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Jane W. Shackleton’s singular contribution to the Gaelic Revival has been seriously undervalued. Ciarán Walsh takes another look at the work of this pioneering photographer. In his latest post on the Ballymaclinton blog Walsh questions why Shackleton’s career as a pioneer of social documentary photography been seriously undervalued.
About 10 years go I came across this photograph. The caption suggests that it was taken during the Famine of 1845-9 in Ireland. It wasn’t. True, it is very similar to the scenes recorded in cabins throughout the west of Ireland and graphic illustrations of such scenes were published in illustrated newspapers at the time. There is no record, however, of any photograph of people dying of starvation in the 1845-9 famine. Indeed a photograph like this would have been impossible in the early stages of photography – invented less than a decade before the famine. As a result he photograph has been dismissed by some people as a fake, the harsh pool of light suggesting a studio staging.
I set out to look for the original and test its authenticity. I never found it, but I found the next best thing – the original document in which the photograph was first published. The photograph is entitled ‘A Sick Family Carraroe’ and is one of 18 photographs that were published in a pamphlet entitled ‘Relief of Distress in the West and South of Ireland, 1898.’ The photographs were taken in April during an inspection of conditions in Connemara by Thomas L. Esmonde, Inspector of the Manchester Committee. He was reacting to reports of famine in Connemara, what locals call the Second Famine or Gorta Beag. He inspected a dozen houses in which he found people lying on the floor, covered with rags and old sacks and barely able to move from a combination of influenza and hunger.
The search for the photograph became the basis of an idea for a TV series on social documentary photography or, to put it another way, a social history of documentary photography in Ireland in the 19th century. I pitched the idea to a producer and a broadcaster in 2011 and funding was eventually secured from the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland in 2014 for a six part series based on my research. TG4 will begin broadcasting Trid an Lionsa or ‘Through the Lens’ tomorrow Sunday 25 October 2015.
I haven’t been involved in in the production itself, just the research into historical social documentary photography and the people who work in this area. This material has been “translated into television” by Cathal Watters (Oíche na Gaoithe Móire) and follows the TG4 controversial format of presenter driven, on-the-road info-tainment. (http://wp.me/p56Bmf-5g).
I have no idea what to expect. Like a colleague I will be watching from behind the couch … hoping! It’ll be interesting to see how the balance between a social history of documentary photography and ‘factual’ entertainment works out. I know some key “voices” were excluded but that is the unenviable task of a producer. Either way it promises be an intriguing televisual event and, at the very least, it should create an awareness of the rich resource that exists in photographic archives and collections around the country.
For more images / Comment see: Ballymaclinton, The Town that Time Forgot
I have just learned of the death of Mick Murphy of Cahersiveen in Co. Kerry. Mick was known fondly as ‘The Iron Man’ because of his exploits in a celebrated bicycle race in 1958. Aidan O’Connor, writing in The Kerryman newspaper described Mick’s extraordinary Life:
Mick made a living as a spalpeen and a circus performer. After winning the 1958 Rás, Mick returned to Kerry to work in local quarry, breaking stones with a crowbar and sledge hammer. All the while, the Iron Man was completing daily training routines of 100-mile cycles.
Aged just 27 years, Mick Murphy retired and took the boat to England where he worked as a builder, road maker, a carnival act, boxer and a wrestler.
Mick’s training was as unconventional as his lifestyle. Having read about the important of a high protein diet, Mick drank cow’s blood and ate raw meat, well aware that this was regarded with “horror” by the people of Cahersiveen. The legend that was the ‘Iron Man’ was the starting point for an exhibition that celebrated the 50th anniversary of his victory in the Rás in 1958. The exhibition consisted of still photography by Barry McCarthy interviews recorded by film maker Chris Hurley. The impact of that exhibition is captured in Sean Mac an tSithig’s report (above) which was recorded for the main evening news.
Mick Murphy was one of the most remarkable people I worked with in Siamsa, a true folk hero. Following the broadcast of Seán’s film a lot of men who had gone through similar experiences came to the gallery and spoke movingly of their lives as emigrants and their love of cycling.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
Patchwork and quilting are important craft traditions in rural Ireland. Muckross House hold a number of quilts that a well over a hundred years old, rough cotton sheets and flour bags died with madder and quilted with fleece. Ciar Quilters keep that tradition alive as well as experimenting with contemporary techniques, a perfect match of art and craft.
Ciarán Walsh has been working with them for years, hanging an annual exhibition that showcases the work of women quilters from Kerry. The 2015 show has just opened in Kerry County Museum in Tralee and runs until October 1. It is an important part of the Museum’s programme for Culture Night, which takes place on Friday 18 September 2015: a great night in the museum!
Ciarán Walsh has been working with a group of musicians who have come together to put music at the centre of one of the biggest community festivals in Kerry. Inspired by the legendary “big winds” of September the musicians have organised the “Pattern Thrasher” traditional music festival which takes place on the annual pattern day in Ballyheigue. Walsh / EYEBALL publishing has filmed the musicians with the aim of producing a short promotional video, as well as a short documentary of the festival itself.
Ciarán Walsh has been elected a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute. This follows his pioneering work on the Irish Ethnographic Survey and the impact this had on the early development of anthropology in Ireland and the UK. Walsh first presented this material at a conference on anthropology and photography in the British Museum in 2014. In 2015 he presented an update on his research as part of the Fellows seminar series in the Institute in London, along with his research partner Dr. Jocelyne Dudding of Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (CUMAA). He will present a further paper on the connection between the Irish Ethnographic Survey and the institutional development of the RAI at a conference in December 2015. This will be based on new work that has been done as part of his postgraduate research in Maynooth University (Anthropology).
‘Fairscin Inise / An Island Portrait’ is an exhibition of photographs representing the lives of the Blasket Islanders, an island off the west coast of Ireland that was evacuated in 1953. It opened in April 2015 in the Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum & Arts Centre in the Isle of North Uist. This is part of an ongoing “conversation” between Ionad and Bhlascaoid Mhóir (The Great Blasket Centre) in Kerry and Scottish islanders in the Outer Hebrides.
The Great Blasket Island has retained a strong hold on the popular imagination of island life in Gaelic Ireland project management web based. The literature from the island is still in demand and the island is a popular destination for visitors to West Kerry. ‘Fairscin Inise / An Island Portrait’ gives a very real sense of the lives of the islanders and, since it opened in the Outer Hebrides in April, the exhibition has attracted a lot of interest. With less than a week to go, there have been well over 4,000 visitors.
The exhibition was curated by Ciarán Walsh /www.curator.ie for the Great Blasket Centre in Dún Chaoin, Dingle in 2013. It portrays life on the the island between 1892-2010, sourced from the photographic collection of the Blasket Centre archives.
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