Connemara, County Galway situated on the edge of Europe, the place where I spent my childhood, worked, lived and emigrated from, due to the lack of work. Steeped in memories for me, happy and sad, yet always rewarding from a travel and photography point of view. Since relocating back home from overseas, Connemara is the place my husband and I go and spend time out in nature cycling the long and winding roads, a place to relax and unwind. It is also the place I explore extensively with my brother taking photographs and boy does it reward us no matter the season or the weather.
My grandfather and his family worked the bogs in Connemara for many generations; the hand cut turf was the main source of fuel for heating homes. His old family home still stands in a little village in Rusheeny, Oughterard. He was a stonemason, gifted with his hands and built many of the stonewalls that are still standing today.
It’s hard not to travel Connemara and be taken back by the amount of stone and all the walls dotted up the hillsides. Like many Irish people out West part of the lifestyle was working the bogs and building walls in order to clear fields and stake out land, keep the animals in and most of all essential to survival as they planted food to keep their family and animals alive, although working the bogs is still a labour of love is really is no longer a necessity as most homes are heated by oil or gas, for some it is purely a way of life, however, it is restricted and in some areas no longer allowed.
Furrows from the ridges used to grow potatoes can still be seen etched into the landscape, I have yet to capture a good photo of these historical scars. The hills are dotted with reminders of a difficult and isolated past, this is an isolated school house in the Maum Valley.
My earliest memories of my grandad were of him sitting on the floor and weaving sallyrods into baskets for the donkeys to carry turf. I was always totally facinated to see something useful being created out of long, naked sticks, switches my grandmother used to call them(due to the fact you could get a quick smack of one in those days for being bold).
Donkeys were once widely used in Ireland, with baskets strapped to their backs they were filled with turf or hay to take home to the farms, they were an integral part of Connemara and country life. However, machinery took over those roles and made the donkeys redundant, but they can be still found dotted around the hills, mingled with sheep and cattle as they still prove useful as guard animals and as lawnmowers. I adore them and their cheeky faces, they are the subject of many of my photographs and artwork. Perhaps my early childhood and memories are what drive my passion for animals , nature and my fascination with the landscape. Outdoors is the place that I feel most at home, surrounded by nature. Here even the sheep stop to take in the scenery.
It’s hard not to feel physically and emotionally moved when you are out here taking in the scenery, feeling the clean air permeating your lungs and knowing the history that is under your feet, soaking it all in with your eyes. Your senses tingle and dance all at the same time, it’s euphoric, the sights, sounds, smells so hard to describe and has to be experienced.
Connemara is beautiful, rugged, harsh, wild and steeped in history, a hard place to make a living, yet so bewitching and rewarding to those who live, work and explore here. There are so many roads to travel and hills to roam and everywhere is breathtakingly beautiful no matter what the season.
Buildings merge with the landscape, built before heavy machinery was available to lift the stones, when left to ruin they would be absorbed back into the landscape.
Connemara will never disappoint those who traverse her landscape and let her seep into their heart, once you visit you’ll find it hard to leave and will be compelled to come back.