The Vanishing Ireland Project

Vanishing Ireland

In 2001, Turtle and the photographer James Fennell began traveling around Ireland on the first of many road trips . Their mission was to interview and photograph people born in the first decades of the 20th century.

Homing in on people whose stories are rarely told, they met with farmers, blacksmiths, fishermen, dockers and nurses, as well as priests, nuns, teachers,  saddlers, thatchers, lace-makers and turf-cutters.

In 2021, Vanishing Ireland was relaunched for a new generation as a podcast series in which Turtle interviews members of the older generation about their memories of time’s gone by.

The podcast will return in 2022.

Vanishing Ireland Podcasts

Turtle discusses life and its learnings with Ireland’s elders, celebrating voices of courage, kindness and humour for future generations.

Vanishing Ireland
Facebook Group

Founded in 2012, this highly active group is constantly updated with new images and stories from Ireland’s past.

‘A perfect symbiosis between text and images –  affectionate, respectful, humorous, slightly melancholic but never sentimental or nostalgic. This is invaluable social history.’
Cara (Aer Lingus)

A beautiful and remarkably simple book that will melt the hardest of hearts. Bunbury has a light writing style that lets his interviewees tell their stories without interference.’
The Sunday Times

‘One of the nicest books I have ever had the privilege of receiving, reading and looking through. A masterpiece, an incredible book.’
Gerry Kelly, LMFM

 

‘Stunning … honest and thought-provoking.’
Ireland of the Welcomes

‘Warm, funny, touching, sometimes desperately sad.’
The Dubliner

 

Vanishing Ireland – Original Interviews

 

Interviews from the Vanishing Ireland project are being uploaded to Turtle’s History Archive at all times .  To search for a specific interview, please use the green button below. 

ImageTitleSummary
Bill and Birdie Martin. Photo: James Fennell.
Romance in Ballitore: Bill Martin (1921-2019) & Birdie Martin (1931-2022)

Bill and Birdie are as charming a couple as you can meet. They still flirt and rile and tease and torment and love each other, just as they did back in the early 1960s when Bill first offered to walk her home from a dance in Crookstown. ‘He asked me after only one waltz,’ says Birdie, still bashful at his haste. ‘I didn’t know what I was getting into, mind! He was my first and only one.’

Antony and Justin with Bertha.
Bertha’s Resurrection

A two-time Guinness World Record-holder – the oldest and the most prolific cow ever recorded – Bertha passed away just three months short of her 49th birthday, being more than twice the lifespan of your average cow. This legendary Droimeann cow from Sneem, Co. Kerry, has been immortalised by an award-winning Irish gin.

Roisin Folan. Photo: James Fennell.
Róisín (Folan) Ui Chualáin (1929-2022) – The Nurse of Inisheer Island

Everyone had a donkey,’ she says. ‘But there’s only two left on the island now.’ Born in 1929, the former District Nurse reflects on working as a midwife in Tottenham, London, and life in Lurgan village on Inisheer in the Aran Islands of County Galway.

A portrait of Din Lane by Shania McDonagh
Din Lane (1923 – Turf Dealer of Glin, County Limerick

‘It was hard work. We were on Joe White’s bog by eight o’clock every morning from the end of March. We often used to make our dinner with a fire out in the bog. If we were out of butter we’d go into Glin on our way, but we’d be there a half an hour before anyone else would get up!'

Photo: James Fennell
Liza Mulvahill  (1915-2015) – Dairymaid & Cook of Moyavne, County Kerry

‘I got afraid seeing all the men and I ran. One of them put up the gun to shoot me. They thought I was running to tell the IRA they were coming. My mother was in a panic until another one said, “Stop, don’t shoot the child.”’

Photo: James Fennell.
Maurice Fitzgerald (1919-2012) – Farmer of Glin, County Limerick

‘I was a great boxer. A heavyweight. Oh yes, I was highly dangerous and the whole town knows it. I’m Maurice Fitzgerald. One of the Normans. Did you ever hear of them? I’m a tough man. My right arm is a ten-pound sledge. Did you ever get a belt from a sledge? And my left arm is a kick from a mule. Do you know what a mule is?’

Photo: James Fennell
Maisie Grannell (b. 1925) – The Seamstress of Enniscorthy, County Wexford

Maisie has endured considerable hardship in her life but by dint of her amazing determination and sheer work ethic, she has survived with her sense of humour intact. Politician, be warned. Maisie has a catapult and a bag of road chippings set aside for door-to-door canvassers. And she knows how to use them.

