You do not have to be Irish or of Irish extraction or in any particular age group to enjoy and appreciate this handsome, impeccably produced book with over 130 superbly illustrated photographs of people , landscapes and animals. Full of interesting and gripping detail with in-depth portraits of people providing a valuable chronicle of a way of life fading fast into history. There is something in this book for everybody. It is a book about people and their relationship with their environment , the land, the rivers, music, animals, history and culture. Virtually all aspects of life and survival come alive between the covers of this book, but it is their outlook and philosophy on life captured by Turtle Bunbury that shines through. In his fine introduction to the book, Turtle states " some of those people we met spoke profound truisms that no philosopher has yet considered" indeed so it is , spoken from the heart and from experience, the truisms are as relevant today as they were in generations past. For those of you who do have Irish or indeed European ancestry this book will prove informative and invaluable.
As a historian and genealogist I am often asked " how did my antecedents live" "what was life like for them " in the lives of the people featured here you have the answer . Not only does it capture the rapidly passing present but in many instances the people portrayed throughout this book are today providing a living link to a way of life which in many aspects has remained unchanged in this area of Europe for the past 400 years, indeed some of them are living for many generations in the same house, on the same land, living a lifestyle that has almost disappeared . It is all recorded here , how they thought , worked, played, struggled and survived, from Cromwell and before to De Valera and beyond , from auld Gods time to no Gods time, from life to death and back again, writers and philosophers , fiddlers and singers, coalminers and canal men, tradesmen and masters of none, sheepmen and cowmen, farmers and gardeners, makers and menders, drummers and soldiers, sailors and fishermen, gamblers and champions, publicans and nurses, dancers and chancers , from housemaids to old maids, sad times to happy times, famine to plenty, war to peace, yes it is all here and then some.
The author, Turtle, is fast ( pun intended ) emerging as one of the finest writers on the scene today, this is his fourth book in three years. He has several well earned titles to his credit , award-winning travel writer, historian, explorer, freelance correspondent, in this his most recent endeavor he manages with precision and insight to combine all four talents and adds a fifth dimension, that of master-storyteller , observing and capturing as he does here, many "a moment" moments that will cause the reader to laugh and at other times be moved to shed a tear. I challenge anyone to read the chapter on Mick Lawlor and not be moved by the loss of his jennet, Pegasus, and by the absence of Mick on the list of those still living or to learn to laugh along with Nellie O' Toole as she recalls " a wonderful life - you couldn't have better" or the 103 year old cigarette puffing bachelor farmer , Paddy Gleeson , not yet ruling out marriage "as maybe he will meet someone his own age soon" .
Turtle also states in the introduction " posterity does not generally acknowledge the common people - their life stories have always faded into the archives" - faded yes but unfortunately faded into oblivion in most cases , so many lives and stories have remained unrecorded, lost forever .This book is a timely reminder to do something about this before it is too late . He tells us that at the time of going to press, six of the people interviewed for this book had died.
Readers and generations to come will be grateful to Betty Scott for inspiring Turtle and James to undertake this " Vanishing Ireland" book and to Wendy Walsh for her support and Hodder Headline Ireland for publishing it .
Turtle's empathy, humor and magpie capacity for picking up detail are equally matched by the considerable achievement of photographer James Fennell adding an extra sensitivity with his charming images. I have published three books on photographs but I am afraid that my descriptive powers fail me in attempting to do justice to the splendid images photographed by James for this book . In my youth we had the world renowned Canadian portrait photographer "Karsh of Ottawa" who once stated " within every man or woman a secret is hidden and as a photographer it is my task to reveal it if I can" well now we have , I believe, his equal "Fennell of Kildare" . His work is of the highest order and makes the book worth buying just for the photographs alone . His pictures complement Turtle's observations with stunning clarity and feeling.
With the exception of an incorrect date on page 128 ( placed there, it might seem as did the rug-makers of old insert a deliberate flaw in their work so as to pay homage to the perfection of the Gods.) this is a seamless and flawless production. A book of the year, any year, a timeless masterpiece by two skilful professionals. One word of advice , buy it, read it but do not lend this book to anyone for you will never get it back . It was Abraham Lincoln who when asked to review a book simply stated " People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like " to paraphrase Abe let me just add that people who like life will find this the sort of book they like .......I love life ...and you can quote me , Michael Purcell .firstname.lastname@example.org