BY DENIS HURLEY
WHEN Paul Carroll first came up with the concept for Gaelic Fields, his new coffee-table book, he gave himself ten years to complete it, so he is three years ahead of schedule.
Having begun planning and preparation in late 2009 and then travelling the country from the following spring, the self-published volume went on sale in November. Paul, a native of Murroe in Limerick but based in Cork, estimates that he travelled about 50,000km taking in all manner of adult club games, both male and female.
While the pictures dominate, such is the scenery on show – The Irish Times named it as one of the photo-books of 2016 – there is a story to be told and Paul does that, describing it as a documentary picture-book.
‘Individual pictures are fine,’ he says, ‘but I wanted to give a flow to the book, like the way there is a flow to a GAA game.
‘The pictures chart a game from start to finish and they also follow the seasons – so, with it being Ireland, about a third of them are darkish!
‘I started taking pictures of games in 2010, so the effects of the recession were just beginning to hit and so I realised that it became about capturing the identities of these small communities and the people keeping them together.’
Paul describes himself as self-taught with a camera, having done some blog work before coming up this idea, which in turn was inspired by the work of Dutchman Hans van der Meer, who complied European Fields after spending ten years covering grassroots football across the continent.
‘We are often not mindful of what’s around us,’ he says.
‘We Irish can take for granted the amazing locations and beauty in every county on the island. We tend to romanticise and enjoy Ireland more when we are away.’
Obviously, such an undertaking meant good logistics, with Paul mapping out long journeys so as to allow him a chance to get to a few games in close proximity. Even though, nature sometimes got in the way.
‘There was one trip, myself and my girlfriend Kym went to Dunfanaghy in Co Donegal,’ he says.
‘It’s pretty much the furthest away pitch we could to while still being in Ireland, and the match was postponed about an hour beforehand! Kym is Dutch, so she’d expected something to start on time rather than a quarter of an hour later or a half-hour later or not at all, but you just have to roll with it, control the things you could control.
‘I was able to get to another couple of games when we were up there, anyway. The planning was important, you’d be in touch with people making sure a game was still on, even up to a few hours beforehand.
‘Ninety-nine times out of 100, people were very nice, but wanted to know why a photographer had travelled from Cork to a junior A football game in Dring, Co Longford on a Thursday evening!’
In total, there are 69 different club grounds featured. Adrigole here in West Cork was one of the ones to fall at the final hurdle, but there is at least the consolation that nearby Urhan made it, with a game between the home side and Gabriel Rangers.
Dripsey in mid-Cork also features, hosting a clash between Ballinora and Donoughmore, with city clubs St Vincent’s and Glen Rovers included too. The latter was the closest posting for Paul, so much so that he was able to cycle there – his ‘real’ work is at Cork Foyer in Blackpool, working with 18-25-year-olds who are at risk of becoming homeless, while he is the founder of the Cork Homeless Street League, based at the Glen Resource Centre.
‘There were probably another 30 pictures I could have included,’ Paul says, ‘and it was a real pain to leave some of them out. ‘You’re trying to narrow it down but in reality it’s like trying to choose a favourite child!’
Getting the whole thing published was the next step, with Paul opting for the Kickstarter crowd-funding method, aiming to raise €10,000. That target was exceeded by €4,000, which was a pleasant surprise. With about a quarter of the initial run sold, he is hopeful that the trend will continue in 2017.
‘I have a friend who works in social media,’ he says, ‘and he said – not until afterwards, thankfully – that the €10,000 targets are often never met.
‘I didn’t know any of this, so it really was a case that ignorance was bliss.’
For more, visit www.gaelicfields.com or www.facebook.com/gaelicfields and follow @gaelicfields on Twitter.