Mick King (1924-2013) - Farmer of Lanmore
Mick King (1924-2013) – Farmer of Lanmore

‘I never bothered my head about marriage, but I tell you, when my father and mother were alive, you couldn’t go bringing a woman into an old house like this.' A charming bachelor farmer from County Mayo recalls his days working on the bogs of Allenwood, bringing potatos to Westport by horse and cart, and a school where ‘swallows flew in and out the broken windows’ and ‘you’d clap your hands every now and then to stay warm’.

Photo: James Fennell
Betty Scott (1923-2013) – The Inspiration for the Vanishing Ireland project

The story of Betty Scott, who started work at Lisnavagh as a parlourmaid in 1941 and was the housekeeper from 1959 throughout my young life until she retired in 2007. Without Betty's influence, the Vanishing Ireland project would never have happened.

Johnny Golden, mechanic and sexton, of Doogarry, Co Cavan. Photo: James Fennell.
Johnny Golden (1937-2010) – The Gouldy

Raised in the Sunbeam Orphanage near Bray, Johnny Golden was a home-boy on a farm in County Leitrim by the 1950s. He later became sexton of the church in Killegar, and worked as a mechanic from his home in County Cavan. The Gouldy was murdered in 2010. This story formed the basis of the eulogy I read at his funeral.

Photo: James Fennell
Very Rev. Patrick Gill – The Parish Priest of Lecanvey

Born in 1927, the Very Rev. Patrick Gill muses upon a horrendous pogrom in 1795 that drove 7,000 Ulster Catholics to Connaught,  the impact of the Great Hunger on County Mayo and his own experiences administering a parish at the foot of Croagh Patrick.

Sister Rita, née Molly Cranny. Photo: James Fennell.
Sister Rita (1917-2013) & Sister Alphonsus (1920-2015)

‘It was a very sheltered life, and it wasn’t always easy. But that was the way it was. You did whatever you had to do and there was plenty to be done’. Two Sisters of Mercy in Athy, County Kildare, look back over the nine decades since their childhood, and explain how they fetched up in the order.

The tongue and groove counter and back bar runs down one side of the room, its stools occupied by men and women who know each other well.
J. Curran's – Dingle, County Kerry

Like so many of Dingle’s fine pubs, Curran’s has always doubled as a general merchant. ‘They sold everything long ago’, says James Curran, pulling out one of the old ledger books. Sue enough, the ledgers are stuffed with billheads from all manner of harness-maker, tailor, newsagent, chemist, baker and clergyman. Trawling through the names, James shakes his head and remarks: ‘They’re all gone now, every single one of them gone’.

A full-length photograph of The Rahilly, the 1916 rebel leader, hangs behind an old National cash till. Photo: James Fennell.
Michael Finucane’s – Ballylongford, Co. Kerry

Michael Finucane’s great uncle bought the bar from The O’Rahilly, the only leader to die in action during the Easter Rising. It was inevitably a stronghold for Republican get-togethers during the formative years of the new state. Customers sat at the bar and drank while a tailor proposed different colours and cloths. The drapery and the grocery are no more but the pub remains an aesthetic delight and an epicentre of life for the surrounding community.

Nan Brennan (1981–2017) and Patricia Brennan (1981–2018), the owners of The Criterion. The pub shut its doors for the final time on the night of Sunday, 30 September 2018.
Brennan's – The Criterion Hotel, Bundoran, County Donegal

Built in 1823, The Criterion Bar was one of the earliest guesthouses to arise upon Ireland’s raggedy Atlantic shores. The Brennan sisters lived here all their lives, taking it in turns to serve from behind the pitch pine counter. Everything was immaculate, traditional, unfussy, simply inviting customers to take time out from the seasonal mayhem of the streets outside. This was one of the few pubs unsullied by the advent of modern times.

The people strolling the streets of Main Street, Borris, tends to look a little more colourful when the Festival of Writing & Ideas is on.
Villages at a Crossroads – Borris, Grangecon & Clogh

Over three centuries after Oliver Goldsmith wrote The Deserted Village, our small communities are once again facing a bleak future, with populations falling, pubs and post offices closing and long-held traditions fading away. An article Turtle wrote for The Irish Times Magazine in 2008.

Big Bertha enjoying a pint at the Blackwater Tavern with her owner Jerome O'Leary.
Big Bertha's Wake – The Guardian, 2010

A wake for a cow in a pub in rural Ireland sounds like an episode of Father Ted. We knew we'd get no further that night

Annie and Mikie Kinnane. Photo: James Fennell.
Mikie Kinnane (1932-2020) – Farmer of Glenagragara, Co. Limerick

An interview with a man who, among other things, opted to fasten a Volkswagen Beetle to the back of his tractor as an ingenious and cost effective system for transporting his family around.

