Photo book on Kinsale vintage funfair is ‘a form of visual anthropology’

Bill Piper sitting on the steps of his traditional showman's caravan in Kinsale.

A local photographer is hoping to crowdfund a new book about a funfair, writes Áilín Quinlan

PHOTOGRAPHER June Fairhead was so intrigued by the picturesque traditional wooden caravan which sits quietly in Kinsale all year round, its stove-pipe emitting puffs of smoke, she decided to publish a book about it.

A fine arts photographer, she has lived locally for 25 years and teaches art at Kinsale College of Further Education.

During the summer months the caravan moves from the town square to the vintage fair on the quayside of the Co Cork town.

The carousel at Pipers funfair in Kinsale is over 100 years old.
The carousel at Pipers funfair in Kinsale is over 100 years old.

“When you enter this fair it’s as if the clock has turned back. The fair is a living museum that has barely changed in 40 years. No death-defying rides or thumping ‘house’ music on offer here, just good old-fashioned swing boats, bumper cars, and a carousel turning round to tunes from the twenties up to the sixties,” she noted.

“I’d always been curious about the caravan but I never knew why it was there. I started photographing it and, later, someone told me it belonged to Billy Piper who owns the funfair.”

She visited Mr Piper, now in his late 70s, explaining she would like to make his caravan the focus of a photo-essay. “He was delighted and allowed me to photograph the interior.

“He said he has been there since 1939; that his father started the funfair and his family have been showmen for 200 years. Bill himself is a traditional showman.”

Bill Piper reflected in a mirror over the mantlepiece in his caravan.
Bill Piper reflected in a mirror over the mantlepiece in his caravan.

She began to document a “pearl of the past” with photographs and stories. They now make up a spectacular vintage-style book, Showman , which goes behind the scenes of the funfair, with more than 30 colour photographs of Bill and his carnival.

Now she has launched a crowdfunding bid to raise the €4,500 required to publish the book and hold an exhibition launch.

Investors will receive signed copies of the book to archival prints and painting classes, to a handmade limited-edition linen-bound box set of some of the images.

Bill has lived in the caravan since 1939.
Bill has lived in the caravan since 1939.

“This is a project I’m passionate about,” said Ms Fairhead, describing her book as “a form of visual anthropology that will bring a smile to anyone who has spent time at a funfair in their youth”.

“Bill is the ringmaster and the fairground is his show-ring. However in the background there is a loyal team that includes his son Brendan who keeps the show on the road,” she says.

“I wanted to document Bill Piper in his curious caravan at the fair not just as an art project but as a part of social history.”

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