My mother-in-law is a big fan of National Geographic magazine and has more back copies in the house than you’d find in an overstocked medical-centre waiting room. I recently found an old edition that featured Ireland on the cover, which was published in September 1994 - exactly 20 years ago. For once, it didn’t contain the hackneyed images of donkeys, thatched cottages and remote islands beloved of National Geographic writers doing features on Ireland. There were photos of child beggars on O’Connell Bridge, U2 fans at a concert, President Robinson greeting school kids on Inishbofin, and youngsters with a pony in Clondalkin. Peace groups in Belfast and Fungie the dolphin„„
The last 20 years have been tumultuous for Ireland with our great economic boom, followed by the crushing recession that we are still suffering the effects of. Fast-forwarding to 2014, we now have enormous debt, high unemployment, and emigration has returned with a vengeance.
Try as I might, I couldn’t get that 1994 National Geographic magazine out of my head. All those people who were photographed and interviewed - where were they now? How did they get on in the intervening 20 years, and what did National Geographic writer Richard Conniff and photographer Sam Abell make of their Irish experience? This article is about how I tracked down the people from that September 1994 National Geographic.
I found most of the people who were featured in the article, mainly through Twitter; that most 2014
of things, a micro-blogging social-media site. Twenty years ago, random thoughts were kept to ourselves. Now, with Twitter, you can inflict them on the world.
The photographer’s favourite photo of the entire shoot was Fungie the Dingle dolphin leaping out of the water, while a little terrier dog looks at him from a boat.
"I use the images from that Fungie experience to teach the principle of ‘compose and wait’ - a core principle of how I make photographs," Sam says.
"In this instance, I had been told that the dog in the photo had ‘a relationship’ with Fungi. For 20 minutes nothing happened, despite the barking of the dog. Then Fungie shot straight up out of the water. At the top of his leap he looked down, saw the dog, and chirped. Pandemonium. For the next spell of time we cruised the harbour with the leaping, chirping Fungi as our companion."
Still, Abell wasn’t sure he would be able to take a good shot: “I chased the two highly animated animals from one side of the boat to the other, despite knowing it was a futile approach to making a photograph. I knew from the Galapagos that when you see a dolphin leap, the moment is already past, photographically.”
Instead of chasing the dolphin and dog around the boat, he composed a scene with no dolphin. “It’s a three-layer composition: layer one, the side of the boat with the dog; layer two, the sea; layer three, the coastal landscape. All that was missing was Fungie.”
"By and by, the dolphin appeared alongside the boat. The captain shouted, ‘Here comes Fungie!’ I sensed his imminent arrival and clicked the shutter when he shot into view, occupying the place in the composition that was vacant. There was no way to know I got it. It was the era of film, and I worked on faith. The end of the story is that the picture worked. It is considered a classic of the ‘compose and wait’ school of photography," Sam says.
The only Irish public figures featured in the National Geographic article still really active are Bono, Mary Robinson, and Fungie. It’s remarkable that when the photo was taken in 1994, Fungie had already been in Dingle for 11 years.
Jimmy Flannery Jr is chairman of Dingle Dolphin Tours, has been a captain since he was 17, and has taken people out to Fungie for 22 years. Just what has Fungie been up to since 1994, and has he ever got sick of it all? “He has never taken a break. He may go away feeding for an hour or two, but that’s it. There have been other schools of dolphins arrived over the years, but he’s not interested. The only reason that Fungie stays in Dingle is because he wants to,” says Jimmy.
Even though scientists estimate that Fungie is now pushing 40, Jimmy doesn’t see any evidence of middle age setting in. “He is not one bit slower. He is as lively as he ever was.”
Jimmy has been doing the trips for so long, he feels that he’s in tune with Fungie’s moods. “When you spend time with Fungie, you get to know him. During the first five minutes of the trip I know whether his form is good or bad.”
The skipper also feels Fungie has an uncanny power. “Fungie has this strength. He definitely knows what you’re thinking. I always worry about him. He is part of the family. If I’m having a bad day, I take a small boat out and chat to him,” Jimmy added.
Since 1994, Fungie has faced some challenges that did put him in danger. “The harbour was dredged and we coaxed him out a bit away from it. Then, a few years ago, a Spanish boat hit a rock coming into the harbour and breached its diesel tanks. Ten thousand litres of diesel were spilt. Again we coaxed him away from there by getting him to follow the boats.”
In the 20 years since he was snapped by Sam, many celebs have been anxious to see the world’s most famous bottlenose dolphin. Jimmy’s favourite was Pierce Brosnan, who swam with Fungie 19 years ago. Recent celebrity Fungie fans have included actress Laura Dern, and actor James Nesbitt.
Jimmy would love to know what Fungie makes of it all. “He has opened up the world of the ocean to thousands of people. A lot of people would never have gone out in the water if it wasn’t for Fungie. I often wonder does Fungie realise what he has created in Dingle. There are 18 people in full-time employment and enormous tourism spin-offs.”
Two little girls getting their First Holy Communion outside St Mary’s Church in Dingle made another arresting image for the article. The girl on the right is Angela Ryan. She still lives in Dingle, is married to Darren and has one little girl named Chloe, and a stepson, Killian.
"The other girl’s name was Michelle," Angela says. "She was in my class for a little while, but her family were travelling around because of her dad’s job, so she left a few months after the Communion. I remember the day vaguely. My aunt made the dress and the Communion was a really big deal. The same as all other Communions in Dingle! There are five of us in the family, and I have three sisters and one brother."
"I stayed in Dingle. I went to college for a while, studying Design Communication in CIT. College wasn’t for me, and then I met Darren and got married at 23. I have a 10-year-old stepson, Killian, and daughter, Chloe."
Chloe has cystic fibrosis and the family are passionately involved in fund-raising and awareness. Darren is to climb Mount Kilimanjaro next January to raise funds for Cystic Fibrosis Ireland.
"We have a great support system in the Butterfly Unit in Limerick Regional Hospital," Angela says. "We go there every two to three months. It was diagnosed in Limerick through the heel-prick test when she was three weeks old."
When Chloe is six, she will be taking a ground-breaking drug to treat CF called Kalydeco. “It’s the closest thing to a cure that they have,” Angela says, “and works on lung function. She can only take it because she has CF with the gene mutation G551D. Kalydeco works on that.”
Kalydeco is a first of its kind in the world, as it works to prevent deterioration and keeps people with cystic fibrosis at their current level of lung function. Since its sanctioning by the HSE last year, approximately 120 patients will be suitable for Kalydeco treatment.
- See more at: http://www.independent.ie/life/twenty-years-agrowing-a-snapshot-of-ireland-in-1994-30530773.html#sthash.9wyDRHer.dpuf