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Full Frame: Roots on an Irish farm

A photographer travels back to the Irish farm where his grandfather was born.

We were offered tea, brown bread and tomatoes, and although they never drank, they offered us a shot of Irish whiskey. With them we talked of family and they shared photos that my grandmother had sent them over the years. The next day, we continued our vacation and before long we were back to our lives in the U.S. — but I never forgot the experience of meeting my family back in Ireland.

Many years later I felt a desire to return to Kilbrittain, this time as a photographer to document my relatives' rural way of life. In April 2008, I flew to Kilbrittain and spent a week living with my cousin, Betty O’Donovan. Her family's farm is just down the road from Bob and Dan. My cousins live a simple yet pure life and each day has its rituals. They wake up early to move the cows and sheep from the stalls to the fields and then they feed the animals. Around mid-morning, they return to the house to warm their feet and have a breakfast of tea, scones and hot porridge. It’s a quick affair and they are right back out again, cleaning the stalls, placing clean hay and tending to the lambs. At mid-day, things slow down and everyone congregates at the kitchen table to have dinner. With Ireland National Radio playing in the background, we eat a meal of sliced cooked meat with potatoes, mixed vegetables and gravy. Conversation moves quickly and shifts from EU measures affecting farming to world events to news of a neighbor who had passed away. Like the news, however, conversation always ends with the weather. It doesn’t matter if it is hot, cold, clear or cloudy. What’s important is that it’s dry, because if it’s dry, a farmer can work and if it’s wet, he can’t.

Due to the demands of life on a farm, many farmers are bachelors. Bob, 80, and Dan, 78, live together, take care of one another and share the work on the farm. They have resisted change and still use many traditional farming techniques. As Dan says, “as long as we be here, we’ll be doing things our way.”

About the photographer:

Charlie Mahoney is an award-winning photographer currently based in Barcelona, Spain. His clients and publications include Time Magazine, BBC News, GEO, National Geographic Traveler, Lonely Planet Magazine, The Times, The Independent Sunday, Financial Times, the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHRC), CS Monitor Weekly, 100 Eyes, GlobalPost, The Times Travel Magazine, Public Radio International, Out of Focus Magazine, Die Tageszeitung, Frankfurter Rundschau, De Standaard and Viva Magazine.

Charlie especially likes to work on stories of human interest and has experience working in remote locations. He strongly believes that photojournalism can promote change by functioning as a witness and giving a voice to people who are powerless to tell their own stories.

His most recent awards include the Life category of the 2008 Travel Photographer of the Year, the 2008 PX3 Prix de la Photographie for photojournalism, honorable mention in the 2008 International Photography Awards Photo Essay category, the 2008 SOS Racism Photography contest and the new talent category of the 2007 Travel Photographer of the Year.

He is represented by Bilderberg in Austria and Germany, Cosmos in France, GraziaNeri in Italy and Aurora in the rest of the world.