A new book of photos by a London-based photographer from Waterford captures a vanishing Ireland
London-based, Waterford-born photographer Richard Fitzgerald, 75, has brought together a striking collection of moody black and white photographs which, his publishers say, “reveal the dark underbelly of Irish rural life.”
Richard’s previous books include Vanishing Ireland, with text by Edna O’Brien, and Ireland: The Parting Glass which included his own text, and recalled his childhood memories. His documentary The Brothers was nominated for an Irish Film and Television Award.
His latest book is a treasury of more than forty years travelling the length and breadth of the country recording the beauty of Ireland and its people. His candid, striking images form a narrative thread with the not-so-distant past and record unique aspects of Irish life that have almost disappeared.
The book is heavily influenced by a short poem of the same title by Patrick Kavanagh, Dark Ireland, which includes the line We are a dark people/Our eyes ever turned Inward.
The photo collection focuses on the back roads of the countryside, and records intimate moments of people in their cottages and farms. Nuns, Rosary-nights, confessions, coffins and currachs are captured along with horse-fairs and peat harvesting.
“My memories are steeped in Irish country life; I worked on the land before leaving my homeland, I ploughed fields, milked cows by hand, made haycocks, planted potatoes, and took horses to the forge. But all too soon it was over and I joined the ranks of thousands of other Irish emigrants bound for a new life abroad,” said Richard.
Richard says he was “thrown out of Ireland at the age of 14, wrongly accused of stealing a bottle of lemonade.”
He set up his own studio in London – where he has been since his teenage years – and worked with various magazines and newspapers around the world. But he has always had an enduring love of his homeland and continues to photograph, returning home to Tramore several times each year.
In the book, the dimly-lit rooms of Ireland prior to the arrival of electricity are eloquently remembered in his first-hand account of his childhood years and his early experiences observing light and shadow in a world illuminated by candle-light and oil-lamps are recalled in detail – from Rosary sittings to coffin fittings.
“Rural Ireland is very much part of my childhood memories. I have naturally been drawn to the old way of life; the photographs are of a time when the horse and cart and donkey were commonplace on the country road.
“I wanted to capture the Ireland I remembered as a young boy. When I was growing up in Ireland, I found the countryside a dark and mysterious place.”
“Death is very much part of everyday life in Ireland; the names of the deceased are read out on the radio each day.
“In County Kerry I photographed a man being measured for a coffin. He is standing upright inside it. The bottom of the coffin had been tarred by the coffin maker to help prevent the dead body from falling through.”
Another image of an Irish family gathered around under a portrait of Jesus to saying the Rosary, Rosary Night, County Waterford looks as if it was taken in the 1960s, 50s, or any decade before that – it was photographed in 1991 but the black and white makes it seem so much older.
“Monochrome photographs fitted better with the theme of the book, and I did not want to use colour just for the sake of it. I felt it would be a distraction from the overall mood.”
Richard had the chance to be a foreign correspondent “While working as a freelance photographer in London in 1970, I was commissioned by an English newspaper to fly over to Belfast to photograph The Troubles, but after two such assignments I knew I had no real desire to be a war photographer. Then I travelled the length and breadth of Ireland over the years, and found I preferred the small back roads where you find remnants of the old ways.”
Dark Ireland: Images of a Lost World is published by Currach Press, and is available on Amazon here: