There is something stirring among the people of Ireland.
As the last rows of turf are cut on our boglands and nature begins to take its steady hold, the beauty of this forgotten landscape is being reborn and flourishes for all to see.
Once viewed as a wasteland, only considered useful as a supply of peat, the bog is now being re-conceived as a place of stunning natural beauty and wonderment.
One of the people at the forefront of this quiet but potent revolution is Tina Claffey. Having exhibited her work in New York, San Francisco, Botswana, Zambia, and throughout Ireland, Claffey is considered to be the preeminent photographer of the Irish boglands.
Yet, she did not always have the appreciation for the bogs that is now such an essential part of her identity. As she tells Sheila Hoctor, co-host of The Hut Near The Bog podcast, “I used to look upon the bog as a kind of wasteland [...] a place not really alive.”
It would take a move to the African country of Botswana, and a few years in between, before she would return to Ireland and discover the true beauty contained within this unique Irish landscape.
In Africa, she worked as an assistant for a Trinity College academic carrying out research on flamingos, followed by a much longer stint in the safari industry. These experiences provided her with the opportunity to hone the skills so essential to her craft and thus the marvellous imagery she produces today.
She explains, “Your senses are heightened in the bush because once you step outside of the jeep you become part of the food chain and so you need to slow down and use all of your faculties to detect any potential dangers.”
After the breakdown of her marriage in Botswana, Claffey needed to be with family and so returned to Ireland. This was a difficult period in her life and she would lament the pristine wilderness of her second home in Africa.
That is, until one day she decided to go on a bogland eco walk with renowned Irish geologist, botanist, author, and broadcaster, Professor Emeritus John Feehan.
While he regaled the ecology, botany, and history of the bog to Claffey and the other attendees, he scooped up small mosses, plants, and creatures to show them with his magnifying glass.
Peering through the magnifying glass opened up another world for Claffey. She explains on the podcast, “I was just blown away that I was once again walking in a wilderness [...] What we were walking on was alive. It was a wilderness, even if only a tiny one!
"Yet, at that moment I realised that it was just as much of a wilderness as the Central Kalahari where I had previously been in Africa.”
This spurred Claffey to save up for a macro lens which would allow her to capture the minute beauty to be found in this uniquely Irish place.
When Claffey returned to the bog, armed with her camera and macro lens, she first found it difficult to find the flora and fauna that Professor Feehan had been able to effortlessly show them on the earlier eco walk.
This is when the survival skills she had learned in Africa would return to her. Claffey came to realise, to find what she sought out, she needed to slow right down and again make full use of all of her senses.
“At first I was too eager, now, if I meet a cobweb I’ll walk around it. With all the creatures I meet out there, when I slow down they are very accommodating. If I move slowly they are not too disturbed. I thank each one of them for allowing me to photograph them.”
In comparing the wilderness of Botswana to the bog she says, "Of course they are completely different worlds, you are going from the bigger wilderness to the minute, but the bog is an incredible wilderness. I am constantly finding species in the bog that you will not find anywhere else.”
Tina Claffey’s latest exhibition, Portals, is on display at the Riverside Arts Centre in Newbridge, County Kildare. You can also find out more about Tina and her work, including her latest and upcoming books at www.tinaclaffey.com
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