The year in pictures: Capturing human nature at the best and worst of times

Laura Hutton, Dara MacDónaill, Alan Betson, Bryan O’Brien, Tom Honan and Nick Bradshaw share their favourite shots of the year

What a year! Plague, war, an energy crisis, inflation, three British prime ministers, and that deceased trinity of rock stars – Jerry Lee Lewis, Meatloaf and Christine McVie. No wonder the Collins Dictionary people picked “permacrisis” as a word of the year.

In choosing our cover photograph we decided to buck the trend and, well, celebrate with a splash! Alan Betson’s photograph shows Jade Hanlon enthusiastically pouring cold water from a balcony on four (possibly) grateful kids at O’Carroll Villas on Cuffe Street in Dublin city centre last summer, as Ireland experienced what passes for a heatwave in this country.

Another picture to lift the spirits is Dara MacDónaill’s photograph of a boyish – at 87 – Br Kevin Crowley at the Capuchin Day Centre in Dublin, where he had decided to call it “a day” after 60 years feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty and clothes to those who needed them.

In a year during which the accommodation crisis here got so much worse, Laura Hutton’s photograph of an abandoned hotel in the west of Ireland was a reminder of dereliction past, an unwelcome feature of the Irish landscape for so long.


And if it was a year of endless upheaval, there still remained that one constant: Kerry. The kingdom’s senior football team won their 38th All Ireland title and took Sam Maguire to his semi-permanent home in the county.

That game took place on July 24th, the third Sunday in July, not the third Sunday in September as used to be. Even a break in that decades-long tradition did not discombobulate the Kerry one. And it goes on, as illustrated in Bryan O’ Brien’s photograph of a young Kerry man hanging his football jersey on a clothesline on the weekend of 2022′s All Ireland final.

Nature at its cruelest in tooth and claw is on show in Nick Bradshaw’s photograph of an opportunistic heron being chased hopelessly by a distressed Mallard duck after the larger bird snatched her baby at UCD in Belfield. The odds are so poor, but mother duck follows her powerful instincts anyway.

Such instinct to protect the vulnerable is utterly absent where Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is concerned.

One of the most powerful illustrations of the Russian’s barbarity in 2022 is in this photograph by Evgeniy Maloletka of Associated Press which shows people in Mariupol carrying an injured pregnant woman from a maternity hospital that was severely damaged by Russian shells.

She and her baby both died: such was the disgusted reaction worldwide when the photograph was published that the Russians later claimedit had been staged.

If it was the deliberate targeting of a maternity hospital in Mariupol which appalled the world, here at home last October it was the randomness of that explosion at Creeslough in Donegal which shook Ireland to its core, taking with it, as it did, 10 innocent people going about the very ordinary business of their daily lives. As ordinary as five-year old Shauna Flanagan Garwe who, with her father, Robert, had just stopped off to buy a cake for her mother. The scale of the destruction at Creeslough is captured in Brian McDaid’s photograph.

As usual when such terrible tragedy happens, the Irish people rushed to embrace this deeply wounded community, to comfort them in their most dire need. As they did when Vicky Phelan died last month, as they have been doing since retired RTÉ broadcaster Charlie Bird received his motor neuron diagnosis in October of last year.

The Irish people also “do” anger well, as we saw in Tullamore, Co Offaly, last January. James Crombie’s photograph shows incensed local people with camera phones taking pictures of Jozef Puska leaving the District Court after being accused of murdering Ashling Murphy. The 23-year-old primary schoolteacher was attacked while out running along the Grand Canal near Tullamore on the afternoon of January 12th last.

If our cover picture is of a splash, you could hardly describe Alan Betson’s photograph of a belter of a storm whipping the seas against Dublin’s Poolbeg lighthouse in such mild terms.

It has a message, as well. The lighthouse withstood the storm. It is a beacon of hope. We’re still standing too. Here’s to a better 2023. – Brenda Fitzsimons, Irish Times Picture Editor

Laura Hutton: ‘It’s hard to see past the waste of such dereliction’

I took this photograph during an exploration of an abandoned hotel on the west coast of Ireland.

Watching nature reclaim an urban environment is a humbling sight. How long does it take from when humans desert a place until nature comes creeping back in? Or has it always been there, waiting?

This former hotel was once home to wedding receptions, and couples and families enjoying a seaside break: it is now home to foliage exploding from fully made beds and the memories of a rural community deprived of yet another employer.

