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.

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 Interviews in the Archives

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 blue button below.

Timmy O’Keefe (b. 1931, Farmer) & Patsy Kingston (b. 1935, Farmer, Soldier and Bus Driver), Caherlaska, Co. Cork. Photo: James Fennell.
The Caherlaska Three: Ellen O’Keeffe (1920-2017), housewife; Timmy O’Keeffe (1931-2017), farmer; and Patsy Kingston (1935-2018), farmer, soldier + bus driver.

Timmy and Patsy have been best friends since childhood, despite the complications of one being Protestant and the other Catholic. ‘He went that way to school and I went that way,’ explains Patsy, and the two men roar with laughter for a moment or two. Patsy then said the single most unlikely thing anyone said to me during the entire Vanishing Ireland project: ‘I knew Colonel Gadaffi’ …

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. She spent much of her time walking in the Clogher Valley, on the border of Counties Fermanagh and Tyrone, photographing local people. This page showcases 11 of her wonderful photographs.

Photo: James Fennell
The Cistercians of Mount St Joseph, Roscrea, County Tipperary

The jury is still out as to whether or not the corridors of Mount St Joseph became any noisier after Vatican II. The return of the voice had to be weighed against the ever diminishing number of monks walking through the monastery every passing year. ‘Very few enter nowadays,’ concedes Father Laurence.

Johnny Byrne (1926-2023) of Killabban, County Laois
Johnny Byrne (1926-2023) of Killabban, County Laois

Huge thanks to John Glynn for the short video of the late Johnny Byrne which …

Index to Vanishing Ireland Interviews
Index to Vanishing Ireland Interviews

A county-by-county index to all the people interviewed for the Vanishing Ireland series.

Photo: James Fennell
Festus Nee (1935-2008) – Pony Whisperer – Cashel, County Galway

He stands by a stone wall, sporting a Texan hat given to him ‘by an old girlfriend last summer’. He puffs on his pipe and thinks for a while. At length, he scratches his chin and says ‘No, I’d say all the old timers are gone now.

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.

Alex Findlater
Alex Findlater (1937-2019) – Dublin Merchant

Alex Findlater, who died at the age of 81 after a riding accident in Jaipur, was one of the most determined, fun-loving, charitable men of his generation. It was in his blood. As chronicled in his immensely readable book, ‘Findlater – The Story of a Dublin Merchant Family,’ his forebears were Scots excisemen who founded the Dublin wine and grocery firm in 1823.

Photo: James Fennell.
Eamon Madden (1924-2022) – The Blacksmith of Athenry, County Galway

‘It was a new world,' says Eamon, of the 1960s. ‘The farmers still needed to repair their ploughs and grubbers and the harrows and the grills that kept the cattle in. But they also needed us to work with the tractor and all the implements that followed, to adjust them or put a piece onto them or, if they were broken, to fix them.’

Photo: James Fennell
Jenny Cullen (1925-2010) – Factory Worker – Inchicore, Dublin City

‘You hear the young people say “I’m going down to the village?” That’s what they call Inchicore. But I never knew it to be called “the village” and I was born and reared here. It was like a village, but we called it “Inchicore”.’

Photo: James Fennell
Maureen Tierney (1920-2017) – Laundry & Factory Worker – Inchicore, Dublin City

‘I worked from eight in the morning until nine at night, pressing and ironing shirts, or cleaning and pleating coats for the nurses at Vincent’s Hospital. The money was very bad and it was hard work … Ah, there’d always be dancing. Ballroom dancing on the street corners – one, two, three and a hop.’

Maureen and Connie. Photo: James Fennell
Connie Brennan (born 1929) – Child Minder, House Keeper & Hotel Cleaner – Inchicore, Dublin City

‘We’re unclaimed treasures, all of us. They say that only the mugs get married and the best china is left on the top shelf.’

Photo: James Fennell
Mary Parkinson (1932-2016) – Garment Manufacturer & Record Saleswoman – Inchicore, Co. Dublin

‘There’d have been a lot of animals around here when I was young. You’d always hear the pigs squealing. One of my neighbours had ducks who would go mad anytime it started raining.’

