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Every place has its iconic images and Northern Ireland is no different. There’s the sweep of the Mournes down to the sea at Newcastle, the hexagonal pillars of the giants Causeway or Belfast’s mighty shipyard cranes. But for the residents of north County Down the image of the stark tower on the hill maintaining its vigil over the head of Strangford Lough can top them all.
Although the tower is not a particularly tall structure and it’s very much a hill rather than a mountain it sits on, somehow this commanding edifice surrounded by swathes of the most fertile land in Ireland and erected on an ancient hill for no other purpose than to be seen for miles, has come to define home to thousands of people. How many weary travellers returning from far away, have sat back in their seats with an inward sigh of “I’m home” on their first sight of Scrabo?
In his latest book with Cottage Publications, David Kirk has attempted to capture the essence of this place although he sets up an immediate hurdle for himself when he admits that ‘Scrabo Country’ is not marked on any map although he defines it as roughly as the countryside that could be said to be ‘in the shadow of the hill’. In this he includes Newtownards and Comber as well as the upper part of Strangford Lough which has given him an incredibly rich vein of images to tease out with his photographers eye.
And tease them out he does.
Page after page is filled with glorious images capturing every aspect of ‘Scrabo Country’ throughout the seasons. Whether it be farmers at work or the results of their labours; people at work or play in Comber and Newtownards; rocks showing the marks made by seas millions of years ago or the marks made by quarrying today, David’s canny eye has captured the very essence of Scrabo country.
Often it’s not the big grand image that catches your eye – if you live round Scrabo you see those images every day – but the small things David has picked out. He has included sections focussing on gateways; on flowers; on the patterns made by farmers sowing their crops and, in one particularly memorable sequence, on a single gnarled and solitary tree as the seasons roll by bringing constant change to the surrounding fields.
Thus, despite the less than rigid boundaries David has placed on himself to work within which could have easily resulted in, if you will excuse the photographic pun, a poorly focused book, this is definitely not the outcome here.
This is a beautifully crafted book that perfectly captures the heart and soul of a lovely piece of Northern Ireland and thoroughly deserves its place on the bookshelf or coffee table of anyone connected with the lands in the shadow of Scrabo.
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Author: David Kirk
No. Pages: 144
Dimensions: 250mm x 225mm