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Vanishing Ireland

Vanishing Ireland, is one of the biggest selling picture books of the year. It features interviews with 60 senior citizens by Turtle Bunbury and more than 150 portrait photographs by photographer, James Fennell.

The result is a humourous and often poignant chronicle of a rapidly disappearing rural Ireland. A second volume and a documentary based on the book are in the pipeline.

Farming Independent prints a selection of pictures and stories from the popular book, which is available at all good book shops.

Paddy Gleeson

Born 1904

Farmer, Kealderra, near Bodyke, East Clare

A bachelor farmer, he lives on his own, in an old stone cottage in East Clare. At the turn of the century, Paddy's father, Bartholomew, took on a pub at O'Callaghan Mills. He married the owner's daughter on May 20, 1904 and Paddy was born where Doyle's pub stands today.

He was followed by four siblings, before his mother died in 1911. In October 1916, his father sold the pub and moved to New York with his two younger sons and daughter. Paddy, then 14 was left behind with his older sister to look after an elderly aunt.

"I never saw him again after that," says Paddy of his father. "He died there and is buried there." But, he adds with a broad smile, "I've seen the Statue of Liberty." In the 1960s Paddy flew to America for a reunion with "the brothers".

Stephen John Tierney

Born 1935

Farmer

Lough Corrib, Co Galway

The oldest of 10 children, Stephen John has run a 50ac cattle farm for most of his life, though he would not expect his sons to follow his footsteps

"Make a living on it if you can and, if you can't, pack it up. Farms are a thing of the past," he maintains, "and all that's keeping them going are old lads like me at 70! A young lad does not want to know about it."

When electricity came to Lough Corrib in 1954, Stephen John recalls passing houses where "old lads" would say:"There's nothing like that coming in here, that's pure witchcraft".

Atty Dowling

1916-2005

Farm labourer

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Tobinstown Cross, Co Carlow

Atty has lived all his life in the same house in which he was born on November 9, 1916.

In 1919, the deadly Spanish flu called by Tobinstown Cross and took Atty's mother, leaving his father, Joe, and a maiden aunt to raise the children.

In 1932, 16-year-old Atty secured a job looking after shorthorn cattle at Lisnavagh. Before long he was teaching frisky bullocks how to walk prettily up and down the farm avenue in preparation for the Dublin Spring Show.

He said everything went different with "the machine age". With machinery, came change. "But surely to God nobody will go through the hardship the old people went through. Oh God it was a hard life. Everything, the hardest work, was done with the hands. But it was a grand life. And whatever the hell way it was, people was somehow happier and more contented."

Bill Burgess

Born 1902

Amateur jockey and farmer

Tobinstown, Co Carlow

He was born in 1902, a month after the Boer War ended. He was 10 when the Titanic sank, 15 when his brother Rupert was killed in action in Belgium, 27 when Wall Street crashed, 37 when Hitler invaded Poland, 61 when JFK was shot, 77 when the Pope visited Ireland, 87 when the Berlin Wall came down and 99 when the Twin Towers collapsed.

In the mid-1920s, Bill was fast establishing himself as one of the most proficient amateur jockey's in Ireland. "I rode different places for no advantage to myself, only disadvantage. I got no money. You could call it sport if you like -- risking your neck on every fence."

When he wasn't riding horses, Bill was running the family farm, harvesting wheat and supplying milk to Lucan Dairies in Dublin. In 1957, he married Dolly, but it was to be a dreadfully short marriage.

"Two and a half years later I was back in church again to bury her." He was left with a small boy, Edwin.

Mrs Margaret Shortt

Born 1925

Ladies maid

Birr, Co Offaly

Margaret Shortt lives in a small cottage close to Birr Castle wall. For half a century, she slept within the castle itself.

"I had just turned 17 when I started. There were already 18 staff in the household, including a butler and two footmen.

"The footmen wore green tailcoats, red waistcoats and big brass buttons. Even the soles where shining!"

Margaret wore a khaki-coloured dress to signify her position as a lady's maid. As such, her role was to attend to all the chores necessary for the lady especially when she hosted princesses or viscounts.

While working in Birr Castle, Margaret met and married the late Pat Shortt, a cobbler from Birr who specialised in making "the little lads" boots. Their only son John, is a barrister and lives in Blackrock, Dublin, with his wife and two children. Margaret now lives with her younger sister Sarah.

"The castle means an awful lot to me," she says wistfully. " It was a very good house for food and lots of posh rich people came.

"I do miss it, the activity and everything. I still go walking in there a good deal".


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