It’s eerie, like a post-apocalyptic scene with TVs and hairdryers still in place, the restaurant with its menu on display from the last day of service, the glasses upturned behind the bar ready for the next pour, as if the staff left on that final day thinking they’d be back the next morning.

Over time, the place has been ransacked, in parts, and walls graffitied, but some of the rooms look exactly as they did when the beds were last made.

It’s hard to see past the waste of such dereliction, given we’re in the midst of the worst housing crisis this country has ever seen, with some political parties calling for it to be declared a national emergency. This is compounded by a lack of appropriate accommodation for people fleeing war-torn countries, all while places like this are left to rot, possibly eventually taking more money to rescue than to demolish.

Disused hotels, like this one, would be prime candidates for adaptive reuse projects.

It should be easy to convert this, and others, into affordable housing with infrastructure and many amenities, such as en suite bathrooms, already in place. It even has ample parking and a swimming pool.

Yet, six years after this hotel closed, it’s just a paradise for urban explorers. What a waste.

Dara MacDónaill: ‘Looking at the photographs, I see the familiar glint in Br Kevin’s eye’

Early in August I went to the Capuchin Day Centre, in Bow Street, Dublin 7, to photograph Br Kevin. As I was driving, it took a few seconds to think of his surname: Crowley eventually came to me, as most people refer to him as Br Kevin.

I was thinking of where I might take his photograph: in the main eating area, the kitchen, or outside? Would I be able to include some of the service users in the background – could they be identified? – or would I need to use a wide aperture on the lens to blur them?

Br Kevin founded the Capuchin Day Centre charity in 1969 to help feed the most vulnerable members of society. I had covered various assignments in the centre over the past 35 years, especially coming up to Christmas, some with Br Kevin in shot and others without him.

What was very noticeable to me in the beginning was that the service users were mostly older men. Over time, all age groups and genders began to attend, including families with babies and young children who are benefiting from the recently extended family area.

I met a reporting colleague, Patsy McGarry, outside the centre; the interview was to mark Br Kevin’s retirement from the centre, after more than 50 years, at the age of 87. A member of staff welcomed us, and told us Br Kevin was working upstairs in his office. I noticed Br Kevin was not as agile as before, and quickly decided it would probably be best to shoot his portrait nearby.

The office was a little dark and cluttered, but just outside his door there were stairs to a small space with good natural light. I felt guilty asking Br Kevin if he would mind walking down there, but as always he was only too happy to oblige. The space was about 6ft long. I stood against a wall, using a 50mm lens and taking only a few minutes. Looking at the photographs, I see the familiar glint in Br Kevin’s eye, and feel he had a quiet sense of satisfaction for all he has achieved. It was lovely to meet him again and to wish him a happy retirement in his native Co Cork.

Alan Betson: ‘Even in the most difficult storm, there is an Aoibheann-inspired haven of hope’

In 2010, Aoibheann was a few days short of her ninth birthday when she died of cancer. She was a classmate and best friend of our daughter, Hannah. She was the most beautiful person inside and out, lighting up a room when she walked in, and could make anyone’s day better with just a smile.

She was always asking her parents how they could help the other children in St John’s Ward at Children’s Health Ireland, Crumlin, even buying clothes for a patient with her own communion money. At the age of eight she had decided to be a primary schoolteacher. Her parents, Jimmy and Anne Marie Norman asked everyone attending her funeral to wear pink ties and bright clothing, before establishing Aoibheann’s Pink Tie (APT) National Children’s Cancer Charity,, in her memory.

Every week in Ireland, three or four families hear the terrible words, “I’m sorry, but your child has cancer.” Years later, many of these children address the APT annual fundraising dinner and say, “I’m happy to say I am cancer free,” due to the tremendous work of the medical staff and families. Childhood cancer is a long arduous, cruel battle which takes a serious emotional and financial toll.

APT makes sure family are not alone during this journey by intuitively supporting them with their individual needs, large or small.

Families travelling to Dublin for treatment incur enormous accommodation and travel costs. The board of APT decided to invest in a house in Drimnagh, which is a six-minute walk from the hospital, for use by families who have a child in long-term care.

Community volunteers refurbished the house from the sensory room in the attic right down to its pink front door. Sadly, since it opened last December, Aoibheann’s Light House, as it was named by fundraisers, has been in continuous use.

Even in the most difficult storm, there is an Aoibheann-inspired haven of hope; a space to breathe, and pause, before going back in and fighting like a child.

