23rd March

Ireland’s Atlantic Shores - People and places from Mizen to Malin

Cian Gallagher

One image in particular within Valerie O’Sullivan’s book reaches out to me on a very personal level. The picture is that of a spectacular yacht moored neatly in the bay at Roundstone, Co. Galway. It was on board this boat that I made my first and very exciting voyage across the Irish Sea to Holyhead a number of moons ago.

 Review Irelands-Atlantic-S

The level of personal touch and connection to her subject that O’Sullivan captures is what really makes this book great. So many times throughout this collection of photographs and short explanations — all composed from along the western coastline of Ireland — she gives the reader a strong insight into the essence of the peoples and their places.

She has gathered a series of moments-in-time from up and down the Atlantic seaboard, taking in every manner of festival or event — from rowing races; sheep-shearing competitions; triathlons; swims etc to some more ‘leisurely’ pursuits such as sea-kayaking; dolphin watching; or even visiting a lighthouse.

Her images intimately portray the cultures and ways of local people going about their everyday lives — from a returning officer collecting the ballot box on Dursey Island; Arranmore RNLI crew members ready for action on their lifeboat; fishermen tending ropes and nets in Rossaveal Harbour — to the wonderful lunchtime ritual at the Ilen workshop in the Oldcourt Boatyard, Co. Cork.

We wonder what propelled O’Sullivan to compile such a compendium of diverse photos of surf; seaweed; shores; ships; rowers; tractors; cups of tea — the words roll off the tongue — to puffins; eagles; seagulls; sunsets; shrines; rocks; helicopter. This book is a dictionary in pictures with words and descriptions bubbling to the surface.

Although it is the essence of the locations that Valerie explores in great detail - old favourite landmarks such as the Fastnet, Skelligs, the Cliffs of Moher, Achill islands and the Céide Fields in Co. Mayo.

The book portrays a strong narrative of local knowledge and a warm appreciation of the minutiae of the myriad diurnal activities connected to our shores. We witness bladderwrack bathers; silhouettes prom-fishing for mackerel or even Richard Foran carrying out essential maintenance on the emergency beam at Skellig. There is a lot happening on every page.

The great richness of this collection is that people and places are so intertwined. It is a living anthropological study and yet we can relearn so much Irish history by just glancing through the pages. We recall Michael Collins through a classroom picture in Cork and remember the adventures of Sir Ernest Shackleton and Tom Crean on the pages about Kerry.

The reader will be amazed by the distances covered and by the extreme lengths to which O’Sullivan has gone to engage her camera. She has climbed the legendary peaks and brings us along her journey with images from atop Mount Brandon and the pilgrimage climb of Croagh Patrick. She has also navigated the trickiest of waterways and shorelines - from Rutland sound to the Mizen suspension bridge.

This book is highly recommended for the sheer enjoyment of Ireland’s Atlantic regions.

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