News Analysis

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Joe Barry: Wildlife pioneer broke new ground on our TV screens

Published 29/01/2013 | 05:00

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THE news of Eamon De Buitlear's passing has saddened all who knew him and especially those of us who fondly recall his pioneering work in conservation and in filming wildlife. It is almost 50 years since I first met Eamon while he was working behind the counter in Healy's game and fishing shop in Dame St. At the time, I was purchasing some fishing tackle and recall making some smart remark about the use of the Irish language which Eamon would always tend to slip in to general conversation.

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Rather than reprimand me, he quietly and persuasively reminded me of the huge importance of valuing our culture and our history and the need to keep our native language alive.

It was a lesson I never forgot. To be able to change a teenager's attitude and to do so gently with a few words was typical of the man, but then Eamon was a gentleman in the best sense of that word.

As the years passed I met him occasionally, usually at some event or other held to promote nature and conservation – subjects that he helped bring to public attention long before they became popular and place them firmly on the national agenda.

The list of Eamon's lifetime achievements is quite extraordinary.

He pioneered wildlife conservation in Ireland and his wonderful television programmes broke new ground for Irish audiences. It is hard to imagine, given the coverage that wildlife issues are given nowadays, what it was like back in the 1960s when with Gerrit Van Gelderen, he brought those remarkable images to our screens along with facts about wildlife that most of us were ignorant of.

'Amuigh Faoin Speir' was a groundbreaking television series, filmed at a time when our interest in the natural environment was limited and it paved the way for numerous such programmes that now appear on our screens almost nightly. A TV programme of this quality would not have been possible without Eamon's depth of knowledge and love of his subject and it was widely regarded as being superior to anything the BBC, with their far larger budgets, could produce in those days.

He was also a talented musician who played the mouth organ, accordion and tin whistle; and he had a long association with Sean O'Riada, with whom he founded Ceoltoiri Chualann. As well as being a committed environmentalist and skilled filmmaker, Eamon was an author of some note and wrote several books, including his memoir, 'A Life in the Wild'. They say if you want something done, ask a busy man and Eamon found time to became involved in almost every aspect of Irish life, including being appointed to Seanad Eireann in 1987 and also to the Heritage Council and the Central Fisheries Board. Nothing was ever too much trouble for Eamon if it involved putting wildlife and environmental issues in the public arena.

IN the 1970s, he gave time to help with the promotion of Crann, the group that was founded to "releaf Ireland" with broadleaves, which were a rare sight among the sea of conifers that then covered so much of our landscape.

I last met Eamon two years ago in Wicklow when he was launching a book 'If Trees Could Talk', where he entertained his audience with wonderful tales and anecdotes and finished by playing a delightful tune on the tin whistle.

We have lost a true Irishman and will always be grateful to him for the rich legacy of film, music and writing he left behind.

Joe Barry farms and manages woodland in Meath, is a columnist with the 'Farming Independent' and a former chairman of Crann

Irish Independent

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