Turtle Bunbury

Writer and Historian

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RTE GUIDE (7-13 November)


Donal O’Donoghue questions whether Romantic Ireland has really gone, describing the new book as 'a sobering look back from these overfed times at ... a generation that is disappearing'.

Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone, it’s with O’Leary in the …’. Hang on a second Mister Yeats, the rosy-tinged times of yesteryear are not altogether dead and buried, what with Vanishing Ireland: Further Chronicles of a Disappearing World, a coffee table book that taps into the rare old times.

Rather than a cup of Java, maybe you’d be better armed with a steaming mug of tea as this is not your usual ornamental publication. With its colloquial biographical account (Turtle Bunbury) and accompanying portraits (James Fennell), we get to sit down with a generation who survived the emergency, waded through a recession deeper than our own and lived to tell their tales.

Vanishing Ireland recalls that increasingly foreign country, a past when people did such strange things as actually visit each other to have a chat and children walked barefoot to school (albeit through fields of nettles) and a family of eight was pooh-poohed as smallish. Of course it was not the best of times – teachers could be brutal in measuring out corporal punishment, the church had a stranglehold on the nation’s conscience and living conditions were primitive for most – this book is definitely not all dewy-eyed romanticism.

Keep your eyes open, your legs closed and send home your money’, was the advice doled out to Jack Conolly’s four sisters when they took the boat to America. Then there’s Joe Muldoon, twice married and now living along on his farm in Ballymote, Co Sligo, who remembers a former schoolteacher that once ‘threw the full fist into the side of my face and splayed blood up onto the roof’. Years later the grown-up Joe meted out his blood reveng at a céilí.

The follow up to Vanishing Ireland (it seems that Ireland was not vanishing quite as fast as Mr Bunbury thought) is a sobering look back from these overfed times at photographs and memories of a generation that is disappearing.

We encounter Baby Rudden (farmer), the animated Betty Scott (cook and actress) and the bachelor brothers, Timmy and Stevie Kelleher from Dingle. Some characters just wander into the frame and the story. Like the day Bunbury was beetling about Westport and Mick Lavelle innocently stepped into Moran’s shop. A local character and regular entertainer at Matt Molloy’s hostelry, the 1999 Culchie of the Year winner has his own spin on how the world turns. ‘Everyone’s so busy now’, he tells the author. ‘Well, there will be plenty of time when we’re dead and gone’.


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