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Uncovering another Ireland... by cycling 1000kms along an old railway line

Artist Pamela de Brí found lots of interesting people and places during her trip.

Ballaghadereen Source: Pamela; Pamela

ARTIST PAMELA DE Brí hopped on her bike two years ago to travel 1000km along the old Midland Great Western Railway (MGWR) network, not sure what she’d find.

Along the way, she met and interviewed the people who make their homes in the old railway buildings along the old line; photographed the long-abandoned parts of the route; and discovered much about an Ireland that she knew little about.

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The resulting photographs, maps, videos, sculptural work and audio tapes are displayed in her new exhibition, ‘Midland – Lár Tíre: Cycling the MGWR from past to present’, at the National Photographic Archive in Temple Bar’s Meeting House Square.

The project was inspired by Ann Mustoe, who left her job to cycle the world in 1987.

De Brí was also inspired by the work of amateur photographer James O’Dea, who photographed Ireland’s railways.

Midland town

De Brí told TheJournal.ie that the initial idea was to take the photos of places as O’Dea had taken them, but soon the project evolved into something different.

It wasn’t really about the railway, it was more about the social connection, and historical connection. I also started visiting parts of the country I’d passed through in the car and never seen. You see there’s just so much wonderful hidden culture around.

The MGWR was built between 1846 and 1895, and gave people in the Midlands a chance to travel across Ireland. Part of the new Luas North City line will follow the same route, from Broadstone to Broombridge.

It struck De Brí the MGWR was established during Famine times. “The trains brought in this new mobility. People who would never have gone down more than 10 miles down the road could move across the country, see other places, emigrate.”

P de Bri _Midland_ 5

De Brí intended on cycling the route in one go, but due to an accident and other factors, cycled it in sections.

Along the the route, she started knocking on doors in an effort to meet people. She described how, with hi-vis jacket on, she would call to homes along the old line to chat to the inhabitants.

All the doors I knocked on, people were so welcoming. They were delighted to say how they ended up there.

She was offered countless cups of tea, and even places to stay.

ballisodare

De Brí discovered that some old stations were turned into furniture stores or factories; others into holiday homes.

She found that her preconceived ideas about the Midlands were shattered. ”You’d see quirky things as you’re cycling in the middle of nowhere – like a tattoo parlour in Ballaghadereen.”

“Coming from Dublin, I suppose I’m very blinkered. You have a preconceived idea about the country but in actual fact the country people also have a very rich life.”

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She loved the little gems she discovered along the way; the quaint shops; the “different, slower pace of life”; the multicultural small towns; the friendly people.

“If you’re prepared to spend time with people, they’ll give you great stories.”

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Every evening, De Brí would write in a notebook about her day, and these musings can be found in the exhibition. So too can a map made up of different maps she used on her travels.

She plans on putting the exhibition online, so that others can contact her to tell her their stories about life along the line.

The exhibition runs at the National Photographic Archive until Sunday 24 May 2015.

Read: Are rail lines with low passenger numbers facing closure unless numbers rise?>

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