Photo: James Fennell.
Christy Waldron (b. 1932) of Cloghanover, Co. Galway – Clock & Watch Repairman

‘Did you never hear of the Wag of the Wall?’ asks Christy, somewhat incredulously. ‘It was the first clock to come along after the Sun Dial. It had a big, long pendulum with chains and two weights. A man brought one into me once … it had been lying idle and there was no wear on it. I got it going beautiful for him and he was delighted.’

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

The Rock family from Dublin were awarded the Dermot Earley Family Award in the 2022 GAA Presidents Awards. The award honours the superb and long standing impact the Rock family have had on GAA life in the capital. 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.

Noel Robinson – Farmer of Coole, County Westmeath
Noel Robinson – Farmer of Coole, County Westmeath

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.

Mick Gallagher. Photo: James Fennell.
Mick Gallagher (1932-2022), Farm Labourer – Collooney, County Sligo

‘When he wasn’t thatching, my uncle was making crill baskets for the donkeys to carry the turf in from the bogs. It was all donkeys at that time. There were droves of them on the mountains.’ A much loved resident of Ox mountain, County Sligo, recalls a life of hunting rabbits, open-top tractors and working with the O'Hara family.

Photo: James Fennell
Joe Flynn (1923-2016), Coal Miner, of Arigna, County Roscommon

‘It used to be full of musicians up here,’ he says. ‘On both sides of the river, you’d hear them playing of a Sunday, with the dancing and all. I know there’s lots of musicians in the country now – look at the fleadhs and all the young musicianeers who go there – but I don’t think there’s many around here now.’

Thomas and Monica Duff at the yard in Slane castle with a Royal Enfield and a Ford Consul.
Andy Duff, Benny McCabe & the Slane Castle Stables

Andy Duff was based in the Slane stables in County Meath for much of the 1960s where he was the principal jockey for trainer Tony Riddell-Martin. I interviewed him at his home in Slane Village in 2015, alongside his friend Benny McCabe, who was a stable boy at Slane during the Riddell-Martin years.

Photo: James Fennell
Mick O'Connell – Kerry's Gaelic Football Sorcerer

Mick O’Connell was the dominant – and most elegant – player in the midfield throughout the 1960s. By the time he retired in 1973, he had played in nine All-Ireland football finals and won four. He also helped Kerry win six National League medals between 1959 and 1972.

True Horse-Power - How Jimmy the Coal Carrier got Home from Bradley's pub
True Horse-Power – How Jimmy the Coal Carrier got Home from Bradley's pub

‘He was still 13 miles from home, with 3 right turns, 2 left turns and 6 straight through cross-roads for the horses to negotiate by automatic pilot … This was a regular occurrence and the lead horse never went astray and Johnny never work up until he reached his own yard.' A recollection by John Headen, publican, of the late Jimmy Bolger's homeward voyage from the pub.

John Carson of Inishmore, County Fermanagh. Photo: James Fennell.
John Carson (1928-2019) – 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.

Henry Chapman and Red Tom. Photo: James Fennell.
Red Tom (1922-2009) and Henry Chapman (1928-?) – Shepherd and Gamekeeper – Kilruddery, Bray, County Wicklow

At his peak, Red Tom smoked a hundred Sweet Afton a day. ‘I’d get them for nothing,’ he says. ‘Father Michael … be janey mac, every time he saw me going by, he’d say, “Here, hold on,” and throw me three boxes with twenty packs in each.’

Photo: James Fennell
Paddy Heaney (1931-2022) – Historian and Farmer – Cadamstown, County Offaly

Paddy Heaney’s knowledge of the Slieve Bloom Mountains is outstanding. He has made it his …

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.
Statia 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
Aidan ‘Ogie’ Nolan (1922-2017) Saddler & Harness Maker Enniscorthy

Ogie Nolan crouched beneath the speaker’s platform and watched with mounting astonishment as more and …

Floral stools run the length of the narrow, green bar room, encouraging intimate banter between customer and landlady. Photo: James Fennell.
Murray’s of Maghera, Co. Westmeath

A white-washed 18th century cottage with an asbestos roof boasts one the smallest bars in the land. Behind the counter stands Lizzie, the fourth generation of the Murray women to run the bar. 