JJ recounts a tale of his father returning home from Moate with a crystal radio set under his arm on the eve of the 1932 Eucharsitic Congree. With an aerial hanging off the clothesline and an earth plugged into the ground, his father was able to tune into Count John McCormack singing the Pan Angelicus ‘the very same as if he was on a telephone.’ By JJ’s time, they had progressed to a Pye, a wet and dry battery radio which they charged up in Moate; young JJ never missed listening in to the Irish Hospitals Sweepstake Draw. Photo: James Fennell.
JJ Hackett (1937-2017) – Poet & Harness Maker – Ballinakill, Moate, County Westmeath

Born with disjointed hips, things did not get any easier for JJ when a tree fell upon him at the age of twelve, breaking his collar-bone, cranium and right knee. And yet, having spent two years recuperating and unable to walk, he went on to cycle hundreds of miles all over Ireland. His story is an extraordinary one, made all the more so by the fact that he then learned how to upholster and make harnesses by working alongside three men who could neither speak nor hear.

Applause for Vanishing Ireland
Applause for Vanishing Ireland

Christy Moore, Rob Kearney, John Spain and hundreds of others voice their approval of the Vanishing Ireland project on a page that Turtle secretly visits from time to time on the rare occasions he's feeling a little blue.

Photo: James Fennell.
Paddy Faley (1919-2011) – Poet, Ganger & Farmer of Glenbawn, Ballyhahill, County Limerick

‘It has long legs and crooked thighs, a small head and no eyes.’ Paddy Faley looks directly at me, his eyes luminous, as I scratch my head and look increasingly confounded by his riddle. ‘The tongs for the fire!’ he says at length. ‘Another one … It has a bow-legged father, a fat-bellied mother and three little children all the one colour. What is it?'

In 2011, Turtle interviewed the then 88-year-old Baby (Babs) Rudden, the cover-girl of the second 'Vanishing Ireland', for RTE 1's 'Nationwide'. The show aired on 5 July and was watched by 33.8% of Irish televisions. Photo: James Fennell.
Baby Rudden (1923-2015) – The Farmer of Redhills

An interview with the charming cover star of the second Vanishing Ireland book, recounting the challenges of farming cattle in the damp County Cavan countryside.

Christy Kate O’Sullivan (farmer, born 1951) Photo: James Fennell.
Voices of Ballinskelligs, South West Kerry

While writing the fourth volume of the Vanishing Ireland series, I spent the bones of a week in County Kerry, happily ensconced in one of nine charming stone cottages overlooking Ballinskelligs Bay at Cill Rialaig. This story is about some of the characters I met while down there.

Half-Time Oranges: Joe Rock (1927-2016)
Half-Time Oranges: Joe Rock (1927-2016)

The Rock family from Dublin are to be the recipients of the 2022 GAA President's Awards. Joe Rock was a Croke Park legend prior to his death at the age of 90 in 2016. A grand uncle of Dublin All-Star forward, Dean Rock, Joe worked at Croke Park since the age of six, looking after the dressing room and tunnel areas for the biggest games of the year. He told me of his highs and lows, including shadow-boxing with Al “Blue” Lewis and picking orange peels off the ground as a young fellow.

Jimmy Murphy, farmer, of Ballinskelligs, County Kerry, was born in 1951. Photo: James Fennell.
Jimmy Murphy, Farmer – Ballinskelligs, County Kerry

‘That was a fresh breeze last night,’ says Jimmy Murphy. This is something of an …

Index to Vanishing Ireland Interviews

  KERRY Joan Crowley (publican & fiddler, 1922-2017) Kenmare, Co Kerry Jimmy Murphy (farmer, born 1951), Cill …

Photo: James Fennell.
The McGarvey Brothers of Clones, County Monaghan

The McGarvey brothers were once amongst the best-known faces in the border-town of Clones. Making their way down Fermanagh Street, ambling across the Diamond or talking with friends in the shadow of the ancient Round Tower, the brothers were almost certainly destined for a pub. The joys of celibacy meant they had little to trouble them other than raising the price of a pint.

George Thomas by his open fire. Photo: James Fennell.
George Thomas (1926-2009), Farmer – Greenane Mor, Co. Wicklow

‘You couldn’t bring any lady to live under my conditions’, jokes George. ‘It’s been declared unfit for human habitation – but luckily I’m not human’. 

Jim 'Tailor' O'Malley. Photo: James Fennell.
Jim O'Malley (1925-2016) – Farmer – Kilsallagh, Co Mayo

‘There wasn’t any place around that I didn’t walk’, he says. ‘I hunted all over those hills. Fowling, mostly. Me and the dog, looking for partridge and grouse. But I’m a little too old for that crack now’. You wouldn’t think it. Perhaps it’s the damp Mayo air but this fresh-faced bachelor does not look 84.