Bryan O’Brien: ‘The line held a single Kerry jersey flapping in the wind’

I took this photograph on July 21st in Rossbeigh, Co Kerry. It shows Daniel O’Sullivan (15) at his family’s clothes line.

We were on holidays in my native Kerry, and on our last day my wife Louise and I set off up the hill to get a walk in before the long drive home to Dublin. I normally carry a small camera with me when I’m out and about, a little Fuji rangefinder, but on this morning I had already packed it in the car.

On previous walks we had remarked on the clothes line, which commands a spectacular cliffside setting overlooking Dingle Bay.

On this morning, instead of a selection of sheets or a mixture of family laundry, the line held a single Kerry jersey flapping in the wind – in preparation, I presumed, for watching the All-Ireland final against Galway two days later.

I took a couple of photos with my phone, thinking it might be a useful stock image, and we continued on.

But I wasn’t happy with the shot. The jersey was inside out, and I knew it might not be obvious enough to a non Kerry eye. So as we returned, I called to the house near the clothesline. I chatted with some of the younger O’Sullivans, and Daniel told me he was heading to Dublin with a friend for the big game.

I asked would he mind reversing the jersey on the line for a photo, and he was happy to do so, bringing out a second jersey to hang on the line. A picture of a lone jersey turned into a portrait of a young football fan preparing for the All Ireland.

Ten minutes later, the collaboration was over, and I was back at my car trying to dig out my laptop from under a pile of sandy towels.

I wrote a quick caption and filed the photo to The Irish Times picture desk. It appeared on page one the following day. And two days later Daniel, his jersey and the Sam Maguire Cup were back home in the Kingdom.

Nick Bradshaw: ‘The beauty and brutality of nature in action’

We have been through a testing period and as newspaper photographers we have had to adapt accordingly. Regular assignments have taken quite a while to restart following lockdown.

Editors became more receptive to images of nature and wildlife. As these images began to feature more prominently in the national media, readers reacted very positively to seeing birds, nature and other “stand-alone” lifestyle imagery gracing the pages of our papers. Their use offered relief from a constant news cycle and, fortunately, editors have since continued in the same vein.

In the instance of this image, it is an example of the beauty and brutality of nature in action. I was between assignments on the UCD campus and as I would often do I just headed off to have a rummage about and see what was or maybe wasn’t happening.

This particular spot has been developed to encourage biodiversity on campus and generally has something going on. Whilst there was plenty of bird life all seemed pretty quiet, I noticed a Heron on the island, he didn’t seem to active, preening and relaxed.

As I turned my back on the scene to head off the bird reacted to something, the heron walked into the undergrowth on the island and out of view, a commotion kicked off out of sight with plenty of noise. I trained my camera on the gap between the islands really not knowing what was going on and within a second the heron re-emerged.

I didn’t see the full extent of what was going on until it I reviewed the images on the camera’s memory card. I was in disbelief as to what had transpired. The image is undoubtably a tough watch, but it is nature doing what nature does.

Nature can be tough. It can be cute, quirky or even humorous. Stop, look and listen. You would be surprised what’s going on all around you, all happening, all the time in parks, ponds, rivers and even on the street.

Tom Honan: ‘I wanted to capture the eclectic mix of men and women’

Looking back at my pictures for this year it is always hard to pick my favourite one. So this year I have gone for not one but 28. I have selected my montage of portraits of racegoers at this year’s Punchestown Festival.

This year’s festival saw the public back at the races after two years of Covid restrictions.

The portraits were all taken against a black wall inside one of the bars of the main parade ring. I used a ring flash, the use of dramatic lighting and bright clothing made for some wonderful portraits.

Usually a photographer at the racing festival will photograph the best dressed Ladies Competition and may be a celebrity or two. I wanted to capture the eclectic mix of men and women that attend the festival and celebrate a return to racing.

As a photographer it’s always great to cover an event with a different take and produce a set of unique pictures.

Brenda Fitzsimons

Brenda Fitzsimons

Brenda Fitzsimons is Picture Editor of The Irish Times

Laura Hutton

Laura Hutton

Laura Hutton is Deputy Picture Editor of The Irish Times

Dara Mac Dónaill

Dara Mac Dónaill is an Irish Times photographer

Alan Betson

Alan Betson

Alan Betson is an Irish Times photographer

Bryan O'Brien

Bryan O'Brien

Bryan O’Brien is Chief Video Journalist at The Irish Times