Nowadays, anybody with a camera phone is a photographer, but once upon a time it was a rare skill that few could master to a professional degree.
Of course, not being skilled at the discipline wasn’t necessarily a hurdle to making a living from it, as Freddie Barrett proved.
He trained as a butcher and initially started off taking photos as a sideline in the 1980s, giving up his weekends for all manner of family events.
Even after he hung up his carving knife, he continued to be known as The Cleaver – he thought it was a reference to his old career, but really it was people making fun of his propensity to improperly frame his shots of people, resulting in many an ankle being chopped off.
Self-belief and quick thinking of sorts took Freddie a lot further than his skills should have. Once, he talked his way into doing the poshest of weddings, yet he managed to forget to bring any film. When he realised his error halfway through the day, he continued to take snaps, leaving those present none the wiser.
Having made a phone call to a friend to drop some film to the hotel, he managed to get photos of the latter part of the evening and then hired a local art student to paint church images based on the pictures of the guests.
He told the couple that such a revolutionary new “photo art” method was a lot costlier than normal, but he was willing to let them have it at the usual rate.
The move to digital photo storage saved Freddie from himself but his inability to read his own scratchy writing still tripped him up when submitting images to the local newspaper. My friend Ginger Farrell’s real name is Tim and his son is Dan, yet they appeared as Jim and Don Fennell, He once did a minor county final on a Sunday afternoon after doing a rugby game in the morning – the names of the 1-15s were on adjacent pages in his notebook and he sent the rugby names with the GAA pictures to the local newspaper and vice-versa. And yet, one of gaffs made him a hero.
One of the biggest incidents in our area came in the mid-1990s, when the local “big house”, Castlefagan, was ransacked and, based on a description from old Mrs Fagan, the gardaí had Arty Powell as the prime suspect.
Arty never played much GAA, but everyone in the area knew him and had bought things from him at great prices – let’s just say that he seemed to know of a lot of lorries unable to hold their wares. It was all small-time stuff though, and he did his “work” far from here – two things which didn’t add up in terms of Castlefagan, and Freddie was the man to prove that.
The crime happened on a Sunday, when we had a refixed county league final against Glaunavaud. Unusually, we had been awarded home advantage as Glaunavaud failed to show up for the initial fixture as it clashed with a club wedding – not one of Freddie’s, incidentally.
Freddie was on duty for the league final, though, and had his usual ricket when he got the focus all wrong for one of the team pictures. However, what was captured was, in the background, the site of Arty fishing for salmon – illegally, of course – in the river running alongside the pitch. He checked more of the shots taken during the game and Arty was a constant presence. If he had been there, he couldn’t have been at Castlefagan.
Arty got off, the real perpetrators were found and Freddie was rewarded with some top-quality salmon.