Autumn in Ireland is usually rather short-lived. The moment the leafs show the first sign of autumn colour the first storm hits and strips the trees bare. This year however was different. Although we had a number of blustery days the big winds have spared us so far and as a result we had a beautiful display of colour for the past weeks.
Hailstones and Hazel
Shannon Estuary Shore
Lough Derg Shore
Unfortunately and due to some ‘photographic emergencies‘ I didn’t make it to some of the autumnal hot-spots like the Killarney National Park and the Fermanagh Lakelands as planned and had to stick to Co. Clare with some short visits to the neighbouring Tipperary, Limerick and Galway. So here they are, my autumn impressions 2016.
The estuary of the river Shannon stretches from the city of Limerick for almost 100km to Loop Head in Co. Clare and Kerry Head in Co. Kerry where it opens up into the Atlantic Ocean. Together with the Fergus Estuary which joins the Shannon between Shannon Town and Kildysart, it forms one of the largest estuaries in Europe.
The Shannon makes a first historic appearance in the 1st century where the river and its estuary appears on a map by Claudius Ptolemy. From the earliest times the Shannon Estuary was one of the main trade routes into Ireland as well as one of the main invasion routes that could bring hostile troops right into the center of the country. It is not surprising that the shore of the estuary is still dotted with defensive structures from different ages including medieval tower-houses and Napoleonic batteries.
Carrigafoyle Castle, Co. Kerry, Ireland
Carrigaholt Castle, Loop Head, County Clare, Ireland
One of the invaders that left a lasting impression were the Vikings. They arrived in the 9th century plundering what would become the city of Limerick and its surrounding area. By the 10th century the Vikings had started to built a permanent settlement on King’s Island. With the development of a walled city also came extensive trade and for centuries up to the present days Limerick would be one of the major trade centers in Ireland.
This trade not only brought wealth to Limerick city but also provided jobs for the inhabitants of the many small villages and islands along the estuary. The small boats of the Shannon pilots, which were based mainly in Kilbaha and on Scattery Island near Kilrush, guided the big cargo ships from the Mouth of the Shannon all the way to Limerick. The pilots have long been gone but the big ships are still sailing up the estuary bringing their cargo to Foynes and supplying the power stations at Tarbert and Moneypoint.
Moneypoint Power Station, Co. Clare, Ireland
Moneypoint, Co. Clare, Ireland
Poulnasherry Bay, County Clare, Ireland
Shannon Estuary, County Clare, Ireland
With its heavy shipping traffic, large ports and power generation plants and other industry it comes as a bit of a surprise that the Shannon Estuary is also a haven for wildlife. The so called Shannon Dolphins are probably the best known. This resident group of over 100 bottlenose dolphins has been around for a long time: The Cata devoured the saint’s smith, Narach, but Senan brought him forth again alive. The subsequent combat promised great things, but ended tamely. The Cata advanced ‘its eyes flashing flame, with fiery breath, spitting venom and opening its horrible jaws,’ but Senan made the sign of the cross, and the beast collapsed and was chained and thrown into Doolough near Mount Callan.
This sea monster makes a regular appearance in folklore and some descriptions sound very much like an oversized bottlenose dolphin. The dolphins are however not the only wildlife that thrives at the estuary: Common seals and otters are a regular sight and the sheltered bays along the estuary are rich in birdlife especially in winter when brent goose, whopper swan and lapwing join the resident curlew and oystercatcher (to name but a few) on the extensive mudflats. In spring and summer the cliffs around Loop Head and Bromore become busy with fulmars, guillemots, razorbills and kittiwakes and a variety of wildflowers add some extra colour to the shores of the estuary.
Knock Harbour, County Clare, Ireland
Cappagh, Kilrush, County Clare, Ireland
Killmurry Quay, County Clare, Ireland
Labasheeda, Shannon Estuary, Co. Clare, Ireland
Baurnahard Point, Shannon Estuary, Co. Clare, Ireland
Shannon Lagoon, County Clare, Ireland
Fergus Estuary, County Clare, Ireland
Labasheeda, County Clare, Ireland
For the photographer the estuary offers a variety of subjects. The lower estuary from Loop Head to Kilrush with its cliffs and sandy beaches offers some of the most dramatic sceneries in Ireland. The upper estuary from Limerick to Kilrush is less dramatic but the saltmarshes and mudflats have their own special kind of magic especially when the tide is out. Small harbours, old castles and monasteries and the rich wildlife do the rest to keep any photographer busy for a good while.
