An exhibition in Skibbereen pays tribute to late photographer Michael Minihane, writes
THERE are certain photographs that stop you in your tracks. Michael Minihane’s picture of a man in 1967 hoisted on ropes as he whitewashes the Beacon, an iconic landmark at the entrance to Baltimore Harbour, is one of those. Visitors to this year’s Skibbereen Arts Festival, the tenth edition, will be treated to 30 of some of Minihane’s most memorable photographs.
Minihane, who passed away in April aged 97, joined the Cork Examiner newspaper in 1954, and spent the next three decades turning up at all kinds of social gatherings — from GAA meetings and agricultural fairs to first communions and local news events — to capture the moment. He was, for example, the first photographer on the scene at the Whiddy Island oil disaster in 1979 which claimed the lives of 51 people. Five years earlier, he accompanied a lifeboat rescue team to photograph them hauling a lighthouse keeper to safety from the Fastnet Rock.
An injury to his left hand from a fishing accident didn’t deter him. Two of his children — his son Denis, an Examiner photographer, and daughter Anne, who works for the Southern Star — followed him into the trade. They recall going out on jobs with him as kids, says Denis, “to keep him company and to carry his equipment because of the injury to his hand”.
As well as being a photographer, he was at various times a newsagent, a fisherman, a printer, a sailor and a soldier. “He tried his hand at lots of things before he settled on something,” says Denis, laughing. It meant he got to know people from all walks of life, and it made it easy for him to drift into any kind of social setting. He was well known around West Cork.
“Everyone in Skibbereen would have known him,” says Declan McCarthy, director of the Skibbereen Arts Festival. “I grew up myself in the town and I always remember him being at events with his camera. In more recent times, he’d taken to sitting in the doorway of their shop [on Bridge St] and playing the accordion. It was lovely — you’d be walking over the street and you’d hear this man playing the accordion. There’d be a big smile on his face.”
News of Michael’s death filtered beyond his stomping ground in West Cork. “We got a message from a lady from Skibbereen who knew my brother, which was put up on Facebook after she read about his death online,” says Denis.
“My father had taken her passport photograph 40 or 50 years earlier when she was emigrating to the United States.”
People at his wake recalled that he took, for example, their parents’ wedding photograph or other important formal family photographs.
The exhibition’s pictures — which include one of Skibbereen’s square covered in horses from 1967; a photograph of two women in Kathleen Crowley’s sweet shop shooting the breeze; a young fella on horseback getting served his takeaway at the hatch of the Busy Bee chipper; and a postman delivering mail onto a boat on the river, heading for Heir Island— are set to charm festival goers.
Memories of Michael exhibition, Skibbereen Arts Festival, Friday, July 26 to Sunday, August 4, 45 Bridge St, Skibbereen, Co Cork.