7 Henrietta Street,
Tenement Life on Dublin's Henrietta Street

May Malone, the eldest of ten children, was born in 1945 and spent the first decade of her life growing up in a single room on the top floor of a decrepit four-storey townhouse, No. 7 Henrietta Street. She shared this one small room with her parents, her grandmother, her uncle and four of her younger siblings. This is her account of tenement life.

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.

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.

Photo: James Fennell
Atty Dowling (1916-2005) – Farm Labourer, Tobinstown, Co. Carlow

Atty worries that times had gone ‘nearly too good'. ‘People get everything so handy! In my young day, no one could fall out with anyone because you didn't know the minute or the hour or the day you might have to turn to that person. But now, every one is gone independent, even the poor people, us poor people, and we hardly know who lives next door.'

Photo: James Fennell.
John Abbott (1931-2017) – Farmer – Carrigallen, County Leitrim

‘The Troubles?’ smiles John. ‘Jesus, there’d be n’er a word of them until there was an election and then, sitting by the fireside at night, you’d hear the whole lot!’

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 …

Photo: James Fennell.
Seamus McGrath (1921-2014) – Farmer & Actor – Killerig, County Carlow

‘My grandfather was a bit of a character. A genius in his own right. He made a colossal amount of money in the late 1920s. He could foresee the Depression and sold every animal he had, except the milking cow. A year and a half later, after the crash, he bought them all back for a fraction of the cost.’

Photo: James Fennell.
Tom Connolly (1917-2008) – Boat Driver & Engineman – Rathangan, Co. Kildare

‘I always wanted to work on the canal’, so, my eldest brother came home and took over the lock and I started on the boats in 1935 … but carrying forty or fifty bags of malt weighing over 20 stone over your shoulder is no easy job’.

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.

Connemara Wanderer by Sir Evelyn Wrench KCMG (1882–1966). A Fermanagh-born author and journalist, Wrench was editor of The Spectator and founded both the Royal Over-Seas League and the English-Speaking Union, both to foster international communication and education.
Aill na Caillí – A Deserted Village in Connemara

In Peter Ward’s youth, there were eight families living in eight different cottages here. Walking me into one ruin, he draws attention to the construction date etched into the wall. ‘1915’. He recounts a visit here with his grandmother as a child, only to be surprised to tears when the owner played a record on a gramophone. ‘I had never heard music before’, he explains.

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.

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.

Operation Shamrock
Operation Shamrock

My friend Herbert Remmel was one of over 400 German children brought to Ireland under an Irish Red Cross initiative called ‘Operation Shamrock’ in the wake of World War Two. Also known as ‘Hitler’s Irish Orphans’, these children were primarily German Catholics from the province of North Rhine Westphalia. In most cases, their parents had been killed and their homes destroyed during the war. Operation Shamrock arguably marked the start of Ireland journey back into European favour.

Paddy Mullins. Photo: James Fennell.
Paddy Mullins (1919-2010) – The Quiet Man of Racing

On Paddy's watch, the Doninga Stables in Goresbridge, Co. Kilkenny, was the biggest National Hunt yard in Ireland, and Paddy was the country’s most successful National Hunt trainer.

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.

Stephen John Tierney
Stephen John Tierney (1935-2010) – Farmer of Lough Corrib, County Galway

 ‘Make a living on it if you can and if you can’t, pack it up. Farms are a thing of the past,’ says he, ‘and all that’s keeping them going are old lads like me at seventy! A young lad doesn’t want to know about it.’

Tomas O Niallain (farmer, musician & policeman, born 1932) Gort, Co. Galway
Tomás Ó Nialláin (c. 1932)- Farmer, Policeman & Melodeon Player – Gort, Co. Galway

If they had to choose their absolute favourite, the cows would probably opt for the Kilfenora …

When Tomás played reels to his cattle, they stood easy and the milk flowed pure and simple. But when he threw on a rock n’ roll record, all Hell broke loose. ‘It had them cracked,’ he recalls. ‘They broke the machines and fences and everything.’ To play it safe, Tomás just sang while he milked and that did the job. ‘Republican ballads,’ he says. ‘Some of the cows sang-a-long.’