For the past few months I have been shooting for an upcoming book on Ulster. I always had a soft spot for the northern part of Ireland, especially the counties Donegal, Antrim and Down. There is however more to Ulster than these three counties and I was especially looking forward to exploring a bit of Tyrone and Armagh.
Armagh is known as the orchard county and produces about 35.000 tonnes of Bramley apples every year. The Armagh apple culture is said to have started with St. Patrick who is credited with planting an apple tree at the ancient settlement of Ceangoba. The Bramley apple was introduced by Mr. C J Nicholson of Cranagill House, Loughgall in 1884 and soon became the principal variety.
Apart from the apples Armagh’s main attractions are the city with its impressive cathedrals and planetarium and the Navan Fort. The latter is located on a low hill west of Armagh City and was once one of the great royal sites and capital of the people of Ulaidh. It is thought that in its heyday the Ulaidh’s territory ranged from the river Drowes in Donegal to the river Boyne in Co. Louth covering all of modern Ulster and Co. Louth. Today the only visible remains of the settlement at Navan Fort are a circular enclosure 250 meters in diameter surrounding the hill and a mound which was dated 95BC crowning the top of the hill. It is what you could call a magic place and the views from the top are stunning but unfortunately my visions of a sunrise or sunset shot didn’t come to fruition and I had to settle for some short lived morning sunshine.
Armagh’s landscape might be perfect for growing cooking apples but for the photographer I found it rather challenging. Once the main attractions are done the photographer is left with a very beautiful but on first impression anything but dramatic drumlin landscape of rolling hills surrounded by the Sperrin Mountains to the west, the Ring of Gullion to the east and Lough Neagh, Ireland’s biggest inland lake, to the north. It’s a landscape that needs some time to get explored and appreciated. The height of summer when everything is just green isn’t really the best time for that and I am looking forward to returning in autumn or winter.
My main target in Co. Tyrone, the largest county in Norhern Ireland, were the Sperrin Mountains. The Sperrins are the largest upland area in Ireland stretching from Co. Tyrone well into Co. Derry. The rocks that make up the Sperrins have been deposited some 700 million years ago and since then the Sperrins have been well worn down by wind, rain and massive glaciation. The highest peak today is Sawel Mountain reaching 678 meters.
The Sperrins are a landscape of gently rolling hills, valleys, forests, lakes and rivers. It is the kind of landscape where Frodo and Bilbo Baggins would feel right at home. I am not sure about the spring weather in the Shire but when I was visiting the Sperrins conditions were rather damp. It turned out that I only had only half a decent day to shoot and was hiding the rest of my trip in the valleys and forest parks and had to ditch my plans for some proper hiking along the many Sperrin trails.
This wasn’t however a bad thing. Especially the Gortin Glen Forest Park can keep a photographer busy even in the rain. The Sperrins are also known for their heritage: Stone circles, standing stones and other monuments are in plentiful supply and pointing to a long and eventful history.
Sion Mills Flax Mills, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland
Beaghmore Stone Circles, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland
Banagher Old Church, Sperrin Mountains, County Derry, Northern Ireland
The Sperrins are one of those places that grow on you and much of its beauty is in the detail. There isn’t that big and immediate ‘wow’ effect that places like Donegal or the Antrim coast give you but once you look closely you fall in love with the place.
Back in the day when I got my first camera a standard photography kit was made of the camera body and a fast 50mm lens. In my case it was a Revue ML SLR (which was a rebranded Praktica MTL5) and a 50mm/1.8, all film and all fully manual. This was the camera and lens combination I was shooting landscape and nature images with for some 5 years and never got tired of it. When I was 16 I added a used 100mm macro lens, paid for with the money I made from my first holiday job, washing dishes at a coffee shop. When photography became more serious in my mid twenties I switched to Canon and entered the world of autofocus and zoom lenses.
Today the humble 50mm lens is hardly being used by landscape and nature photographers. Today wide angle is king, the wider, the better. I am as guilty of that as the next photographer. For the past years my main landscape lens has been a 24mm, supplemented on occasion by a 70-300mm if I wanted to capture some interesting detail in the landscape. I very rarely used any other focal length and if you judge by the immense number of images available on the internet, almost nobody else does either.
A few weeks ago however the Zeiss Milvus 50mm/2 brought me back to my roots. Apart from the modern looks and better optics this lens is the same as my 50mm from the days of old: A “normal” angle of view, manual focus and traditional aperture ring. What sounds tedious to the modern photographer was a revelation for me. Working with that particular lens is simply very enjoyable and I found myself using it more and more. It’s back to basics, focussing (pun intended) on the actual process of photography which was the main reason I fell in love with photography all those years ago. There is not much fun in just point and shoot and letting the camera do most of the work.
