Home and away: Ireland seen through a second-generation filter
Brendan Kelly’s photographs capture the essence of an Ireland and Irishness past
A tractor in Sligo town. Photograph: Brendan Kelly
Enjoying an ice cream at Cork races. Photograph: Brendan Kelly
An illuminated religious icon in a cottage in Co Mayo. Photograph: Brendan Kelly
Brendan Kelly’s photographs are a remarkable articulation of a second-generation Irishman’s perceptions of Ireland and Irishness. Born in England to Irish parents, he grew up in an Irish home from home, and his sense of identity was reinforced by long summers spent in Dublin and Mayo. A professional photographer, his lifelong passion for the past 30 years has been “to photograph Ireland’s past”, in other words to capture the essence of the Ireland his parents left behind and the emigrant community in England of which he is part. His moody, brooding black-and whites are full of reverence and empathy.
I was born in Peterborough, England to Irish parents – both from Co Mayo. My older brother, sister and myself lived in an Irish household; we ate an Irish diet, went to Catholic school and attended Mass every Sunday alongside other families from Co Mayo.
As a child, each year we would go, by train and boat, on long summer holidays to Ireland, to our relatives in Dublin and Mayo, where we would stay with my uncle, who was a priest.
In England I constantly listened to my parents talk of “home” – their childhoods, their friends, countless people I never met who in turn became, and still are, a part of my life.
Fresh news from “home” would arrive every few weeks in the form of a bundle of Western People newspapers tied together with string – passed around other Irish families in Peterborough. And I would often hear of the sad passing of another “familiar” name back in Ireland.
For the past 30 years I have continued to visit Ireland with my camera but often have found myself looking to photograph Ireland’s past. It is Ireland’s past that means so much to me.
The stories and influences of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s Ireland of my parents and the 1970s Ireland of my own childhood left deep impressions on me that set me on a path photographically to capture these feelings in my images.