Kenneth O’ Halloran – Life After Death

Kenneth O’Halloran

Life After Death

Though now a more secular society, Ireland still has remnants and relics of the old religious faith, even if many of its devoted followers are typically advanced in age – part of what might be termed a dying generation.

The Catholic Church had been one of the country’s mainstays. Falling Mass attendances, declining priest numbers and various damaging scandals have shaken the institution and weakened its grip. Despite this, my father is a daily Mass-goer; his faith doesn’t appear to have flinched.



The house where I grew up in the west of Ireland is where my father now resides with his wife and their daughter Susan; all the rest of the family have flown the nest, some starting families of their own, one in New York where she has become part of the Irish Diaspora.

The religious paraphernalia located throughout this house gives God a central presence and status not uncommon in Ireland at the time. We prayed as a family, like when the Angelus bells struck at noon and six in the evening. We knelt at night to say the Holy Rosary. Many of our rites of passage as children were rooted in Catholicism – our first communion, our confirmation, and so on.

My father, who is 80, would not have seen anything remarkable in this. He was merely carrying on the tradition of his own father’s generation. Having spent half his life working, he recently retired, closing his drapery store. His undertaker’s business continues.

For me and others in the family it meant that death was never far away or overtly mysterious. We became accustomed to the dead of our parish being prepared for the final ceremonies before burial. We would often come home from school to see who had died that day. If we truly wanted to make our father proud, we would have mastered the game he followed all his life: hurling. This ancient Irish sport, requiring great dexterity, courage and speed, can still weave a spell on him.

Born in a rural community he has seen his own life change and now that of his children too. In recent years he lost a brother to whom he was close. Now I see him deriving great joy from his grandchildren. In their company he seems tranquil. At peace. His work done.




Kenneth O Halloran was born in the West of Ireland, and is a graduate of the Institute of Art, Design and Technology in Dun Laoghaire.

Based in Dublin, he is currently working on a number of long term projects, which include a personal portrayal of his family shot over 5 years.

His project ‘Tales from the Promised Land’ was shortlisted for the Terry O’Neill Award 2010 and a portrait entitled ‘Twins: Puck Fair’ was shown in The National Portrait Gallery in London, as part of the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize 2010.

He has recently received third prize in the Portrait Stories category of the World Press Photo awards and is also the recipient of the Focus Project Monthly Award (March 2011).

He received an honorable mention in the Art of Photography show San Diego 2011 and a portrait entitled ‘Olive, selling dresses’ has been selected for exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery (Taylor Wessing 2011).

He received an honorable mention in Lens Culture International Exposure Awards 2011 and was winner of the Terry O’Neill/Tag Award 2011.


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Kenneth O Halloran


19 Responses to “Kenneth O’ Halloran – Life After Death”

  • I guess an essay about life and death cuts a pretty wide path; but, this would have been stronger if the photographer had made it more limited. Nothing wrong with the photography, though.

  • just gorgeous photography…and a beautiful and, in both its simplicity (in the best sense) and its lyricism, an incredibly moving portrait of both a family, a place and the daily rituals of our current-twitch’d lives…

    typically, i’d write something long, but really, i simply want to share this:

    Ken: if you have a chance, you (or your Pa) might love to read the works of a wonderful American writer/poet who is also in the Funeral business: Thomas Lynch. His books are extraordinary

    And Please watch this incredibly moving documentary on him and his family…i posted this at BURN 2 years ago…hard to finish it without crying…

    thanks so much for sharing your beautiful work/story….

    I recommend every viewer here watch this…it’s about 1 hr….

  • Bob Black’s first sentence says it all for me.

  • This is very beautiful and moving. I especially love the image of your dad holding the baby, and the feet in the oven. Yes, lovely, simple, gentle loving photographs. Thanks for this.

  • This is beautiful. Your camera is an extension of your heart.

  • Very fine photography. I like how you capture light.
    My favorites are #2, #27 and #16 in combination with #18 is heartbreaking. (good to have #17 as a cut in between)

  • Beautiful. Quiet, superb, strong piece of work.

  • The joke above aside, Kenneth, I think this is wonderful work. Your essay resonated deeply for me; I grew up in the Bronx when the Bronx could still call itself Ireland’s 33rd county without any sense of irony. The faces of the people in the essay are the faces I grew up with, the faces of the kids I went to school with. I can smell that soda bread baking in the oven, I can hear the voices of the old timers sitting on the stools in O’Reilly’s drinking their Guinnesses and smoking like chimneys and talking about how the family was doing back in the old country when my grandmother sent me there to fetch my grandfather home for supper. I even remember going to Gaelic Park way up in the wilds near the border with Westchester County with my uncles to see the hurling matches on the weekends and once seeing a priest playing for Longford cheap shot a cop playing for Wicklow or Wexford with his hurley when the ref wasn’t looking and then lying about it when the cop complained. I still wonder how many Pater Nosters and Ave Marias Father whatever his name was assigned himself for his penance for committing a mortal sin and then lying about it. For me, your essay was also a bit wistful; this still may be everyday reality in the west of Ireland now, but the time when it was everyday reality for the Bronx Irish has long since passed. We’ve all moved on, one way or the other. To only slightly paraphrase some smart person, the past is another country, we don’t live there anymore.

  • Nice pictures for a close story… Pictures with any pretensions than tell a story about a family, playing with moments and light…

  • I’m happy to see O Halloran’s work here. I’m a big fan, especially of his portraiture.

  • very honest and sincere work…so beautiful and warm-heart….
    Kenneth, Thank you for sharing.

  • Soooo love the longer edit on the website. O Halloran, you’re one of my new heroes.

  • That was like a trip home for me. I could smell Ireland in those photos. So familiar, moist and cosy. All of it. I’ve rarely come across such an essay so steeped in essential Irishness.

    – Paul.

  • I feel very calm after watching the slideshow and am suddenly in the mood to make a cup of tea and stare at the wall for a bit. This is one of the sweetest photo essays that I have seen in awhile. I love how simple the images are… with no unnecessary drama or obvious effort on the part of the photographer. This is truly something different, and much needed I think.

  • Very well done and emotional…congratulations

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