The 50mm angle of view is similar to what we see with our eyes, our central angle of view, which we use most of the time, is around 40°, a 50mm lens covers 39.6°. Because this is what we see all the time anyway this view might seem rather boring to many.
A 24mm or wider lens captures everything in front of the camera and instantly delivers the drama of the big landscape, the sheer amount of scenery in the image captures the attention of the viewer instantly. Add a decent composition, some leading lines and a foreground interest, and you’re there. The 50mm lens offers a more intimate view which demands a bit more thought and work from the photographer. The dynamic that brings a landscape image to life is a bit harder to achieve with a normal focal length. This forces the photographer to slow down a bit and think about which elements are important for the image to work, what to include and what to exclude.
Burren National Park, County Clare, Ireland
Loop Head, County Clare, Ireland
For me the 50mm lens is slowly but surely becoming the master lens. If I can bring only one lens it’s the 50mm. With a 50mm you can capture intimate close ups of the landscape, then take a few steps back and you can capture the wider view. It’s the jack of all trades of lenses.
Update 16th October 2016: In recent days the Irish Times broke the story so I think it’s time that I name the publisher in question: The Liberties Press in form of Sean O’Keeffe approached my for the ‘Rivers of Dublin’ project almost exactly one year ago. As mentioned in the original article we agreed a fee and deadline. For me it was clear from the start that I won’t make a lot of money if any from this project but I thought it to be a very interesting and worthwhile undertaking. What I didn’t expect was not to be paid at all and to be left with substantial expanses.
Sean O’Keeffe claims to do a public service by publishing and Liberties indeed publishes books on subjects and topics that a purely commercial oriented publisher wouldn’t touch. What Sean O’Keeffe however doesn’t seem to understand is that authors (and everybody else involved in producing a book) need to get paid not only to pay their own bills but in order to be able continue their creative work. I can only hope that now that the story is in the public eye Liberties Press will fullfill its obligations.
Late last year I was approached by a Dublin based publisher about shooting some images for the reissue of a book on Dublin’s rivers. After some consideration on my side; I didn’t know Dublin that well and running around in the city with professional looking equipment makes me always feel a bit uneasy; I accepted and we agreed a fee and a deadline.
For me this assignment was a challenge. For starters I am not very keen shooting in big cities. Also the information from the original book I had to base my planning on was some 20 years old and modern maps don’t give much information on Dublin’s inner city waterways. Finally, to make the whole undertaking a completely new experience, I decided to shoot the project entirely with a mirrorless system, the Fuji XT-1, and leave the trusted but heavy DSLR at home.
Overall I spent some 10 days in Dublin, spread out over 4 trips and it turned out to be the tricky assignment I had expected. As unbelievable as it sounds but Dublin hosts more than 40 streams and rivers. Some of them run through the city, most of them however run under it. Over the centuries most Dublin rivers have disappeared under streets and houses and are now more or less inaccessible; others have been tamed and flow in concrete beds through housing estates and back alleys and are also difficult to get to. Tracking down those watercourses made the job so difficult and the ones I was able to find and get to turned out to be anything but photogenic and for some reason people get rather suspicious when you set up a camera in a housing estate. Fortunately some rivers make a proper appearance in the numerous parks of Ireland’s capital which added some visual candy to the project.
As challenging as the whole thing was it was also very interesting. I learned quite a bit about Dublin’s history, the Dublin City Council allowed me a glimpse into the Dublin underworld (which was utterly fascinating until the fumes got to me), I was offered to buy drugs (after 2 hours stuck in city traffic I was actually tempted), I more or less know my way around Dublin now and I can understand why the Dubliners are proud of their city. Apart from the traffic it’s an amazing place.
I also came to really like the Fuji X system. The XT-1 and the Fuji X lenses performed as good as the so called professional DSLR systems with the added benefit of no back-ache after a day’s work.
The big showdown however came at the end of the project. After I had delivered the images and the invoice the publisher seemingly disappeared from the face of the earth. No communication and no payment. Without wanting to go into too much detail I have spent some four months now trying to get the agreed fee for the assignment. But as I found out I am not the only one. That particular publisher seems to have a reputation for not paying authors and other contributors. Unfortunately I found that out a little too late. What I have learned from that is to do some background checks on new clients (which is rather sad), charge an advance payment and have a little money stacked away for solicitor’s fees.
I have now retracted from the project and if there will be a Rivers of Dublin book it will be without my images. But before the images end up in my archive, probably never to be seen again, I thought I share some of them.