Stevie and Timmy Kelleher with the trophy they won for Jet Black. Jet Black won in 1983. ‘I had a dog who I called Jet Black and I kept calling the pony Jet Black so how and ever’, explains Timmy. Photo: James Fennell.
The Kelleher Brothers – Dingle, County Kerry

A meeting with Timmy Kelleher (1925-2021), farmer, and his younger brother, Stevie Kelleher (1930-2014), a hackney driver. To get around the challenge of the drink-driving clampdown, they bought a townhouse near their favourite pub in Dingle so they could stay in town on drinking nights. Neither of them married. ‘And thanks be to Christ for that’, they say in unison. ‘We wouldn’t be as happy as we are now. We can do what we like and go where we like and no one will say a word’.

Christy Kelly. Photo: James Fennell.
Nellie Kelly (1922-2007) & Christy Kelly (1933-2008) – Nenagh, County Tipperary

‘Two garda up a tree – what are they looking for?’ asked Christy Kelly. He was a well-known character in Nenagh, with his accordion and an enormous arsenal of jokes at the ready. An interview with a charming musician and his singer sister.

Mary Maddison. Photo: James Fennell.
Mary Maddison, Storyteller – The Beara Peninsula, County Cork

Perhaps inevitably, the traditions of Irish storytelling survived much longer on the country’s off-shore islands than anywhere on the mainland. Mary’s grandmother was raised on Long Island off the coast of West Cork. Likewise, her mother grew up on Hare Island off Skibbereen where story-telling traditions were particularly rich. This story is based on a meeting with Mary Maddison in 2008.

Jim Kielty, hackney driver, 1917-2013, Ballymote, Co. Sligo
Jim Kielty (1915-2013) – Hackney Driver, Ballymote, Co. Sligo

‘Gentleman Jim’ Kielty clocked over two million accident-free miles during his 80-years behind the wheel. His father regularly drove Countess Markiewicz to political rallies in County Sligo. We were lucky enough to meet and interview Jim for the second volume of the Vanishing Ireland series. Here is the account of that meeting.

Photo: James Fennell.
Ger McKenna (1930–2014) – The Greyhound Maestro

Arguably the greatest greyhound trainer in Irish history, Ger maintained that the two greatest nights of his life were winning the three Texaco Awards and winning the Irish Laurels at Curraheen Park in Cork City with his three sons by his side. He won all four of the big races in Cork that night and that's what the photo accompanying this post represents. A story from ‘Sporting Legends of Ireland'.

Photo: James Fennell.
Mick Cronin (b. 1930) – The Sparky – Naas, County Kildare

The eldest of thirteen children, Mick Cronin was eight years old when John Grayson Duckworth …

Standing Tall. Photo: James Fennell.
Bill Burgess (1902-2007) – Ireland's Oldest Farmer – Tobinstown, County Carlow

‘I have no control over how long I live, but when I’ve gone? Well, as the man used to say when we'd meet on a bank in a chase, “Cheerio till the other side!”’ My neighbour Bill Burgess was the second oldest man in Ireland when he died in 2007. He was also the oldest farmer.

Willie Davey. Photo: James Fennell.
Willie Davey (1940-2022) – The Ballymote Hellraiser

‘Did you not read all about me in the papers?’ asks Willie Davey, his face breaking into a broad George Clooney grin. ‘Ah now, my story is a long one. I’d need some time to track the memory back … I’ve been down the rocky road to Dublin, and I’ve sung the song many times’.

Noel Sheridan (b. 1927, Post Office Worker & Philatelist), Naas, County Kildare. Photo: James Fennell.
Noel Sheridan (b. 1927) – The Philatelist of Naas, County Kildare

‘I heard someone on the radio say how the first Ryder Cup was presented nearly a century ago. Now, that made me sit up straight because it was actually first presented in the year that I was born.' A post office worker and philatelist recalls growing up in Naas, County Kildare.

Mick Lavelle. Photo: James Fennell.
Mick Lavelle (1930-2013) – The Entertainer of Westport

One of the best-loved faces in Westport, County Mayo, Mick was renowned for rolling up on a nearby seat in Matt Molloy’s and breaking into song. He reckoned he knows the words to over a thousand songs. For instance, he knew ten about Donegal, four about Kildare and one about Carlow. ‘Everyone is so busy now’, he said stoically. ‘Well, there will be plenty of time when we’re dead and gone’.

