This week saw the passing of Éamon de Buitléar, the first and best of Ireland’s wildlife broadcasters, enthusiasts, champions.
It’s not a stretch to say that Éamon was the Irish equivalent of David Attenborough. He was a more locally concerned mind, certainly, but one charged with the same deep and empathic love of animals and the environment.
My mother and grandmother remember his first series, Amuigh Faoin Spéir (Out Beneath the Sky), not long after RTÉ launched in the 1960s. I remember sitting rapt at his discussion of birds and badgers and fluffy seal pups. In fifty years of work he reached three or four generations of Irish people and brought the beautiful wildlfe of the country into our homes, changing our perceptions of what we see around us.
Last year he donated his entire archives to NUI Galway. The following video is his explanation of that decision, and a recollection of his years of work. It’s in Irish, but I’ll summarise the main bits for you below.
Éamon worked on documentaries for fifty years, starting on RTÉ, but also for the BBC, ITV, Scottish and Welsh stations, and TG4. He had a strong connection with Irish culture: music, crafts, and heritage. He also made the first Irish-language cartoon for television (this is the odd bit with the tinwhistle-playing leprechaun in the video). He collaborated with Gerrit van Gelderen, a Dutch filmmaker, to make Amuigh Faoin Spéir, which became one of the longest-running shows on RTÉ. He also played and recorded traditional music with the renowned musician Seán Ó Riada and his band.
The beautiful illustrated book shown (which he says was a Christmas gift from his mother!), How to Recognise British Birds, was the spark for his interest in wild birds, and he wrote in all their names in Irish. He hoped that his documentaries would allow the Irish public to recognise and understand the birds portrayed therein – and also the wonderful wild animals of Ireland.
Unfortunately, the destruction of the environment and peril to the wildlife was plainly to be seen also. He believed that conservation and protection of the waterways is sorely needed in order to keep the environment healthy. Without clean water both humans and animals would be in danger. However, he did also see clean-up efforts on waterways, which he found very positive.
He hoped that donating his life’s work to the University would help to teach the public about nature and to keep alive tradition and heritage.
(Absolutely not a direct translation, but one written to make sense from one language to another, and first- to third-person!)
My abiding childhood memory of Éamon de Buitléar is seeing him sitting in a field, talking about foxes, while a fox hangs around nearby almost nodding in approval of every word being said.
I wasn’t sure if this was a conflation of several images – after all, he did make a lot of programmes – but clicking around the various tributes being paid to his memory, I was pleased and gratified to find this:
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.