Towns and cities are not necessarily my first choice when it comes to photography but since my first proper visit last summer I grew rather fond of Kilkenny.
Once upon a time Kilkenny has been the most important city in Ireland. Kilkenny’s story begins sometime in the 6th century when St. Canice or one of his followers established a monastery at an important fording point on the River Nore. The small settlement that had sprung up around the church soon grew into a town that became known as Cill Chainnigh, the Church of Canice.
After the Anglo Norman invasion of the late 12th century the town was separated into what was known as Irishtown, the area around the original foundation, and Englishtown or Hightown, the area around the Kilkenny Castle.
Saint Canice’s Cathedral; Nikon D810 & 24mm PC @ f16, 1/30 sec., ISO64
Saint Canice’s Cathedral; Nikon D810 & 14-24mm @ 15mm, f14, 2.5 sec., ISO 200
In 1208 Kilkenny was granted a town charter and in 1266 the Charter of Murage which allowed Kilkenny to build fortified walls, a sign of status and importance. The walls of Kilkenny were finished in 1400 and Kilkenny had become one of the most important trading centers and military strongholds.
In 1366 one of the most notorious pieces of legislation ever written was put into law by the Irish Parliament which was sitting in Kilkenny at the time. The goal was to prevent the occupying Anglo Normans to become ‘more Irish than the Irish themselves’.
… ore plusors Engleis de la dit terre guepissant la lang gis monture leys & usages Engleis vivent et se governement as maniers guise et lang des Irrois enemies et auxiant ount fait divers mariages & aliaunces enter eux et les Irrois enemyes avauntditz dont le dit terre et le lieg people de icelle la lang Engloies ligeance a nostre seignour le Roy Duc et lez leis Engleis illoeques sont mis en subjection et retrets… (Original Anglo Norman text)
… now many English of the said land, forsaking the English language, manners, mode of riding, laws and usages, live and govern themselves according to the manners, fashion, and language of the Irish enemies; and also have made divers marriages and alliances between themselves and the Irish enemies aforesaid; whereby the said land, and the liege people thereof, the English language, the allegiance due to our lord the king, and the English laws there, are put in subjection and decayed… (English translation)
Kilkenny Castle, Blue Bedroom; Nikon D810 & 14-24mm @ 14mm, f14, 0.4 sec., ISO 250
The Statute of Kilkenny, as the legislation became known, forbid, among other things, to cut the hair in Irish style, speak the Irish language, play hurling or other games of Irish origin and form alliances with the Irish which included marriage and fostering.
In 1609 King James I granted Kilkenny the status of city. This marked the beginning of a century of extreme prosperity. During this time Kilkenny was ruled by rich merchant families who controlled not only the trade but also every office of church and state in the city.
In 1642 Kilkenny became the provisional capital of Ireland. The Catholic uprising in Ulster and civil war in England inspired a gathering of Irish nobility and gentry which led to the formation of a supreme council that would effectively rule Ireland for the following seven years.
In 1649 however the English civil war ended with the execution of King Charles I and one year later the victorious Oliver Cromwell arrived in Ireland. After a week long siege Kilkenny surrendered. The following years witnessed the decline of Kilkenny. The former powerful merchant families were expelled from the city and their properties confiscated.
Some ten years later King Charles II allowed the families to return and try to rebuilt Kilkenny’s glory days but things would never be the same. Dublin had taken over the role of political and economic center and would eventually become the capital city.
Visiting Kilkenny is a real historic tour de force and offers countless photographic opportunities. The best time to shoot is spring and early summer before and around dawn when everybody is still asleep and the streets are deserted.
Rothe House; Nikon D810 & 24mm PC @ f13, 1/5 sec., ISO 64
A bit outside the city are places like Thomastown and the close by Jerpoint Abbey, Gowran, Inistioge and Kells with its fortified priory. All well worth a visit and I have a feeling I am just getting started with Kilkenny. There are many more images to be made.
River Nore, Thomastown; Nikon D810 & Zeiss Milvus 50mm @ f16, 1/100 sec., ISO 64
Last week I was traveling to Connemara for two food photo shoots, one at Renvyle House Hotel and one at Ballynahinch Castle Hotel. Everybody who has ever been to Connemara will agree that it is one of the most beautiful places in Ireland and photographers will understand that it is not possible to visit this place without shooting some landscapes.
The first view of Connemara after passing through Oughterad is always something special for me. I hadn’t been to Connemara for a while and seeing the Maumturks rise against the sky put a big and stupid grin on my face. This is what happened in the following 36 hours…