Paddy Delaney in his garden. ‘We all have to face whatever is coming for us. We don’t know why we’re alive and we won’t find out until we’re dead.
My Friend, Paddy Delaney (1929-2023) of Tobinstown, County Carlow

‘We all have to face whatever is coming for us. We don’t know why we’re alive and we won’t find out until we’re dead.' So said Paddy Delaney, a wonderfully full-spirited soul who I befriended during the Big Freeze of 2012. ‘It's the same as driving a car – keep inside the white line and do the best you can.’

Photo: James Fennell.
Michael Brennan Roe (1937-2023) – Coalminer, Castlecomer, County Kilkenny

Michael holds out his miner’s hands, still etched with pallid blue stains from where coal dust got into the inevitable cuts. ‘You hear a lot of talk these days about child labour in Asia and Africa,’ he says quietly, ‘but it wasn’t so long ago they had it here in Kilkenny.’

Photo: James Fennell
John Cooney (1922-2016) – Postman & Carpenter – Achill Island, County Mayo

Within a minute of meeting him, he has hopped into the back of our car. ‘You met the right man! I’ve nothing else to do and I’m sober. Come on and I’ll show you around. There’s nothing between here and America but the Atlantic Ocean.’

Photo: James Fennell.
Chris Droney (1925-2020) – Concertina Player & Dairy Farmer, Bellharbour, County Clare

‘I started playing when I was eight. I’m seventy-three years playing music now … I saw this concertina one, and it was top of the range. They wanted £64. I said feck it, it’s only once in a lifetime and I’ll have it. It’s done me ever since and it’ll do someone else after I’ve gone.’

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.

Photo: James Fennell.
Con Riordan (1912-2008) – Farmer – Glenbeigh, Co. Kerry

With his 95th birthday looming close, Con is philosophical but restless. ‘I can’t do a lot of work at my age. When you’ve nothing to do, you can feel the day. But sure, we still have plenty of time’.

John Flynn. Photo: James Fennell.
The Ballyduff Three, County Waterford

Written following an encounter in circa 2005 with thresher John Flynn (born 1943), store manager Pat Flynn (born 1939) and the late postmaster, Eamon Bolger (1931-2009).

Michael Keneally by Dorothea Lange.
Mick Kenneally (1939-2013) – Potato & Cattle Farmer, Cloonanaha, County Clare

‘They’d all meet after mass and stand around chatting for hours. That’s gone now. Then everyone got motor cars and they drove away afters. Back then it was all walking. There was maybe the odd bicycle or a few asses and carts. But everyone else walked.’

Mike Murphy (1937-2012) - Fiddler & Taxi Driver, Ennistymon, County Clare
Mike Murphy (1937-2012) – Fiddler & Taxi Driver, Ennistymon, County Clare

Mike toured the USA seven times as fiddler with the Tulla Ceil Band. Chicago was his kind of town. Toronto impressed him too. He was not trained in music. Few of his contemporaries were. He would listen to his father play and then, at the age of eight, he picked up a mouth organ. Shortly afterwards he moved on to the fiddle and accordion.

Photo: James Fennell
Mick Lawlor (1927–2004) – Trap Driver – Borris, County Carlow

It was not Mick’s intention to die quite so soon. When James photographed him two days earlier, he had gamely invited us back the following week to join him on his pony and trap. I feel for Sheba, his seven-year-old sheepdog, who literally put her hand out to introduce herself when we arrived. Mick maintained Sheba could tell the time of day by looking at the clock on his kitchen wall.

Photo: James Fennell.
John Murphy (1925-2015) – Farmer & Gardener – Waterville, Co. Kerry

John has no interest in parliamentary affairs. “Feck politics, amen”, he suggests. His particular gripe is against the ‘rules and all kinds of feckology that came in when he and his wife tried to set up a small caravan park in the 1980s. One can see why he got on with Brendan Behan – ‘an ordinary working man like the rest of us.’

Photo: James Fennell.
Paddy Walsh (Farmer) and Johnny Walsh  (Forrester) of Derrinlaur, County Tipperary

‘You see, a tractor could do the work of eight men,’ says Paddy. ‘So of course that changed everything.’ Not that he minded. In the early days, he might be out ploughing all day with ‘nothing to hold only the reins driving the horse’. Over rough terrain, on a warm day, with sweaty trousers rubbing constantly against the skin, that could get pretty sore after a while…

Photo: James Fennell.
Kathleen Lynam Keogh (1930-2018) & Kathleen Lynam (born 1926) – Kiltegan, County Wicklow

‘It’s amazing to think of her now,’ says Kathleen of her mother. ‘And what she did for us. It was a different world. There was no taps, no sinks, no nothing. We only had a few oil lamps. We done our homework by candlelight. We got our water from the well and we ate our meals on stools. We always had porridge for breakfast, big plates of porridge, with lots of milk.’

