, theatre, sport etc.?


How did you and your family travel in your younger years?

Did they own a bicycle? Would anyone steal your bike?

What was your first car?

Did having a car completely change your life?

Did you pick up hitchhikers?

Did you travel far in the car?

What are the downsides of the Car Age?

Can you ride a horse?

What was the whackiest vehicle they've ever seen?

Have you ever been on a boat?

Can you swim?

Did they ever go to Dublin?

Did they ever leave Ireland?


Who was the oldest person you knew when you were young?

Were birthdays a big deal when you were young?

Did people know how old they were?

How old would you like to be?


Do you know who your ancestors were?

Do you think you descend from the people who built the stone circles & dolmens?

How long have your family lived here? Where were they before?

What did your parents and grandparents do?

How did your parents / grandparents meet each other?

Where did they get married and at what age?

Where were they at school?

Were they from big families?

What became of their siblings, aunts &n uncles?

Did you have other relatives living nearby?

Who was the landlord?

How did family fare in the Famine? Land Wars? Road to Independence? Black & Tans?


Where were you born? Who delivered you?

Were you a big family? What number child were you?

Were they named for anyone in particular?

Did you like being from a big family?

Did you have any animals?

If they were in tenements, was it very noisy?

Have they any standout moments that were (a) sad, (b) happy, (c) funny?

What did you know of the Troubles, the War of Independence and the Civil War? Was your family involved and did anyone ever talk about them?

What was daily life like in your household?


Did you know what "exercise" meant as a kid?

Would you agree that people were much stronger then?

Was your family affected by meningitis, hooping cough, TB etc.?


Where were they at school?

Who were the teachers?

DId they keep in touch with people in their class?

Did you learn history at school and what did you make of it?

Did they learn anything useful at school, like baking or sewing?

What were the teachers like?

Would they hit you & pull your hair?

How did they get to school and were they barefoot?

What games did you play outside of school??

What do they make of modern kids doing everything with wireless & mouse?

Did they learn Irish?

What did they want to be when they grew up?

Can you still learn things late in life?


Would school friends come to your house to help you work on farm etc?

Where were local cattle fairs etc?

How was their relationship with animals ... did they have names or were they just beasts?

Was it good crack working in a field with so many others?

Is farming a good life?

Do you remember the first tractors coming in?

How did the Machine Age change things?

What remedies for animal sickness have we forgotten, such as poitin for colicky calves?


How has church changed?

Do they see cars as a comfort zone to flee to after mass?

Are they religious and, if so, how have they dealt with the scandals that have befallen Catholicism?


Did you think the Germans would win WW2?

Did they join the LDF?

What as it like for business?

Did they ever see a dogfight overhead?


How did you fare during the Big Snows of 1947 and 1963?


Did they have to do an apprenticeship?

What hours did you keep?

How and when did you get paid?

Were there any job perks?

Did you feel a sense of loyalty to your employer?

What would you like to have been?


Did they ever act?

Do they remember silent films?

Can they recall what a trip to the local cinema was like?

Which screen idols ruled their heart?


What tips have they for younger people today?

How can we learn from the great spirit of survival of your generation?


Gail Gibson: "Name, names of family members, who picked their name, are they named after a relative (or someone else), if so why.

Birth order, how many children in the family, how many brothers, how many sisters, what number child are you in the birth order, if you had a big family did you ever want to be an only child, if you were an only child did you long for siblings. What was daily life like in the rural country side of Ireland. What was daily life like in the larger cities such as Dublin, etc. What hardships did you face and how did you overcome them."

Lendie Gauvin: "For a generation that has lived through/seen such tremendous changes in life (culturally, life style, work ethics, et cetera) at home in Ireland and world wide, what advice can they share in fostering the spirit/strength that their great generation possesses?"

Pam Milligan Vaughan wonders if there were any stories passed down through the generations to them?

Colette Mannion suggests that, if interviewing a Dubliner, you could have alternatives of when did you come to Dublin or have you ever been to the country?




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