Photo: James Fennell
Nellie O'Toole (1908-2010) – Nurse & Housekeeper of Rathvilly, Co. Carlow

‘People don't laugh enough these days. Laughing is very good for your heart'. The wise words of Nellie O'Toole, who lived to be 102. Nellie was full of memories of her home village of Rathvilly during the awfulness of the Spanish Flu (or the Asian Flu, as she called it) and the War of Independence. Three brothers emigrated to the USA, including one who was a driver for Michael Collins. This article includes the full account of my serendipitous interview with Nellie, as well as a recording of her voice.

Jackie Wilson. Photo: James Fennell.
Jackie Wilson (b. 1936) – A Pentecostal Farmer in Donegal

‘We are all one’, explains Jackie. ‘You pray for your friends and for your folks but it’s all about prayers from the heart. It’s a much more direct experience’. Given that his family had been pretty staunch Presbyterians since the 17th century, Jackie's conversion to the Pentecostal church was not without its difficulties but this gallant farmer has always been up for a challenge.

Photo: James Fennell.
Margaret ‘Nana' McKenny (1918-?), Nurse & Nanny – Ardee, County Louth

‘I’m not bad for 91, am I?’, says Nana McKenny (née McEvoy), sitting back and …

Sonny Kinsella and Bart Nolan. Photo: James Fennell.
Sonny Kinsella (1928-2019) & Bart Nolan (1929-2018) – Memories of Townsend Street & the Dublin Dockland

Two of my favourite Vanishing Ireland characters, a docker and an engineer from inner city Dublin who, after this interview was published in 2009, escorted me on a grand tour of the Dublin Docklands that we filmed for RTE’s Nationwide.

Paddy Heneghan. Photo: James Fennell.
Paddy Heneghan (1922-2012) – The Ghillie of Delphi, County Mayo

Still working flat out at the age of 86, Paddy was the third generation of Heneghan to work as a ghillie at Delphi Lodge. He knew all the secrets to becoming a fish whisperer by the time he was a teenager. He learned the hard way, earning the wrath of his grandfather when, aged seven, he cast his line and caught a pony … 

Johnny Fyffe. Photo: James Fennell.
Johnny Fyfe (1930-2012) – Estate Manager of Killegar, Co Leitrim

Interviewed in 2009, a Leitrim forester, gardener and cattle man recalls life with Lord Kilbracken, the decline of the rabbits and the terrible fire that burned Killegar House in 1970.

John Carson of Inishmore, County Fermanagh. Photo: James Fennell.
John Carson – An Island Farmer in Fermanagh

Born in 1928, John Carson has lived and farmed at Isle View on the island of Inishmore, County Fermanagh, all his life. Here he recalls fishing for pike, spooky nights and his time with the B-Specials.

Rory Kilduff (1922-2016) - The Saddler of Ballinasloe, County Galway
Rory Kilduff (1922-2016) – The Saddler of Ballinasloe, County Galway

‘Those stories I told you are true,’ says Rory Kilduff, ‘but I could make up a few if you’re stuck. The story of a saddlery business that commenced in Ballinasloe, County Galway, in the 1880s, from the Vanishing Ireland archives.

John Coady (sheep farmer, 1927 -2017) Rahanna, Co. Carlow. Photo: James Fennell.
John Coady (1927-2017) – Sheep Farmer of Rahanna, County Carlow

The Carlow sheep-farmer who looked after the mast on Mount Leinster, John was a great ladies man in his prime. He has that Hollywood look about him, like the kindly old soul who always ends up having secretly masterminded the whole scam.

Photo: James Fennell
Liam O’Shea (1927-2012) – The Blacksmith of Lauragh Forge

The blacksmith of the Lauragh Forge, Killarney, Co Kerry,  on his father’s experiences in Manhattan and the days when the forge was the hub of the community.  ‘There were no cars in that time. Everybody walked … There’s no stopping now. They’re all in cars.’

The late Joe Muldoon and his grandson. Photo: James Fennell.
Joe Muldoon (1931- 2016) – Farmer of Ballymote, County Sligo

‘There’s been worse times than this, that’s for sure,’ says Joe. ‘And so long as you have a bit to eat, the price of a pint and a bed to lie in, then what about it? Let tomorrow be the worser day.’

Joe McCabe (1919-2019) & Micky Lalor (1931-2017)  - The Hurler & the Diviner
Joe McCabe (1919-2019) & Micky Lalor (1931-2017) – The Hurler & the Diviner

Two best friends from Abbeyleix, County Laois, sit in opposing armchairs chuckling at the old times, at stories they've heard and told a hundred times before yet which still carry an essential lightness of being.

