Monday 27 May 2019

Poignant reminders of bygone era and the lives of those who lived it

Bill Browne

A haunting and evocative collection of images captured by the lens of award-winning Mallow photographer John Hooton has encapsulated an almost forgotten era in Irish society and its poignant legacy.

For more than three decades John, who runs his own furniture business in Mallow, has been held captivated by the rugged beauty of the west Kerry coastline and the Dingle Peninsula, publishing two volumes of stunning images capturing its breathtaking splendour.

For his third volume, 'Ireland - The Way We Were', John has switched focus to capture images that in his own words "bring with them rich memories of a past that is almost gone and details of an everyday life that was simple and yet profound."

He has been traversing the region, capturing images inside and outside of abandoned homesteads, recording for posterity "lives now obscured by the passage of time and bringing to life a past recalled with fondness".

"What prompted me to put this collection together was a wish to document and record for posterity those important elements of a cultured and historic past that are, if not totally gone, disappearing fast," John told The Corkman.

He recalled that it was a trip to the Blasket Islands some years ago that served as the catalyst for him to start photographing some of the old houses back on the West Kerry mainland.

"These houses are now silent whispers of a people long gone but who live on in the memory. I felt it was important that I step back in time to record and, just as importantly, celebrate a time and a people from which the present generation has drawn so much that continues to be valued and cherished," said John.

He said the photographs tell a myriad of stories and draw people into what "at first appears to be an unreal world but is, in fact, very much a world of reality".

"The stories are enhanced by pictures of everyday objects, many no longer in use, but vivid reminders of events, past lives and the people that lived them. The old bed, the dress in the bedroom, the cobwebbed coat at the back of the door, the rosary on the bedstead, the Sacred Heart lamp, the old radio, the dresser in the kitchen - each of which hold precious memories of their former owners and their daily routines. The book is an invitation to come with me and enter into and share in the privacy of a domestic life of a bygone age. When we see the crane over the fire, the dresser in the kitchen, the pannie used to drink out of, the muller that held potatoes, the skillet on which bread was baked, the strop for sharpening the razor, we think of Ireland the way it was and how so much has changed since."

John maintained the collection of photographs were, in their own way, a social history that we can learn today.

"This book is a celebration of the past and it fills me with pride when I reflect on the time and lives celebrated in its pages," he said. "These photographs also help us compare the past with the present and, bringing from the same constants, the values and attitudes that shaped life then and that can continue to give direction to a changed and continually evolving Ireland."

'Ireland - The Way We Were' will be officially launched at the Mercy Centre in Mallow on Monday, October 22.