Ma­jella O’Sul­li­van

Pho­tog­ra­pher Tina Claf­fey tells how she be­came en­chanted with Ire­land’s bogs

Irish Independent - Farming - - RURAL LIFE -

IT WAS a bleak, grey, damp Novem­ber day spent on a mid­lands bog but for pho­tog­ra­pher, Tina Claf­fey ( in­set), it was mag­i­cal.

The wilder­ness of the raised bogs that were on her doorstep in Birr, Co Of­faly held a fas­ci­na­tion for her equal to the vast plateaus of Botswana, where she had spent al­most nine years of her life.

Her com­pan­ion on this oc­ca­sion was John Shea­han of The Dublin­ers. They paused in­ter­mit­tently to play a tune or share some of the po­etry he had writ­ten, in­spired by the bog.

They were col­lab­o­rat­ing on a pro­gramme for TG4’s Imeall that mar­ried Tina’s col­lec­tion of pho­to­graphs from var­i­ous bogs and peat­lands and Shea­han’s po­etry in­spired by them.

The en­counter and her work pho­tograph­ing the won­ders of Ir­ish wet­lands were the in­spi­ra­tion for her book, TTapestry of Life — Ire­land’s bogs and wet­lands as never seen be­fore with po­etry by Shea­han.

“I was spend­ing a lot of time on the bog, hav­ing started in 2012 when I went for a walk with John Fee­han — the renowned ge­ol­o­gist, botanist and au­thor — who wrote the fore­word,” she said.

This walk in Kil­laun Bog was a reawak­en­ing to the en­chanted world of Ir­ish bogs and their flora and fauna.

Grow­ing up in Birr, the bog didn’t al­ways hold the en­chant­ment that now cap­ti­vates her.

They were a place of work, of long sum­mer days spent foot­ing and stacking turf.

But she says she was en­trenched in the nat­u­ral world, from a young age, through her dad, John, to whom the book is ded­i­cated.

“He was very in­flu­en­tial when it came to my love of na­ture. Just stop­ping and ob­serv­ing and slow­ing down to look at the lit­tle things,” she says.

“But my mem­o­ries of the bog weren’t great. We had a small lit­tle plot and my dad used to hand cut the turf so a lot of our sum­mers were spent foot­ing it, stacking it and bring­ing it home.

“There were good times as well but I never as­so­ci­ated the bog with be­ing a wild place.” Tina stud­ied pho­tog­ra­phy and print­mak­ing at the Craw­ford Col­lege of Art & De­sign in Cork.

Some years later, while work­ing on a 10-day fash­ion shoot for bridal wear in Kenya, she was hooked and re­solved to re­turn to Africa.

An op­por­tu­nity did arise a cou­ple of months later and she spent a year pho­to­graph­i­cally doc­u­ment­ing PhD re­search on flamin­gos in Botswana by fel­low Ir­ish­man, Gra­ham McCullough.

Af­ter a 10-month stint back home, she re­turned to Botswana and worked in the sa­fari in­dus­try for the next eight years.

“When I came back in 2009 I was very lost be­cause I had spent so much time in th­ese amaz­ing ar­eas that back in Birr I just felt unin­spired and down in my­self.

“Then I went for a walk with John Fee­han and he opened up a whole world to meme and re­vealed the bog as a wilder­ness on a minia­ture scale, th­ese tiny lit­tle plants and in­sects that have adapted to their en­vi­ron­ment,” she said.

Af­ter that walk with Fee­han in 2012, she be­gan to re­turn to the bogs fre­quently and slowly built up a li­brary of im­ages through the sea­sons of most of the bogs in the mid­lands.

“Every bog I went to had a dif­fer­ent feel to it. I loved the early morn­ing and the late evening, the sea­sonal change, it blew my mind re­ally that this wilder­ness was right on my doorstep but I didn’t even know it was there and I’m still dis­cov­er­ing new things,” she added.

Fol­low­ing an ex­hi­bi­tion of her work, Tina was ap­proached by TG4 in 2013 to fea­ture her work on the pro­gramme Imeall in which she was in­ter­viewed by John Shea­han.

“A lot of John’s po­etry stemmed from the bog and they thought it would be a nice fea­ture to com­bine the two, John’s po­etry and my pho­tog­ra­phy, and it would ap­peal to the young and the old.

“But when I went for a walk with him, it was my most mem­o­rable day on the bog. He’d stop every few min­utes and take the whis­tle out of his jacket and stop and play a tune. We’d go along and he’d be ask­ing me ques­tions and he’d stop again. He was just such as foun­tain of po­etry and prose.”

One of the po­ems was ‘Tapestry of Light’ which she bor­rowed for the ti­tle.

“When I read it, it was so fit­ting of what I tried to achieve with my im­ages,” she re­calls.

Tina ap­proached Con­nemara-based pub­lish­ers, Ar­ti­san House, who agreed to pub­lish her book.

She then set about try­ing to fundraise the €24,000 or so it would take to re­alise her idea.

“I was lit­er­ally knock­ing on doors and the Na­tional Parks and Wildlife Ser­vice came on­board as the big­gest spon­sor with its ‘The Liv­ing Bog’ project, which was try­ing to pro­mote raised bogs,” she said.

She also re­ceived fund­ing from the Dutch Fed­er­a­tion of Con­ser­va­tion of Ir­ish Bogs and its founder Matthijs Schouten, recog­nised as the father of bog con­ser­va­tion.

Other spon­sors in­clude Coillte, RPS, Laois, Of­faly and Tip­per­ary County Coun­cils, the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency, Abbeyleix Bog Project Vol­un­teers, Grant En­gi­neer­ing and Mimi Do­ran and Bren­dan Phe­lan.

Even at that, it still left a short­fall of around €10,000 for a 1,500 print run and 75 spe­cial edi­tions — that are al­ready sold out — so it won’t be a profit-mak­ing en­ter­prise.

“I’m just ex­cited to have the book out there to raise aware­ness about how pre­cious th­ese bogs are and I’m re­ally proud of it,” she said.

“The wilder­ness in the bog is just as im­por­tant as the Kala­hari where I worked in Africa and it’s so im­por­tant that it’s pre­served.

“There is more aware­ness now but I think the more the com­mu­nity can get out into the bog, the more they’ll re­alise what we have and how we have to look af­ter it.”

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