Picture perfect: along the Blackwater with Pat Quinlan

(All photographs courtesy of Pat Quinlan) 

Fermoy-based photographer Pat Quinlan has become a big hit on Facebook. Donal O’Keeffe caught up with him for a chat and a cup of coffee.

On Fermoy Weir, a lone heron stands sentinel as water trickles down the broken fish pass and a pair of crows stroll past. Above, on Kent Bridge in summer sunshine, Pat Quinlan lines up his camera.

Pat has become in recent years a familiar sight along Fermoy’s Blackwater, and his astonishing photography has become hugely popular on Facebook.

A Glanworth native, Pat has lived in Fermoy the past decade. A youthful 63, he says he always had an interest in photography, but only started to take it seriously three years ago: “In February 2015, I decided to give up the drink and the fags, and within three months I had the price of a decent digital camera, a Canon 700D. It cost me €600 at the time. 

“I just started taking photos. I don’t have any training, so it was all trial and error. I did get a few tips along the way, and I upgraded to a Canon 7D, Mark II. That set me back €1,500 for the camera, and another €2,500 for the lens.”

Pat says it’s amazing the variety of wildlife that makes Fermoy its home, something he’s really only realised since he took up photography. He lists among his favourite subjects: otters, herons, mink, little egrets and kingfishers. Pat says the one photograph he’d love to get is of a kingfisher diving: “I’ve taken thousands of photos of the kingfisher, but I haven’t got the right one yet. I’d be shooting rapid-fire, ten frames a second. He’s just so fast, it’s nearly impossible to catch him.” 

The most boring part of photography, Pat says, is the editing process, picking through every shot to get the best photograph. On the other hand, boredom never applies to taking the photographs. 

“You need a lot of patience to photograph wildlife. You have to sit there and be patient. It’s actually very peaceful to sit in a field in the quiet for an hour or more. Rabbits will wander up to you, and birds will land beside you. 

“Use camouflage if possible. I bought a camouflage poncho and a folding stool. I could be sitting by a ditch and you’d walk past me! I’ve had a fox walk right beside me and not notice me. If there’s a breeze, you need to be on the right side of it, or animals will smell you a mile off.”

The thing about photography, Pat feels, is you either have an eye for it or you don’t. For him, it’s a rewarding hobby, but expensive. The next upgrade would cost him €5,000, and €10,000 for the lens, something Pat says is currently beyond his pocket.  

Like many in Fermoy, Pat despairs for the future of the town’s weir. The property of Cork County Council, the 200-year-old structure has been allowed to fall badly into disrepair over the past decade. As it crumbles, it has caused the level of the river upstream to drop, and migrating salmon now become trapped at its base. 

“I’d love to see the weir repaired,” Pat says. “It’s one of the main features of the town, and the river would be a sad sight without it. You’d never again see a salmon leap here, or watch an otter or a mink eat their dinner in the middle of the town. 

“With the damage across from the Guards’ barracks (on O’Neill Crowley Quay), water levels upstream are now at an all-time low. The Rowing Club has already had to cancel the regatta this year, and you’d have to worry for the club’s future.

“I’d hate to see the Rowing Club go. They’ve produced so many great athletes over the years, and they do great work with so many kids.

“The Great Blackwater Swim had to be cancelled too, and there will be a major doubt over the future, unless something is done before the weir washes away altogether.

“The Triathlon was able to go ahead as we got a few days’ rain to raise the water levels, but you can’t count on that happening every year.”

Another concern Pat cites is the Wheelyboat. An Spiorad Saor John Mahon – Ireland’s only MKIII wheelchair-accessible boat – plied its route along the Blackwater from Fermoy Rowing Club down to Michael Flatley’s Castlehyde House and back for 12 years now. 

“I know Kipper (skipper Chris O’Donovan) has said it’s nearly impossible to navigate the shallows upstream, and he hasn’t been able to put the boat out most of the summer. What a shame it would be to see the Wheelyboat go. 

“I would say to Inland Fisheries Ireland to sit down with Cork County Council and start working together. We need to get the salmon upstream, and we need to save the weir.” 

For Pat Quinlan, photography has changed his life, and given him purpose.   

“Photography is a wonderful pastime, and a lovely way to get in touch with nature, especially on a fine day,” Pat says. Looking down at the river he loves and which life he chronicles, he marvels that some people don’t seem to appreciate their good fortune. 

“It’s actually amazing the number of people who walk across that bridge every day without looking over the wall. So many people living in this town, surrounded by nature, and they’ve never seen an otter or a kingfisher. 

“The majority of photos I’ve taken are within ten miles of Fermoy. We’re really blessed to live in such a beautiful place.” 

See Pat’s photography on the Pat Quinlan Photography page