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
Den Lane (1923–2023) 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!'

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’.

Tom Frawley.
Tom Frawley (1920-2014) – Publican – Lahinch, County Clare

‘If priests were allowed to marry, they wouldn’t have had half the number of scandals.’ When Tom Frawley makes his point, he does not slam his fist on the bar. He says the words with quiet certainty. He has thought the matter through thoroughly and he knows he is correct. Besides which, the bar is his so why would he want to go and bang it.

Paddy Fagan. Photo: James Fennell.
Paddy Fagan (1924-2014) – Forester & Farmer of Enfield, County Meath

‘I’m just ticking over,’ says the eighty-two-year-old forester, while tippling several litres of petrol from a billy-can directly into a chainsaw without spilling a drop. ‘And once you keep ticking, you’re not too bad.’

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.'

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.

The Big Snow & Freeze-Up in West Wicklow, 1963, by Michael O'Brien
The Big Snow & Freeze-Up in West Wicklow, 1963, by Michael O'Brien

“The heavens scowled, the huskies howled and an ice wind began to blow.” This is a guest-post by Michael O'Brien.

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.

Jimmy Ryan (1928-2018, Hurley Maker), Crosscannon, Killenaule, County Tipperary. Photo: James Fennell.
Jimmy Ryan (1928-2018) , The Hurley Maker – Crosscannon, Killenaule, County Tipperary

‘To make the perfect hurley, you need an ash tree that is between 25 and 35 years old. If the tree is any younger than that, you won’t get enough hurleys out of it. And if the tree has gone beyond 35, then the skin becomes too rough and the timber is old and brittle.’

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.

Photo: James Fennell
Maisie Grannell (1925-2023) – 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.

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.

Photo: James Fennell.
Michael King (1925-2006) – Politician, Postmaster & Farmer – Errislannan, Connemara, County Galway

‘We used to go out on the long winters nights for five or six pints. We’d drink them slow, then drive home after. Now the pubs are all empty and people stay at home with a take out. If you’re not within walking distance of the pubs, you may forget it.'

Photo: James Fennell.
Mike Burke (1926-2016) – Cattle Farmer – Kilmeena, County Mayo

As a young fellow, he would accompany a horse and cart down to the bog where they cut and dried the turf. ‘Two carts of turf would be drawn every day,’ says Mike, ‘and brought home, forty miles a day.’ It was the same with mowing the fields. ‘The whole parish was cut with the horses!’

Photo: James Fennell.
Michael ‘Patsy’ Flanagan (1924-2009) – Drummer and Farmer – Bartra, Lahinch, County Clare

‘I may be coming on eighty-three, but I have a few more nights to be done yet,’ he says, tapping his drum with a stick ‘If you don’t see this drum, then you may take it they’ve got someone else!’

Photo: James Fennell.
The Piggott Twins (born 1931) – Farmers & Accordion Player Glenbeigh, Co. Kerry

Like many Kerry farmers, the twins have a keen sense of music. Pat is highly skilled in playing the melodeon or squeezebox. ‘I learned by the air’, he says. ‘By listening’, adds John ingenuously, as if that settles it.

Photo: James Fennell.
Pat Gleeson (1913-2006) – Farmer and Musician – Belmont, County Offaly

‘They say about the Irishman, his wars were merry and his songs were sad,’ he says before singing a song. His blue eyes invite those who listen into his past – full of crumbling stonewalls, mud cabins, turf fires, long brown overcoats and grinning soldiers with evil eyes.

Photo: James Fennell
John Shannon (1922-2005) – Cattle Farmer of Ennistymon, Co. Clare

He was a great old worker”, says Mary, “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”.

