Books

In pictures: Irish emigrants' haunting homes

For St. Patrick's Day, a look at David Creedon photos of homes abandoned by Irish citizens who sought a better life

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    David Creedon

    The greatest resource that any country can have is its people, and yet the biggest exports Ireland ever produced were its sons and daughters. Over the years, thousands of people were forced to leave Ireland and this exodus led one author to question, "Are we becoming the Vanishing Irish and would we survive as a race if something wasn't done to stem the outflow?"

    Those who stayed suffered continued hardship, isolation and social exclusion. Rural communities were decimated by the impact of emigration. Many of those who stayed during this decade did so in silence as they watched family members and friends leave. Now, in a new millennium, these people have passed on, and their homes stand as a monument to a bygone age.

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    David Creedon

    An airmail letter from America stamped "Fosterdale, NY, 16th August 1974" sits on a mantelpiece next to old photographs. The woman is in a dress and hat, which suggests the photograph may have been taken in the 1930s, while the man is dressed in what appears to be an American military uniform. Could these be relatives, perhaps?

    In the letter, the writer states, "I suppose I'll never make it home now to the old sod. I'll always be an exile."

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    David Creedon

    Two pair of boots lie in a kitchen in County Kerry. A horseshoe has been nailed to the heel of one of the boots to prevent wear.

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    David Creedon

    The empty interior of Dursey Island School a number of years after its closure in 1975.

    In 1961, the population of Dursey Island, County Cork, was sixty-five. Today this has fallen to just six inhabitants.

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    David Creedon

    In this bedroom, I found a gramophone that had seen better days. On the dressing table is a cash box and a bank of Ireland cheque for £1.00.

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    David Creedon

    This is the kitchen of a house in west Cork that, over the years, has become cocooned by surrounding trees that make it almost impossible to see from the road. It is a time capsule of sorts.

    Inside, a calendar on the wall, dated 1977, has a picture of Pope Paul VI. In the center of the kitchen is a solid fuel stove and scattered around the floor are kettles, newspapers and a blue tin (decorated with shamrocks) of Jacob's Irish party biscuits, which now contains letters and bills.

    On top of the tin sits a snow globe and to the right of the stove is a picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour.

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    David Creedon

    Almost every home had a statue of the Child of Prague. Some people kept a brown-paper-wrapped halfpenny underneath the statue in the belief that the Holy Child would see that "the house was never without money."

    The practice of putting the statue out in the garden before a wedding was widespread in some areas of the country as brides, grooms and their families hoped it would bring fine weather. I can still remember my mother placing one in the garden the day before my sister's wedding. Most of the statues I encountered had the head missing as a result of the inevitable accidents over time.

    The Infant Jesus of Prague statue originally came from Cordoba in Spain. Its earliest history can be traced back to 1556, when the wax statue was given as a wedding gift to the Duchess Maria Manrique de Lara by her mother.

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    David Creedon

    Devotion of the family to the Sacred Heart was widespread in Ireland until the 1960s. A picture of the Sacred Heart was hung in some prominent place in the home and a nightlight burned under it. This was the center of the family's spiritual life. To this day, pictures of the Sacred Heart with the Papal blessing can be found in Irish homes and evoke a mood of 1950s and 1960s Ireland.

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    David Creedon

    I took two photographs of the same room (see the next slide for the second). Even though the photographs were taken only about twelve months apart, in that short space of time the state of the house had deteriorated noticeably.

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    David Creedon

    Twelve months later...

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