INNOCENT LANDSCAPES REVISITED: 23 / JUN / 2010
BALLYNULTAGH REVISITED 2010 - SIX INCHES, SIX FEET, SIXTY FEET
Posted by David Farrell
"Grand view" the young boy breathlessly speaks as he cycles by me trying to make his way up the steep road on the edge of which I have perched my tripod and camera. It’s a fitness cycle as he is dressed in a t-shirt and football shorts - a local boy I assume – he was probably four or five years old when I first stood at this roadside overlooking Ballynultagh in 1999 which had been revealed as the location of the remains of Danny McIlhone who having left Belfast, was abducted from Dublin where he had gone to live, on the 14th May 1981.While agreeing with him with a "t’is indeed" I encourage him onwards and upwards with a "keep it going". Returning to my view I wonder does he know about this view and the story it contains. As is often here, the clouds here are performing a strange ballet, occasionally and tantalizingly allowing the sun to move torch-like across the valley but never quite where I want it – I have observed this many times here and had at times naively hoped that one day it might provide a divine-like answer. Speaking in 2008 to the forensic archaeologists who were then carrying out the resumed search here it was touching that they too shared a similar experience and desire. This location is perhaps the most ‘scenic’ of all the locations. It is set in a valley through which the river Liffey flows in the early stages of it’s journey towards Dublin and it is a place of constant light changing elusive moments.
It was here in 2008 that I first became aware of the resumed searches. I was on my round of annual revisits and had observed some days previously what appeared to be some form of activity at Bragan where a large pit had been excavated but I was uncertain as it was unlike anything I had encountered before in the searches of 1999 again. The preciseness of the area investigated at Ballynultagh appeared to be significant and suggested a different approach. A few weeks later I returned and the repetitive jerky yellow arms of the JCB’s were back in motion. The subsequent conversation with the ‘time team’ gave a small insight although it was restricted due to the strict confidentiality terms under which they work and all my current work on this subject is dependent on curiosity, determination and attempts at reading landscapes – its only informed source is myself, I am on the Inside, I am on the Outside. I met again with the team in early October at which point they had resigned themselves for a return the following spring due to the weather becoming tougher. However they returned again in November according to reports I read in the media as a result of new information whereupon the partial remains of Danny McIlhone were subsequently recovered. This receiving of ‘new information’ is puzzling as essentially they were digging in the same area as in 1999 and 2000. This naturally is irrelevant as it is the return that matters.Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this location was that its easiest access was through an abandoned farm and the fields that lay below it and yet there was this final puzzling last detail of having to cross the river to reach the site that was strange in a way that is strange for a very good reason. As it was, this location was very secret, it was in the middle of nowhere however in crossing the river you move from private to public land – a small crossing, tied up in intimate knowledge of the local landscape.Last Friday I waited and watched from the road that winds its way past this landscape, waiting for an hour in the hope of some light during which time the boy freewheels back towards me with a broad smile ‘I survived’ he says with pride and swishes by me. I settle for the image below from 5 or six exposures. The landscape seems at this distance to be unchanged from the previous year. The upturned rocks and bare landscape still showing clearly the extent of the resumed search in 2008 and it is only later when comparing it to a photograph from last year that I notice the small changes and the slight recovery in this isolated place. Uncannily the light isn’t much different either and later as I move down through the fields the clouds clear for a while and I get a chance to work.
At ground level of course things are a little different and the recovery though slow is evident. When making these annual photographs I never bring images with me and I always try to work off my memory, which of course is faulty and not perfect. This location unlike many of the other locations has a permanent shrine that was erected by the family of Danny McIlhone after the initial searches – a plaque bearing simple heartfelt words was placed together with a Celtic cross on a large rock that had acted as a temporary shrine during the searches.
ABDUCTED AND MURDERED
14th MAY 1981.
WHOSE BODY LIES HIDDEN IN THESE MOUNTAINS
FOREVER LOVED AND MISSED BY HIS DAUGHTER
SISTERS AND BROTHERS
And in my Inside-Outside status I wonder about these two rocks placed together in 2008, which are approximately 100 metres from the family shrine in a scarred but healing landscape. One of them bears an inscribed ‘X’ whose visibility will no doubt wane as time and the weather roll by.
As a note of hope for the resumed ongoing searches at Wilkinstown, Carrickrobin and Colgagh I often reflect on a photograph made on the last day of the searches in 2000 at Ballynultagh. I have spoken in the past of this photograph in wistful terms as to what could possibly be secreted six inches, six feet, sixty feet further. It must be noted that what was sought did not rest beyond but lay backwards over my shoulder in front of this, some distance away and yet close to, or within, the areas searched in 1999 and 2000 but he was there, waiting patiently for a homecoming.