Photo: James Fennell.
Paddy Scanlan (1927-2016) – Skipper & Lighthouse Keeper – Rosses Point, Co. Sligo

Fourteen-year-old Paddy was among several thousand who heard the explosion from the mainland when the mine detonated. His father died of his wounds early the next day. An older man approaching Paddy soon afterwards. ‘You are the head of the family now’, he said.

Photo: James Fennell.
Jack O’Neill (1925-2007) – Builder – Tuckmill Cross, County Wicklow

Every Sunday, Jack rambled up to the village of Grangecon for a pint in Mrs Moore’s establishment. ‘It’s good to get out for an old chat,' he said. ‘I’ll go while I’m able because I’m going to be dead long enough.’

Photo: James Fennell.
Jack ‘Ginger' Powell (1913-2015) – Ireland's Oldest Vet – Toomevara, County Tipperary

‘We went to the neighbours’ houses and we chatted and sang songs and played tricks and enjoyed ourselves. Now you hardly know your neighbours. Young people hardly know their neighbours. It’s not their fault. If we were the same age, we’d be the same. They’re the victim of a way of life.'

Photo: James Fennell
Kitty Crowe (1926-2009) – Singer & Community Champion – Ringsend, Dublin 4

‘There’s so much pressure and anxiety in the world. You can’t expect everything to be there with a click of the fingers. You’ve got to wait and take your time. Everything is not dull. It’s what you make of it.’

Photo: James Fennell.
Frank Maher (1936-2014) – Carpenter & Fisherman – River Blackwater, Doneraile, County Cork

‘I’m a carpenter by trade but I’m retired now,’ says Frank. ‘When you get over seventy, you may throw the towel in and go fishing.’

Photo: James Fennell.
Mick Staunton (c.1924/1938-2017) – Fruit Seller – Kinvara, County Galway

I still don’t know what age he is. Initially he said he was eighty-two. Then he said he was only codding and he’d be sixty-eight in July. And, finally, he said he’d been doing the market thing for at least sixty-five years. It’s the way he is. He talks in riddles.

Photo: James Fennell.
Paddy Lowry (1919-2013) – Farmer & Folklorist – Forlacka, Kinitty, County Offaly

Paddy is a religious man of sorts, and goes to church to pray but he won’t tolerate too much hyperbole from the hierarchy. ‘Some of the biggest hoors that ever was were Catholic – and there were some very decent people who were pagans.’

Photo: James Fennell.
Paddy Canny (1919-2008) – Fiddler & Farmer – Kilcannon, Tulla, County Clare

Paddy’s father was also a keen traditional fiddler and specialised in teaching children how to play. ‘In his time, there was more music around,’ says Paddy with his bashful smile. ‘A lot of the musicians he knew were of an older generation. He would keep them in the house for the winter.'

Photo: James Fennell.
Paddy Gleeson (1904-2010) – Farmer of Bodyke, East Clare

‘Once, I was coming to school and I met two fellows leading a three-year-old bullock with horns. On his horns was a placard – ‘The Land for the People and the Road for the Bullock’. And beneath the bull, they were dragging a man who was after evicting a poor widow woman from her home.’

Robbie McMahon. Photo: James Fennell.
Robbie McMahon (1926-2012)  – Singer & Farmer – Spancil Hill, County Clare

When Robbie McMahon sings “Spancil Hill”, it all falls into place. There have been so many versions of this powerful ballad that it becomes easy to forget who was there first. He revels in his role as guardian to the ballad. ‘How many times have I sung it? Well, it must be getting close to ten thousands times?’

The inimitable Robert Mullins.
Bob Mullins (1921-2019) – Tree Farmer & Market Trader, Glen of Aherlow, County Tipperary 

‘When that man passes away, we’re taking down O’Connell’s statue and putting him up instead,’ laughs the man who sells cabbages at the next door stall. ‘They will like feck,’ says Bob with the vaguest hint of a smile.

Behind the bar at Smyth's. Photo: James Fennell.
P. F. Smyth of Newtown Co. Carlow

P.F. Smyth’s, now sadly closed, was one of Ireland’s longest family-run licensed premises, with records dating to the mid-1740s. It was also once the premier music hall in County Carlow – a piano lounge with the sort of pin-striped, red leather ambience you’d expect of a Roaring Twenties cruise ship. ‘If you didn’t come before nine on a Saturday night, you had to stand.”

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.

