A Facebook page dedicated to photographing Longford’s hidden treasures is attracting a worldwide audience, and it is all down to an Australian who has developed a love of the county.
“I was born in Brisbane, which is the capital city of Queensland and situated on the east coast of Australia,” said the page’s author, John Riddle.
“My interest in photography began when I was quite young. I come from a large Irish-English family and there was always someone taking photos of our weekends at the beach or the family gatherings at my grandparents’ house. I was never shy of being photographed. In fact, I was known as the little poser!
“I then joined a camera club at school but didn’t really take it seriously until I started travelling overseas in my early 20s.”
John reavealed Longford first came to attention through a romantic link.
“In 2003 I was living back in Brisbane and working for an after hours GP service. My job was to drive and provide security to overseas doctors. I was given the job of meeting a pretty Irish doctor at the airport and driving her to her accommodation.
“My now-wife Marie Higgins is from the townland of Ballymore, just outside of Granard.”
Her parents are the late Paddy and Kate (née Samman) Higgins. Sadly Paddy Higgins just passed away just the weekend before last.
“Since we first met, we have come to Longford almost every year. We even tried living back in Longford in 2014 but our four-year-old daughter Aoife missed Australia terribly, and as she has a very strong bond with her nana - my mother - we decided that we would return home.”
Speaking about his love for Longford, John added: “It was the summer of 2005 when Marie first brought me home to Longford. She was an enthusiastic tour guide although she didn’t have to work too hard as it was one of the best summers that Ireland had seen in years. We toured around the county, visiting the award-winning Tidy Towns villages of Ardagh, Abbeyshrule, and Newtowncashel.
“Then there was the historical side of Longford. We walked amongst the ancient monasteries, priories, battlegrounds, ring forts, crannogs, the Corlea Trackway, manor houses, and of course the Aughnacliffe dolmens that rival any others in Ireland.
“I was amazed that we were the only ones there; no busloads of tourists to contend with like the rest of Ireland, no fences or ropes to keep us from getting up close and personal with the ruins.
For a traveller and photographer, visiting these sites with no crowds was a dream come true.
“Then there was the stunning and hot day we visited Lough Gowna. How the water shone and it almost looked inviting enough to swim in until I dipped my bare toes in! I remember thinking that the lake scenery was just as beautiful as Killarney.”
When taking photographs, John started out by driving around and taking delight in getting lost down country lanes. Nowadays, though, he gains inspiration from local Facebook pages and visits to the Longford Tourism Office.
“On our last visit home, I also discovered just how good the new ‘Explore Longford’ app was,” he continued. “I was able to easily find the Baltimore statue by following the GPS map that is built into the app! I could actually see my car travelling along the road and where the next turn was.”
More than 1,500 people now follow John’s ‘Discovering Longford’ page on Facebook, where he regularly adds new photos, and he finished by providing some insight into their backgrounds.
“In my last post on my Facebook page, I asked my followers where they were from and where they are living now. I wasn’t surprised to hear that a lot of them live in the USA and the UK and Australia; I was surprised to read about the Longford connections in South Africa, Thailand, Norway, and India. Most of those who replied have Longford ancestors but a few of them had no Longford relations. Nearly everyone returns home on a regular basis or are planning to visit soon.”