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Monday 4 December 2023 Dublin: 2°C

These ghostly photos show the buildings the Celtic Tiger abandoned

The changing face of Ireland’s landscape.

FALLOUT.JSavage006 Johnny Savage Johnny Savage

WHEN THE CELTIC Tiger limped out of sight, amid the detritus left in its wake were hulking, empty buildings.

The starkness of this situation is evident in a new exhibition by Johnny Savage, Fallout, which saw him visiting these empty sites and capturing them at dusk.

The ghostly images show buildings – mostly retail units – standing in limbo, like ruins.


These grey concrete voids were intended to be shops, hairdressers, offices, homes.

Instead, they lie half-built, the people charged with constructing them often left unemployed.

Living in Kildare, Savage, who is a commercial photographer and lecturer on photography in Griffith College, observed as these buildings sprang up.


He tells

This is where it stopped and ended, tools were downed and people left. It was a metaphor for the limbo we found ourselves in. The shock of the boom, to bounce straight into austerity and loss.

The multi-layered appearance to Savage’s single-exposure photographs “feels like a magic trick”, he acknowledges. It also brings a sense of “something fading away or disappearing, or hanging there in limbo”.

It adds a certain perspective to the images, as though we’re looking through glass to glimpse the empty buildings. It appears as though the landscape and empty buildings are merging together.

The buildings represented positive growth and success, but now stand for debt and toxic assets.


Savage shot the photos at dusk, imbuing the scenes with a darkening, bluish light and heightening eerie atmosphere. He would drive around seeking out new locations, and had a 20-minute window in which to capture the necessary frames.

He deliberately doesn’t name the locations, to highlight that they could be found in most towns and cities. They are universal and ubiquitous.

When I started shooting and showing the photos to friends, they’d go ‘aw yeah, I forgot that building was there – I drive past it everyday’. It’s become normal to see these places in Ireland.


He became skilled at knowing where to find these half-built buildings:

Where they are is usually on the edge. Development had just stopped – usually there are fields behind them or a motorway. Things are just being built without much thought as to what was around them or the future.

Living in Dublin’s commuter belt isn’t his only personal connection to the recession: some of Savage’s siblings emigrated to find work.


He does see some beauty in the buildings, though he acknowledges the darkness they represent.

I think they’re important places. They’re like ruins, almost. There’s something left behind from another time.

Fallout is on show at the Riverbank Arts Centre in Newbridge until 21 March. There are plans for it to be shown elsewhere around the country, and it is also being turned into a book with The Velvet Cell.

Read: Meet the Celtic Tiger builder with a micro-brewery in his swimming pool>

Read: “I like it here, it’s quiet, better for the children” – Integration in Ireland’s ‘little Brazil’>

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