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.’

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.

Photo: James Fennell
Liza Mulvihill  (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.”’

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’. 

Coyle & Sons. Photo: James Fennell.
Coyles of Four Roads, County Roscommon

Simon Coyle, the fourth generation of his family to run the pub, pulled his first pint when he was five years old. It is in pubs such as this that plots are hatched and loyalties sworn.

Photo: James Fennell.
Mary Kennedy’s of Callaghane Bridge, Co. Waterford

Set in a vernacular Irish cottage, Kennedys has been serving pints since the 1880s. Traditionally it was a community pub where farmers and labourers from the parish came to drink and play poker and music and catch up on the gossip. Sometimes they came to fight.

The grocery and bar sections run along opposing sides of the wall, separated by a flagstone floor salvaged from the pavement of Dublin’s Mountjoy Square. The counter tops were salvaged from an abandoned ship in Belfast Harbour. Photo: James Fennell.
Leonard’s of Lahardane, Co Mayo

In 1943, Laurence Leonard, gave up his career at a wholesalers in Belmullet and opened a grocery bar that offers offering the sheepfarming community a useful array of tea, sweets, boots, shoes, hardware, seeds, wine, spirits and beer.

McGinn’s pub was bought in trust for Annie’ father Hugh McGinn over a hundred years ago. Photo: James Fennell.
McGinn's of Newbliss, Co. Monaghan

The pub was purchased in 1912 in trust for Annie’s father, Hugh McGinn. He was in America at the time, having emigrated there with the rest of the family. Fortunately he had mastered the bar trade, running a pub in downtown Manhattan with his brother.

The stout black pub features in the Guinness brewery’s Christmas television advertisement.
Mrs O's (O’Connell’s Bar) – The Hill of Skryne, Co. Meath

I visited the legendary Mrs. O at this pub in 2008, and again in 2012, shortly before she passed away. On the latter occasion, I was blessed to unite with Terry Wogan for a quick televised chat about the Boyne. Mrs O's pub was a cinnamon-hued step back in time to a 1950s country bar.

Photo: James Fennell.
O'Shea's of Borris, County Carlow

The pub has been frequented by some of the most powerful minds of the 21st century, who swing by after (and occasionally before) their performances at the nearby Festival of Writing and Ideas at Borris House, which began in 2012.

Photo: James Fennell.
Gartlan’s Bar – Kingscourt, Co. Cavan.

Gartlan’s is a traditional grocery bar, nicknamed the Hypermarket by its regulars. It has hardly changed since Paul’s grandfather George Gartlan first opened it in 1911. ‘Well, we’ve dusted it once or twice’, admits Paul.

Somers of Clogh, County Kilkenny
Somers of Clogh, County Kilkenny

Closed since 2008, Somers pub was also where Eddie did his accountancy business. His eyes shone when he talked figures, shillings and sixpences, percentages and additions and, above all, logical ways to increase one’s money. ‘It’s all about management’, he counselled.

Pa Byrne, with dog Sandy, inherited the pub from his mother’s family in the 1980s. Photo: James Fennell.
M.J. Byrne's – Greenane, Co. Wicklow

‘There was no such thing as stabbing or kicking that time. If you pulled a …

Dating to the late 18th century, the two-storey public house bore witness to the violence of the 1798 Rebellion. Photo: James Fennell.
E. Butterfields – The Harp Bar, Ballitore, Co. Kildare

Dating to the late 18th century, the two-storey public house in Ballitore bore witness to the violence of the 1798 Rebellion. Today, a vast open hearth brick fireplace smokes beside an organ, delineating the space where musicians gather on certain Wednesday evenings. Old tables and chairs are scattered randomly across a cracked flagstone floor.

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.’

Young Dororthea.
Dorothea Findlater (1909-2017) – Ireland’s Oldest Woman in 2017

Dorothea Findlater, née de Courcy-Wheeler, was the oldest woman in Ireland for ten weeks before her death in 2017. As a child, she saw her father set off to Dublin to arrest Michale Mallin and Constance Markiewicz during the Easter Rising. He also took the famous photo of Pearse’s surrender, from which Nurse O’Farrell was subsequently air-brushed from history.

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.

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?’

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’.

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.

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?'

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 …

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’.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.