The late Mrs Crowley. Photo: James Fennell.
Joan Crowley (1922-2017) – Publican & Fiddler of Kenmare, County Kerry

There can be no doubting that this self-effacing, defiantly girlish octogenarian is the mother of the 12 children in the photograph. She talks a little of each child and explains how two of her daughters have passed away. ‘But the rest of them are all here’. The hurting briefly fills the room but she’s quick to rise to it.

When she passed away in September
2011, aged 108 years and 80 days,
Statia had been the oldest woman in
Ireland for five days. Photo: James Fennell.
Anasatia Kealy (1903-2011) – Ireland’s Oldest Woman

Raised in Rathdowney, County Laois, Anastatia ‘Statia’ Kealy would live to be 108 years. Her mother was born during Abraham Lincoln’s presidency. This interview took place in 2009. She spoke of the tough conditions of her early years, when six of her siblings died young, but she also exhibited her fabulous sense of humour and what I suspect may be the longest continuously worn pair of earrings in history.

Photo: James Fennell.
Teresa McGerty (1925-2013) – Publican of Longfield, County Leitrim

A farmer’s daughter from County Cavan crosses into Leitrim to run her new husband’s grocery shop and pub, whose patrons include the charismatic author John Godley, 3rd Lord Kilbracken.

Greta Carter. Photo: James Fennell.
Gretta Carter (1921-2018) – Last of the Borris Lacemakers

Recollections of a deadly German bomb on Mount Leinster, the Borris lacemakers and meeting Mary Martin, the American musical actress and mother of Dallas star Larry Hagman.

Willy O’Reilly (1914-2010) of Belmullet, Co. Mayo.
Pat Rua & Willy Reilly – Fishermen of Belmullet

The Reilly brothers of Glenlara, Belmullet, Co. Mayo, recall a dreadful storm in 1927 in which 45 young fishermen died, including two of their brothers. It was the end of an era for the islands of Inishkea where the dead men came from.

 The late Patrick 'Doc' Morrissey pictured by James Fennell
at the Pig & Whistle (O’Neill’s Pub) on Main Street, Portlaw.
Doc Morrissey (1935-2020) – The Horseman of Portlaw

Doc was not actually a Doctor but, as the seventh son of a seventh son, the Waterford man was universally hailed as a healer from the ancient world. Indeed, it was whispered locally, Doc had healed a man or two in the course of his long years, although the identity of both patient and ailment remains something of a mystery. As we walked towards his home, he turned to me with a wicked grin and said: ‘There'll never be another Doc.’

Cathy Dowling. Photo: James Fennell.
Cathy Dowling (1917-2017) – Of House Dances, Football & Market Gardens

‘Everyone was very poor at that time,’ recalls Cathy of her childhood near Moone, County Kildare. ‘There was no money and people had to work hard. They only survived, that’s all. Still everyone was happy. They had no money. But, now, they all have money and maybe they’re not as happy.’

Bernie Dwyer. Photo: James Fennell.
Bernie Dwyer (1936-2014) – The Butcher of Ballymote

Bernie was a bachelor who lived in the house in Ballymote, County Sligo, that his grandfather established as a butcher’s shop in 1927. When we met him, he had retired and spent much of his time seated beside a smouldering fire, reading historical books, yellowing newspapers and, his personal favourite, travel articles. Bernie was an enthusiastic explorer and visited much of Europe, as well as Cairo and the Holy Land.

The Big Snow of 1947, 1963, 1982 ... and other major Snowstorms
The Big Snow of 1947, 1963, 1982 … and other major Snowstorms

The Big Snow of 1947 was the coldest and harshest winter to hit Ireland in living memory. However, there have been many other severe winters in Irish history, from 1315 through to 1963 and 1982. This is a look at all those white-outs when time stands still.

Frances McFadden of Carrigans Upper, Ballymote, County Sligo. Photo: James Fennell.
Francie McFadden (1929-2013) – The Gravedigger of Ballymote

Francie was one of 12 children, as was his father, so he also had 12 children. In this interview, he ponders the Big Snow of 1947 (‘people said Ireland was finished’), the megaliths of Sligo, his time on the bogs, working as a builder in England and why you should never harm a holy tree.

Jack Lowry – Blacksmith of the Slieve Blooms
Jack Lowry – Blacksmith of the Slieve Blooms

A blacksmith from near Mountrath, County Laois, recalls the Big Snow of 1932 and how the forge was the community hub before the advent of tractors and rural electrification.

