Clonmel in the 1960s and 70s through the eyes of a master crafrtsman – that was the apt description of Donal Wylde’s book and exhibition launched in the South Tipperary County Museum on Friday night.
The former Nationalist photographer and RTE camerman has captured the heart and soul of the town in a wonderful collection of old prints from half a century ago.
County Council chairman Michael Fitzgerald said he presented a copy of the book to visiting US Ambassador Daniel Rooney because he thought it best captured the pride and place of Clonmel.
And in glowing tribute to his former colleague, RTE correspondent Tommy Gorman described the book, ‘The Light of other Days, as Donal’s way of giving something back to the town he owed so much to.
The Clonmel museum was packed to overflowing for the event. Among the huge gathering were former colleagues from The Nationalist where Donal cut his teeth as staff photograher; RTE staff where Donal became one of the station’s most respected cameramen; other jouralistic colleagues from the south east; as well as family and friends from throughout Clonmel.
The iconic images in the book are also displayed in a stunning exhibition in the museum that attracted huge attention before the formal launch.
RTE’s Belfast correspondent Tommy Gorman said he had known Donal for nearly thirty years and he could say that he was loved within the trade for his warmth and humanity.
He was a camerman with a wonderful eye, who maintained the highest professional standards and who wouldn’t countenance compromise.
“Whenever we are bringing in new camermen in Belfast we call on Donal for his advice. He is an exceptional camerman but he brings other gifts as well such as warmth and humanity as could be seen in work in documentaries on fishermen lost at sea in the south east and on the Clancy Brothers”, Mr Gorman said.
He added that the book depicted Donal’s sense of place and pride of place – he was giving something back to Clonmel where he met his wife Jean, had his family and developed his career and honed his skills in The Nationalist.
“This is his way saying what he stood for and giving something back. It is a book that will be here for generations to come”
Launching the book, County Council chairman Michael Fitzgerald said that despite the advances of new technology, the work of Donal Wylde couldn’t be surpassed as behind the camera was the eye of a master craftsman.
He described the sense of community in the book as remarkable because the thought-provoking collection depicted how people worked, played and prayed in the 60s and 70s.
Cllr Fitzgerald added that Donal was also keen to get into situations with his camera against the wishes of church or state who may not have been so keen on accountability. “This shows the strong sense of social justice he possessed”, Cllr Fitzgerald remarked.
Mayor of Clonmel Darren Ryan joked that many of the images predated him but that didn’t stop him admiring the magnificent photographs in the book and in the exhibition. “You have done excellent work and thank you for recording Clonmel so well”, the Mayor said.
Museum curator Marie McMahon said the museum was thrilled to host the launch as well as the exhibition itself and she had no doubt that the wonderful collection would attract huge crowds to visit.
In response, Donal thanked the museum, Marie and her staff for their help in providing the exhibition.
He also thanked everyone who had helped in the production of the book and those who attended on the night – former Nationalist staff, including his predecessor as staff photographer, Justin Nelson, who also went on to enjoy a successful career in RTE; visiting RTE staff including Peter McNiff who had been such a huge help; and his family and friends.
He also thanked SS Peter and Paul’s parish priest Fr Brendan Crowley for his encouragement as an earlier undertaking had been to provide an exhibition for the parish’s bicentenary and that contributed to the success of the present work.
Former staff members of The Nationalist who had worked with Donal were well represented on the night and Donal recalled an oft-quoted remark from one of them, Redmond Burke, on how he first got the job in the newspaper and his close associations with the Franciscans.
“Were it not for Fr Cyril you may never have got the job”, he had quipped.
But thankfully he did and the exhibition in the museum and the book, ‘The Light of Other Days’, are testament to his remarkable skills and how his wonderful eye as a cameraman was able to record a moment in time in the life of Clonmel.