Inspirational figure taught generations about wildlife
Published 29/01/2013 | 05:00
Growing up, Eamon de Buitlear and Telefis Eireann were synonymous in my mind, as his wildlife programmes were a favourite of ours when the station came on the air in the 1960s.
There was the comic strip 'Daithi Lacha' in which Eamon played the voice of the character Luidin Mac Lu Leipreachan. This entire cartoon programme was in Irish and was well understood by its viewers at the time.
And then there was 'Amuigh Faoin Speir', the first programme of its kind, which brought the Irish environment and its creatures, into our homes every week for a long number of years. Bear in mind that in the 1960s, no environmental studies were taught at either primary or secondary school and Irish people knew very little about the world around them. Eamon de Buitlear and Gerrit van Gelderen – the Dutchman with whom he made the programmes – inspired a whole generation of Irish wildlife enthusiasts.
His wildlife films involved long hours inside a hide filming badgers, or otters, or nesting birds. With advances in diving equipment at the time, he could film underwater and produce footage of hitherto unknown behaviour of seals and dolphins and the exciting habitats in which these animals lived. His film A Hundred Thousand Wings was a masterly account of the gannets of little Sceillig off the Kerry coast. I must have projected it 100,000 times as it was standard fare for the many teachers' courses I ran. Eamon, with Gerrit, were the only people making wildlife films in Ireland in the 1960s, the 1970s and the 1980s, so all Irish people saw and learned about our wildlife, came to them through his lens.
He was very passionate about the environment and concerned about threats to it, particularly from human activities. He was also supportive of campaigns to stop interpretative centres being built at Mullaghmore in the Burren and Luggala, Wicklow. After a 10-year campaign, the battle was won in 2000 and the law was changed so that such developments could never be considered again without going through the normal planning process. Such developments were exempt up until then.
Eamon was very generous with his time and with his expertise. He greatly encouraged those who expressed an interest in wildlife. His books complemented his film work. He produced a huge amount of material for use in Irish schools and augmented the written word with filmstrips of his own colour slides. These formed the backbone of many a primary teacher's arsenal when environmental studies finally made it on to the primary school curriculum.
He could talk the talk as well as walk the walk – in Irish and in English. Irish was his first language and, in common with all native speakers, he was very easy to understand. He could paint wildlife pictures with words as easily as he could capture them on film.
It was always a pleasure to have him as a guest on our radio wildlife programme 'Mooney Goes Wild'. The last time he came in was on the occasion of his 80th birthday when, as well as regaling us with wildlife tales, he serenaded listeners with a tune on his harmonica. Eamon was one of a kind.
Eanna Ni Lamhna is a broadcaster, wildlife author and lecturer