Thursday, April 26, 2012

Abandoned Ireland

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned (ad nauseum, I hear you say!), I’m taking part in a year-long photographic project called ’52 of 2012’. The idea is to take a theme-based photo each week during 2012. A few weeks ago the given theme was ‘Old, Abandoned, Decaying’.

Now, as a Number Five Enneagram personality type, I tend to do a lot of observing. You see, Fives (sometimes labelled the ‘Investigator’) are alert and curious by nature. The animal totem of the Five is the owl, possessed of wisdom gained through observation and knowledge. I’ll blog about that at a later stage but for now, suffice to say as I increasingly look at things with a photographer’s eye, I’m amazed at how much I was missing all this time! This came home to me especially during the ‘Old, Abandoned, Decaying’ week.

One of the rules of the project is that the photo you submit must be taken during the week of the particular theme. As misfortune would have it, on the Saturday before the ‘Old, Abandoned, Decaying’ week I happened to be travelling to Trim in Co. Meath when I spotted by the roadside a very old, very decaying and clearly very abandoned farm cottage - a perfect subject. I drove past as I realised it would be pointless to stop for a photo of it since I would be unable to use it in the project. But I resolved to research old and abandoned photo opportunities near where I live.

The next day, while weaving my way through Google, I discovered that quite a few amateur photographers in Ireland have a keen interest in abandoned buildings. In particular, I came across a website called Abandoned Ireland – established by Tarquin Blake, author of Abandoned Mansions of Ireland. The website, like the book, features mainly old abandoned buildings of the larger variety (mansions, churches, hospitals, industrial premises, …) although several smaller dwellings are also covered. It is one person’s attempt to record and document our heritage as represented by these buildings before they are gone. There is a link at the end of this post if you want to visit it for yourself.

Through this research, I became quite fascinated by ‘abandoned Ireland’. I found myself increasingly drawn to the smaller dwellings – homes of individuals and families which had long since been vacated and abandoned, left to decay slowly and not always gracefully. I began to think beyond the photo opportunities these presented. Who had lived in these houses and cottages? What kind of people were they? Who walked through the front door or looked out of the long-gone windows. What kind of life did they have? What were the circumstances which led to these homes being abandoned? Where did the people go and what did they leave behind? Did a lonely, sole occupant simply die and the property was not passed on? So many questions which will never be answered.

Finally, the Saturday of ‘Old, Abandoned, Decaying’ week arrived and I still had not taken my photograph for that week. Only one day left to do so. I arose at 6.30am and decided to drive into Dublin. I was sure I would find some decaying urban premises to be my subject. I drove by the abandoned Boland’s Flour Mills at Grand Canal Dock then travelled on to the north quays and down to the docklands area. Some possibilities but nothing that was really shouting at me to photograph it and certainly nothing that had that old-world charm factor!

I drove to the Phoenix Park to find the old Magazine Fort (the existence of which I had not known about until my Googling earlier in the week). I decided that scaling the wall to enter the Fort would be a bit much for me, especially as I didn’t know how difficult it might be to scale back out again! I motored on and marvelled at the early morning deer in the park. Then I remembered – the abandoned farm cottage near Trim.

Twenty minutes later I was standing in a field outside Trim, camera and tripod at the ready and again knew I had found the perfect subject for my shot of the week. The result is at the top of this post. Before I left the location, I took one last walk around the old cottage, pondering the questions that I related above.

Two weeks later we spent a few days in Connemara. As we were driving around looking for the next place to stop for some photos, I was amazed at how many old and abandoned dwellings we passed. Some of the not-so-old ones still had tattered curtains hanging inside the broken and decaying windows. I remarked to myself that I hadn’t seemed to notice many of these dwellings the previous times I drove these roads and I wondered was I less of a Five personality than the Enneagram had told me. Rather than dwell too much on that, I decided just to be thankful that due to photography my eyes were now more open to a very poignant and important piece of our national heritage. I wonder how future generations will look at old, abandoned and decaying buildings from the era we now live in? Are the ghost estates destined to be the heritage that our future generations will seek out as examples of ‘old, abandoned, decaying’?

Link to my photo of the inside of the farm cottage.

Link to Tarquin Blake's 'Abandoned Ireland' website.


  1. If you ever get a chance you should visit Mason Island off Muighinis in Connemara. There you see an entire abandoned village, houses, schools, church including baptismal font, even the harbour. Makes you really wonder who closed the last door for the last time.

    1. Thanks Maggie - that sounds really interesting. Will add to my list for next visit to Connemara :-)

  2. I really like that picture, John.

    Beir bua