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Connemara: Legend and Landscape

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  • Connemara: Legend and Landscape

    Text and Photographs Hugh McElveen

  • This portfolio is a work in progress captions will be added over the coming days.

    To resist mastery in the present in favour of the freedom of a future  that we ourselves may never inhabit or recognise’ John Knetchel, Open City.


    The demands modern life puts on its citizens has been well documented. One consequence of this is a growing disconnect to our natural world. The environmental implications of this have also been widely discussed. However, there is also a strong cultural separation of peoples and their lands. Connemara is but one case study of this phenomenon. An increased cultural understanding of our landscape’s heritage allows us to more fully participate in the richness of our past and acknowledge the cultural symbiotic relationship society shares with its landscape.

    The landscape bears witness to all the events played out on its surface. Echoes of these past events have ripples on the present topography. Each generation builds on the achievements and failures of its predecessors. Each generation tend to hold their beliefs as trueths and to either consume beliefs of previous generations into the new system or to reduce them to the status of myth and legend. Thus the neolithic engineers of burial mounds become na Síde and Christianity took many of pre-histories trappings and adapted them to their needs. Three eras of belief can broadly be defined, pre-history, Christian and The Age of Scientific Secularism.


    The combination of the shifting nature of our cultural past and the increased urbanisation of Ireland's population has caused a separation between the people and their landscape with our cultural landscape. This is evident in the multitude of insensitive developments seen during the opening years of the 21 st century. Now that the economic landscape is very different it is time to take stock of what we mean by progress so that a symbiotic relationship between rural development and cultural landscape can be established.


    The images in this exhibition explore the morphing of Ireland's cultural phases into each other through the presence they still have on the landscape of Connemara. The work does not seek to judge each of the phases. But rather give each an equal respect and to create a dialogue. By understanding how we came to hold our beliefs we develop a stronger understanding of ourselves and a re-establishing of ourselves within our cultural environment.  

    Rick Le Vert writing in Cara Magazine April 2009

    'The images speak of a sense of place, of the traces of our own history written deeply into a landscape that has shaped us while we have shaped it.'

    'McElveen finds substance and meaning in details, in the pattern of a stone wall, in a puddle of oil, in the way a stack of turf mirrors the outline of a nearby mountain.'

    'McElveen’s images speak of a sense of loss: a lost connection to the land and a lost ability to read the stories imprinted on it.'


    SIGNED COPIES OF THE BOOK CAN BE ORDERED DIRECTLY THROUGH THE AUTHOR. POSTAGE AND PACKAGING IN IRELAND IS FREE AND AT COST FOR R.O.W.
  • Omey Island looking towards Hy-Brasil.
    Hi-Brasil was the Otherworld where the dead resided. Belief in it was so strong that when John Purdy made the first maritime maps of the seas around Ireland in the 19C he gave it co-ordinates. It wasn't until the maps were revised 20 years later that the island 'disappeared'
  • Spiddle, looking towards Hy-Brasil at dawn.
  • 6C early Christian Men's Graveyard Omey Island
  • Quarry Oil Puddle Clifden
  • Modern Mag Mel Looking East,
    The Mag Mel was the plain of honey. It was the ribbon of gold the setting sun cast on the sea in the west of Ireland. On this path of honey the days dead walked to get to Hy-Brasil.
  • Modern Mag Mel Looking West,
    Many natural phenomenon were given mythological and religious significance. The Mag Mel is but one example and this practice was not peculiar to Ireland.
  • Rhododendron introduced by the British creeps up on a disused small holder's cottage.
  • Rhododendron, Turf and Road with Erratics
  • Breached Wall Famine Village
  • Pylons, Electricity Sub-station
  • No Dogs I
  • No Dogs II
  • Deserted Pub,
    Rural depopulation is still a feature of the West of Ireland
  • Pub Window
  • Rejuvination
  • Erris Beg
  • Famine Village
  • Looking North From Erris Beg
  • St Patrick's Chapel Mam Ean