Ghosts of the Faithful Departed
Project info

Ghosts of the Faithful Departed

The greatest resource that any country can have is its people, and yet the biggest export Ireland ever produced were its sons and daughters.

It has been estimated that between 1949 and 1989 over 800,000 people were forced to leave Ireland. Something in the order of half of this outflow occurred during the 1950’s. The peak was reached in 1955 when 55,000 young people left Irish shores. In a census taken in 1956 the population of the country fell to 2.8 million the lowest ever recorded and led one author to question “Are we becoming the Vanishing Irish and would we survive as a race if something wasn’t done to stem the outflow”?

Those who stayed had to suffer continued hardships, isolation and social exclusion. The rural communities were decimated by the impact of emigration. Many of those who stayed during this decade did so in silence as they watched family members and friends’ leave. Now in a new millennium these people have passed on and their homes stand as a monument to a bygone age.

While visiting these unoccupied houses I felt like an intruder disturbing the spirits that still haunt every room. In some homes it looked as if the last activity was the waking of the dead, the closing of the door and the abandonment of the house. Deceased or faraway relatives simply left the house to the ravages of time. It was possible to date the last occupancy through observation of a calendar for example.

While looking at the scenes about me I felt I was awakening ghosts from my childhood and there were times that the hair literally stood on the back of my neck, spurred by dusty damp newspaper articles or mouldy-framed images memories came flooding back.

Wallpaper took me back to a holiday home my parents owned forty years ago. An old valve radio reminded me of the thrill of selecting on the illuminated dial distant cities like – London, Luxembourg, Prague. I can still hear Radio Eireann playing “If you feel like singing, do sing an Irish song”.