PJ Davis (1924-2009), mechanic, Ennistymon, County Clare
PJ Davis (1924-2009) – The Mechanic of Ennistymon, County Clare

‘I could tell you about every part of every car we made,' recalls PJ of his time at the Rootes Group (now Chrysler) foundry near Coventry. ‘Where it came from, the engine, the cylinder, the pistons, the chassis, the valve, the whole lot’. He also recalls his work at the the Scunthorope Steelworks in North Lincolnshire and the Stubben Saddles factory on the Lahinch Road near Ennistymon.

Seamus Vaughan (1922-2013), Clothes Merchant & Turf Cutter, Upper Dirreen, Athea, County Limerick. Photo: James Fennell.
Seamus Vaughan (1922-2013) – Clothes Merchant and Turf Cutter, County Limerick

‘When I was to be baptised, I was taken in an ass and cart to the village. I suppose people would pay good money to go to a baptism in an ass and cart these days.’ A clothes merchant from Upper Dirreen, Athea, County Limerick, recalls his time as a soldier in the British army in World War Two and working as a turf cutter on the Bog of Allen, as well as his kinship with Denis Guiney, the Kerry draper who owned Clery’s department store in Dublin.

Jack Conolly (1916-2013), (farmer) Glin, Co Limerick. Photo: James Fennell.
Jack Conolly (1916-2013) – Farmer of Glin, County Limerick

‘Keep your eyes open, your legs closed and send home your money’. That was the advice Jack’s four sisters got when they left Ireland in the 1930s. Plenty of his family emigrated. ‘But you know what they say?’, he says with merry eyes. ‘The fool is always left behind’. He recalls farming at Glin Castle when the lawns were converted to tillage in the Emergency, and working with his father, a thatcher of considerable renown.

Coleman Coyne. Photo: James Fennell.
The Islanders of Kilkieran Bay – Coleman Coyne (1925-2016) and Máirtín Joyce (1935-2016)

Two Connemara islanders – one grew up on Illauneeragh, the other was the last to live on Inishbarra – reflect on their careers as fisherman and seaweed harvesters, as well as victory in the All-Ireland rowing championships.

John William Seoige. Photo: James Fennell.
John William Seoighe (1919-2015) – The Oarsman of Connemara

An interview with one of the greatest oarsmen of currachs and Galway hookers to emerge in the 20th century, as well as his remarkable Connemara background and expeditions to Huddersfield and Jersey.

Photo: James Fennell
Jos Donnelly (1920-2016) – Farmer of the Tulla Gap, County Offaly

We chanced to meet Jos Donnelly of Ballymac, near Kinnitty and Birr, in 2005, while making the first volume of the ‘Vanishing Ireland' series. He passed away peacefully, surrounded by his family, on 7 January 2016 in his 97th year. This is a story based on our brief encounter.

Johnny Hutchinson (1931-2021) - The Horse Coper
Johnny Hutchinson (1931-2021) – The Horse Coper

‘I remember hanging the reins up and bending down to fix a spur – and I never remember anything more.’ Such were the hazards of working with horses for the horse coper Johnny Hutchinson, the cover star of the first ‘Vanishing Ireland' book.

Dancing on the Door, with Frank and Mini McGovern.
Carleton's Country – The Rose Shaw Collection

Rose Shaw was governess to the Gledstanes of Fardross House in County Tyrone during the early 20th century. When not looking after the Gledstanes children, she spent much of her time walking in the Clogher Valley, photographing local people. This page showcases 11 of her wonderful photographs.

Annie Conneely. Photo: James Fennell.
Annie Conneely (1919-2017) – Housemaid, Cloonisle, County Galway

The story of an Irish-speaking Connemara lady who was raised alongside Cloonisle Bay, near Roundstone. Annie recalled how her wily father had to start anew when his currach-rowing business collapsed with the arrival of the railway in 1895.

Bridget Aspell (1910-2014), Shop Assistant and Housewife, of Yellowbog, Kilcullen, County Kildare. Photo: James Fennell.
Bridget Aspell (1910-2014) – The Centenarian of Yellowbog

Memories of crossroads dances and the céilí, following the Kildare Hunt and going to school in the days of the Black and Tans.

John Joe Conway
John Joe Conway (1935-2019)

The enchanting memories of a cattle farmer and horse breeder from near Kilfenora, County Clare, who featured him in the third ‘Vanishing Ireland’ book. With an utterly fabulous gift of the gab, he recalls a series of terrifying run-ins with bulls, the ‘drudgery' that made women emigrate and his day out with Pope John Paul II.

Danny Cullen, photographed by James Fennell.
Danny Cullen (1920-2009) of Letterkenny, Co. Donegal – The Haulier

An interview with a haulier from Letterkenny, from the Vanishing Ireland series, who started working as a haulier with a donkey and cart in 1931, with some insights into the mysterious pain-relieving qualities of the Green Scapula.

