Here Turtle explains a more about the project:
In 2000, I went on an assignment to Zimbabwe with my old friend James Fennell, then an up-and-coming interiors photographer. We got talking about the way in which Ireland was changing so dramatically before our eyes. It’s remarkably easy to forget the frenetic pace of change on this island since the 1990s. Everything accelerated to such an astonishing degree that even children began to agree that time was flying.
In those heady days, much about the past seemed irrelevant. Emigration had come to an abrupt halt and most young people were earning good money, investing it in houses, cars and leisurely holidays. The day-to-day present was all we could think of.
But for many men and women of senior vintage, the changes were deeply alarming. Many stalwarts of generations past were proving to be intensely vulnerable in this brave new Ireland. Church authority had all but collapsed. Politics was following fashion onto the catwalk. Most farms were now framed by tarmac roads, supporting a relentless convoy of cars, lorries and motor-bikes. The friendly villages of old were an increasing rarity, either because the post office, pub and creamery had closed down, or because the fields around them had been developed into housing estates and retail parks. Ireland was changing utterly, and it was all terribly fast.
James and I decided to join forces to chronicle the memories of the older generations as quickly as we could. I would interview them about their life story and family background, and James would photograph them in situ.
We started with people we knew, mostly bachelor farmers in our home counties of Kildare and Carlow. Then we upped the ante and headed on a series of road trips all over Ireland, heading down every back-road we could find, sometimes on a whim but mostly because someone had recommended a particular character to us.
We expanded our brief to encompass any man or woman over the age of 70 who had experienced a traditional, working class upbringing. We sought out blacksmiths, saddlers, farmers, fishermen, housemaids, lacemakers, publicans, postmen, thatchers, musicians, anyone who would help us to gain a better understanding of a world which was fading fast.
Twenty years and 250 interviews later, we have four volumes of ‘Vanishing Ireland’ books under our belt and over 122,000 members in the Vanishing Ireland Facebook group. Published by Hachette, the books have been a massive success - over 80,000 copies sold, and shortlisted three times for the Irish Published Book of the Year at the Irish Book Awards. We also produced a book called 'The Irish Pub' with Thames & Hudson that focused on the endangered rural Irish pub. Bruce Springsteen bought one of the first copies of it.
The Vanishing Ireland project continues to gather momentum at all times as more and more people face into our past. To younger generations, the sepia-hued world of our grandparents is sometimes difficult to comprehend. It seems like an almost make-believe land of thatched cottages, potato furrows and pony traps. But the stage on which they played out their lives was little different to that of their grandparents before them. And of course it was every bit as real as our own.
The people we met during this project have invariably been charming, courteous, amusing and friendly. Some were eloquent; others indecipherable. Some hardly said a word. One or two didn't draw breath. Some spoke profound truisms that no philosopher has yet considered. Others invented everything as they went along. They all completely understood the nature of this project, plying us with tea and whiskey while they coloured in the past with their memories and mused upon the quandaries of the present.
There is much to learn from these tribal elders. Raised in an age before cars and televisions, most lived an outdoor life, rising with the dawn, working in the fields, strolling the roads, always in tune with both the landscape and the weather. Their hardy constitutions undoubtedly stem from a childhood where they all walked, and sometimes rowed, to and from school. When they were young, horses, ponies and donkeys formed the backbone of rural Ireland. Many lament the end of that era but others relish the way in which the ‘Machine Age’, as one farmer called it, took the ‘hardship’ out of daily life.
Ireland has an incredibly rich history, albeit tragic and dark in many places. The Vanishing Ireland project is an attempt to bring the more recent past to life through the stories, both humorous and sad, of those who remember how things were when the world was younger. It is our great hope that these interviews inspire others to take a moment to think of old timers whom they know, to phone them or meet for a chat, and to write down or record the stories they hear.
THE 'VANISHING IRELAND' TIMELINE
2006 Turtle Bunbury and James Fennell release the first volume of ‘Vanishing Ireland’ to considerable acclaim in Ireland, Britain and the USA.
2007 'Vanishing Ireland' shortlisted for Best Irish Published Book of the Year 2007.
2008 'The Irish Pub' is published by Thames & Hudson. Bruce Springsteen is amongst over 8,000 people who now have this book in their library.
2009 A second volume of 'Vanishing Ireland' becomes a major bestseller.
2010 'Vanishing Ireland - Further Chronicles of a Disappearing World' shortlisted for the IES Irish Published Book of the Year Award 2010. Turtle interviews 88-year-old Baby Rudden, the cover-girl of the second 'Vanishing Ireland', for RTE 1's 'Nationwide.'
2011 'Vanishing Ireland - Recollections of Our Changing Times', the third volume in the series, is launched at the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin. It emerges as the best-selling Picture Book in Ireland that Christmas. The iconic GAA commentator Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh launches a Vanishing Ireland exhibition at the Hunt Museum in Limerick City, Turtle gives two talks on the Vanishing Ireland project at the Princess Grace Irish Library in the Principality of Monaco.
2012 An exhbition of photographs from the project entitled 'Vanishing Carlow' goes on show at the Visual Arts Centre in Carlow as part of the Éigse Carlow Arts Festival. Robert O'Byrne interviews Turtle about Vanishing Ireland at the History Festival of Ireland. Turtle also delivers talks on 'Vanishing Ireland' to Irish Georgian Society in Chicago and New York.
2013 The fourth volume of 'Vanishing Ireland' is shortlisted for Irish Published Book of the Year Award. Its launch inspires a cover story article for the Irish Times Magazine, as well as exhibitions at Burtown House & Gardens, County Kildare and the City Assembly House in Dublin. Turtle gives ‘Vanishing Ireland’ talks at the Dublin Book Festival, the London Irish Writers' Week and the Poésie and Prose Literary Festival at the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris. Turtle and James film 'Nationwide' episode about the Cistercians of Roscrea, County Tipperary.
2016: Turtle presents 'Vanishing Ireland' at the Irish Books Arts & Music Celebration in Chicago.
2018: Turtle delivers ‘Vanishing Ireland’ talks in Georgia and South Carolina.
2019: Turtle presents talks on ‘Vanishing Ireland’ at Ballyfin House (County Laois) and Glenville Park (County Cork).
2020 Prompted by Covid19, the Vanishing Ireland audio Interviews begin.