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'When granny left the mountain about 24 years ago, the mountain died too'

Explore the latest work of photographer Donal Moloney.

IN THE LATEST in his series of photographs of abandoned rural properties, Donal Moloney found this gem in Roscommon last week.

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The old house has not been lived in for more than 20 years after its proprietor Mary Kate Gallagher (nee McManus) died in 1991.

“When granny left the mountain about 24 years ago, the mountain died too,” says her granddaughter Rosie. “It was around that time that the mine closed and nobody had any business up there anymore.”

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She was part of four generations of a family who had chosen to live “nestled against the wind in a remote Roscommon hillside”, according to Patricia Murphy who travelled with Moloney to the site and spoke with Rosie.

“Their small herds of cattle and sheep roamed the open plains alongside a 400-year-old tradition of mining at Arigna,” she writes.

As she toiled to farm and feed her family, her husband John and sons Denny and Mickey lay on their sides for up to eight hours a day, cutting away by hand at the earth’s black core.

“Widowed when her daughter Bridie was only 10, and she herself still only a young woman.”

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Among the items found and photographed by Moloney was a Christmas card from a neighbour offering to bring Christmas dinner to Mary Kate “if it wouldn’t annoy” her.

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As with most Irish households of a certain era, there is also still an image of Jesus Christ adorning the walls.

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According to Murphy, the grassy track Mary Kate once travelled is still visible, “frequented nowadays by ramblers and wild pit ponies who are curious and friendly to visitors, carrying on the renowned tradition of her hospitality”.

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Rosie also remembers fondly how she, her mother Bridie, father and four siblings would all pile into the one up-two down dwelling over extended summer holiday visits. Speaking to Murphy, she recalled how: 

Each of them would assume the long-standing tradition of household chores, rambling down to town to get the groceries and to spend time with the miners after work swapping stories in the local bar, she told Murphy.

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With no running water and no electricity until the 1950s, life on the mountain was far from easy.

“But there was always a light on outside the front door at night,” recalls Rosie. “And always tea or something cooking on the crane crook over the fire.”

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