Colgagh- A Frequently Asked Question


Innocent Landscapes, Colgagh, 1999

If there is one question that I can guarantee being asked about my work on the disappeared it is the one concerning the level of contact I had with the families. I still feel today what I felt back in 1999 when I started all these journeys into these highly localized, anonymous landscapes. In many ways I am unsure as to what value I might be to them. At best I am a silent recorder of recent history and in some way all I can offer them is a memorialized and at times unyielding landscape. I did however have one meeting by accident in the first weeks of starting to visit and look at that initial litany of Ballynultagh, Bragan,  Colgagh, Oristown, Wilkinstown and Faughart. It was one of those ‘what will I do now’ moments, where fortunately you make the right decision.

Driving in the company of a wise woman along the narrow secluded lane to the site, we reached the top of a small incline that held the place from view as you entered the lane, I saw a car parked and some people at the shrine of hope and expectation that now celebrated the return of Brian McKinney and John McClory. ‘Lets say hello’ said the wise woman as I hesitated and feeling like a man who has been pushed out of a plane on his first parachute jump I ventured forward. It was a special moment, an encounter that marked me during my work on this project. Margaret McKinney, mother of Brian, a remarkable woman whose gentle warmth eased my sense of intrusion and her assertion that in a strange way that it was a comfort to her that Brian had been buried with nature in a beautiful place shaped my future approach to this subject. Somehow that combination of location of place and a natural setting acted as a comfort cloak of reflection. We finished our conversation and I offered to make a photograph of her to send to her as a record of her visit. It was one of those blue sky days that I am not entirely fond of and the light was incredibly harsh and yet it manages to overcome this in visualizing as it does her (en)lightened gaze towards the shrine as a counterpoint to the expectant gaze into the violated landscape. Past and present merged in a simple click.

This week BBC Radio 4 broadcast a short documentary on the disappeared taking Margaret as a focal point. It captures the wounds and dilemmas faced by those involved and a simple quote from her daughter perhaps sums up so much about this subject.

‘She wraps the past around herself and rocks with it…’.

colgaghREV09 copy

Innocent Landscapes,  Revisited, Colgagh, June 2009

It can be listened to on playback until next Wednesday (20-07-11)