“Vanishing Ireland” documents the recent past in Ireland that seems a world away – PHOTOS



Lauragh Forge, Killarney, Co Kerry
Born 1927

Liam O’Shea is at work when we arrive, silhouetted in the horseshoe-shaped entrance of his forge. A tall, gallant man, he is dressed in blacksmith’s apron and cap.

His family have been farriers in Lauragh for at least six generations. His father Mike was the eldest of thirteen children, all of whom emigrated  to America.

Mike was the first to go when, in 1895, aged 20, he made his way to Queenstown pier (now Cobh) and boarded a boat to Canada. By 1910, he was a well-established blacksmith in Manhattan, employing the skills his forbears had honed back in the Kerry forge where his son still works today.

In later years, he would tell his sons of winters so hard that a barrel of boiling would freeze solid within an hour. ‘Sometimes he held the nails in his mouth while shoeing’, recalls Liam. ‘And with the heap of cold, it’d freeze onto his lip’. In 1911, word arrived that Mike’s mother had passed away and Mike sailed back to Ireland to help his father out. He never again left Ireland. None of his siblings ever returned to Ireland except for a sister, many years younger, who flew over in 1982 to attend the wedding of Liam’s oldest son. Two of the sisters famously held court around a table at their house in the Bronx where they conversed in Irish.

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Turtle Bunbury is a best-selling author and historian based in Co. Carlow. His books include the Vanishing Ireland series, Sporting Legends of Ireland and The Irish Pub, all with photographer James Fennell. Turtle is a co-presenter of 'The Genealogy Roadshow' series, which recently aired on RTE One in June 2012. He was also curator of the first ever History Festival of Ireland in June 2012.