Bob Murphy (1909-2002) – The End of an Era
Bob Murphy (1909-2002) – The End of an Era

A story about the first person interviewed for the Vanishing Ireland project, arguably the smartest dresser in Rathvilly, with a cameo from two eels. ‘We won’t get those people again,’ said his neighbour. ‘Bob was the end of an era.'

Denny Galvin. Photo: James Fennell.
Denny Galvin – Cattle Farmer of Stradbally

From the ‘Vanishing Ireland' archives, an interview with Denis ‘Denny' Galvin, a cattle farmer born in 1945, about the challenges of keeping his County Kerry farm in order in the early 21st century.

Photo: James Fennell.
Eileen Hall (1924-2021) – Keeper of the Sweet Shop

From the Vanishing Ireland archive, memories of an encounter with the late Mrs Hall, who ran a much loved sweetshop between Clones and Newbliss in County Monaghan.

Photo: James Fennell
Eugene Brady – The Pumpkin Man of County Longford

‘1995 was the year Kerry won the All-Ireland, but it was also the year we won the Pumpkin of the Year. And I tell you, there was more carry on about that pumpkin than there was over Kerry winning the Sam Maguire’. A classic from the ‘Vanishing Ireland' archive about a farmer from Camagh, Abbeylara, Co Longford.

Photo: James Fennell.
Edward Hayes (1924-2012) – Houseman & Butler

The fascinating memories of a butler and houseman who worked in various ‘Big Houses' in Ireland during the 1950s-1980s, including Lisnavagh, from the Vanishing Ireland archive.

Eamonn King (b. 1937, Cattle Farmer & Horse Breeder) - Farravaun, Glann, Oughterard, County Galway. Photo: James Fennell.
Eamonn King (b. 1937) – Cattle Farmer & Horse Breeder – Oughterard, County Galway.

‘I’m all my life trying to improve the land, God help me’, says Eamonn. ‘All my life digging for gold, but I’ve not found it yet.' The recollections of a cattle farmer and horse breeder from Farravaun, Glann, Oughterard, County Galway, from the Vanishing Ireland archives.

 ‘I like music but I don’t play or sing. I listen.’ Photo: James Fennell.
Jack Longeran (1930-2020) – General Factotum of St Joseph’s Industrial School, County Tipperary

An interview from the Vanishing Ireland archives with the man from Tickinor, County Tipperary who served as general maintenance man of St. Joseph’s Industrial School outside Clonmel.

Donal Duffy (1920-2007) - Ravensdale Piper & London Exile
Donal Duffy (1920-2007) – Ravensdale Piper & London Exile

For over forty years, Donal Duffy has been popping through a hole in an old stonewall by his home near Ravensdale, County Louth, into a magical riverside glade of stately beech, honeysuckle, glacial boulders and rushing waters. In part, this habit stems from his keen paternal interest in forestry. But the real method in Donal’s madness becomes apparent when he unveils his pipes and gets down to some serious practice. One wonders what the local bird population makes of it. From the Vanishing Ireland archives.

Noel Robinson – Farmer of Coole
Noel Robinson – Farmer of Coole

Born in 1939, Westmeath farmer Noel Robinson reflects on mixed marriages, emigration, rabbit-hunting, holy wells, and the challenges for farmers in the 21st century. From the Vanishing Ireland archives.

John Mathis  – The Thatcher of Annagassan, Co Louth
John Mathis – The Thatcher of Annagassan, Co Louth

‘I was never over the water’, he says. ‘I was hardly in the water either, mind. I’m afraid of the sea’. An interview with County Louth thatcher John Mathis from the Vanishing Ireland archives.

Photo: James Fennell
Tom Sheehan (1931-2017), Schoolteacher & Actor, County Kerry

The former schoolteacher from Kilbaha, Moyvane, County Kerry, reflects on corporal punishment, turf gathering, amateur dramatics and family links to Kansas and Chicago. A story from the ‘Vanishing Ireland' archives.

The Murphys of Ballymurphy
The Murphys of Ballymurphy

An interview with Simon Murphy (1929-2015) & Jimmy Murphy (1934-2018), the cover stars of the fourth Vanishing Ireland book, about their life as cattle and sheep farmers in the Blackstairs mountains above Ballymurphy, County Carlow. ‘I go up the mountain every day,’ says Jimmy. ‘A couple of hours or more. It takes that time to straighten it all out, start in the morning, go see this, see that, but sure I was always at it, do you know?

‘An invaluable record of times past.’

Irish Independent