Tarquin Blake of Abandoned Ireland will be a guest of the UCC Photography Society on Wednesday November 12th. Brendan O’Leary, the Auditor of the UCC Photography Society met up with Blake for an interview as he prepares to promote his new book ‘Haunted Ireland’ which was released on October 31st.
Your new book Haunted Ireland was released on October 31st. Does the book focus on personal experiences or the legends that surround these sites through history?
‘Haunted Ireland’ is out now and fingers crossed it looks like it is going to be my most successful book to date. This book delves into the world of Irish ghosts, haunted houses, vampires, witches, werewolves and other spectral tales. I’ve been collecting ghost stories for nearly a decade and was mostly disappointed to find that the majority of ghost stories do not seem to have any factual basis. For my book I drew up a list of ‘true’ ghost stories, stories which could be backed up with historical fact and where there was something actually physical that I could go and photograph. I researched each story thoroughly, then I set out with my camera.
I’ve explored hundreds of incredibly creepy locations and over the years I’ve definitely got numb to it. I don’t scare easily
What has been the most unnerving experience you’ve had whilst documenting these sites?
Well, I’ve explored hundreds of incredibly creepy locations and over the years I’ve definitely got numb to it. I don’t scare easily. There have been a few particularly bad places though, like one time in the North of Ireland I arrived at the location of a poltergeist haunting and found that the batteries in both my phone and my camera had suddenly died; you also could not imagine a more haunted looking house. At another location, I had stones thrown at me, seemingly from one of the upper stories of a house; the upper floors though had collapsed down to the basement long ago so there was nothing above me apart from the sky. Also, at a couple of locations I photographed for the haunted book I found evidence of occult rituals. Pentagons in chalk and that kind of thing! Seeing that kind of thing certainly freaked me out! Photographing for the Abandoned Mansions books I also had a couple of close calls, at one house in Wicklow a wall collapsed on top of me. My feet have also gone straight through rotten floor boards a number of times. These days I use a climbing harness and rope to secure myself if it is looking particularly dodgy.
Are there any stories in the book which you would like to give us a preview of?
The book is packed with a wide variety of locations and most of the stories are pretty substantial so it is hard to get something down here quick and fast. As a quick preview, there’s a vault in an old church yard at Knockraha that was used by the IRA as a holding cell for prisoners awaiting execution. It is estimated between 40 and 100 people were held here, then taken off to a remote forest and shot by firing squad. Well, a number of people ultimately survived being held in the cell and all reported supernatural occurrences during their time in the vault. Some reported angelic female apparitions, others, beautiful females appearing to them and comforting them. Others reported being surrounded by ghosts who were constantly trying to murder them. You can still get down into the vault and experience the place for yourself.
You are on your fourth book now, do you see yourself releasing more books in the future?
Yes I’m trying to wrap up book five at the moment, that one will probably be out in 2015 and there are a couple more books planned but I’m slowing down a bit and they will be a few years off.
How did you feel the day you received the first copy of your first book?
Well chuffed! I’d seen electronic proofs of the book but the real thing was way better, I was delighted. That evening I sat down with a bottle of wine and read it cover to cover.
What was your first introduction to photography?
I have been dabbling with photography since my school days but only took it seriously when I brought my first digital camera, a Canon 300d. I actually found that camera disappointing and ended up going back to film and spent another few years working with medium and large format cameras. I had a nice little sideline business selling very large landscape photography prints which eventually financed the purchase of a canon 5d. It was about then that I got into urban exploration and photographing ruins. The abandoned Ireland website followed and then the books.
I was a bit obsessed with panoramic and virtual reality photography
Is there any piece of equipment that helped you find your unique style?
When I first started on the Abandoned Ireland website I was a bit obsessed with panoramic and virtual reality photography. I loved my fish eye lens and my nodal ninja panoramic tripod head. Then I got into infrared photography which I guess is now my trade mark. I have a camera converted to see in infrared but I still prefer a trusty infrared filter. The infrared filter is certainly my favourite piece of equipment!
Your website AbandonedIreland.com has over 2 million hits since its inception, is there anything you would do differently now compared to when you first started the site?
The website was incredibly popular when I first started on it. It probably looks a bit dated now and I very rarely make any updates these days. It was lashed together in iWeb, the Apple web authoring application. If I was doing it again then I’m sure there are much better and faster ways to author web pages. It would be nice to redo the website but I doubt I’ll ever get the time. My focus is very much on books now, I find them much more rewarding and you end up with a finished product, where as the website just rolled on and on.
During your adventures, is there anything you make sure to never be without?
My camera rucksack is always packed and ready for an adventure. It is pretty basic stuff – apart from the photography equipment, I just take a small climbing harness and rope, a Leatherman, hand torch, head torch. Oh and there’s a telescopic ladder in the boot of the car – that has been very handy on a number of occasions! I also have kind of an exploring uniform which is just quality outdoor clothing, good heavy walking boots and waterproofs. That way wind, rain or sun I’m always set for an adventure.
I’ve only been chased once – that was at Moydrum Castle in Westmeath
Have the landowners always been cooperative or have you had any interesting experiences with owners or occupiers of the land once you arrived?
I’ve only been chased once – that was at Moydrum Castle in Westmeath. The castle is on the front of one of the U2 albums and the farmer gets a lot of U2 fans stopping by to look at the place. Well I was about half way across the field in front of the castle when the farmer appeared and started waving his stick and running at me. I turned and fled, but got my jeans caught on some barb wire climbing back over a fence and he almost walloped me! I’d left a friend in the car and they saw the whole thing – apparently it was all very amusing.
Have you revisited any of the sites you documented and have you noticed any significant changes in them?
I’ve been back to a few but I didn’t find it very rewarding. The first time is always the best as I never know what I’m going to find and the sense of adventure is always a real buzz.
What do you feel you have learned most from the time you started up to now?
Well I have an excellent knowledge of Irish history and all the travelling around means I know Ireland extremely well. I’ve also learnt things like some locations need to be kept secret.
Have there been any particular sites that have affected you in any way?
Yes, a few of the abandoned mansions have made me feel very sad, just the sense of loss and neglect. Also when you see places badly vandalised or littered with beer cans and rubbish; so many people have very little respect.
You have previously documented both St. Kevin’s Asylum and the Magdalene Laundry here in Cork City, how do you feel they should be utilized in the future?
Yes, I was inside both these places a few years ago. Back then the doors were hanging open for anybody to stroll around. I believe these days St. Kevin’s is well sealed and there isn’t that much left of the Magdalene Laundry. It is hard to see St. Kevin’s being reused – there is such a dreadful atmosphere in that place and a good deal of the other big grey asylum building next door to it remains undeveloped. It will probably end up being knocked down. I am sure the Magdalene site will be developed at some point but I think it is still tied up with the banks and Nama.
And finally, what advice do you have for urban explorers, photographers or potential authors?
Well I would encourage people to be individual and try to find new locations and new styles of photography. There are too many sheep in the urbex world who just follow each other around the same old locations. For potential authors I would encourage you to be different and just have a go at it. If you have an original idea then the first steps are to draft up a chapter or two and send it off to a publisher. Also regarding publishing do not sign anything until you have talked to a couple of other authors as there are plenty of sharks out there! If anybody wants further advice then they are welcome to contact me by email Tarquin@AbandonedIreland.com.
Tarquin Blake will be making an appearance in UCC on Wednesday, November 12th at 7pm in West Wing 9.