Photographs by Brian McCready

Comfort and Solitude

"Mountains probably more than any other feature of the landscape evoke strong emotions in us all, whether it’s because of their scale and grandeur, the thoughts of adventure and freedom they inspire, the significance given to them in culture and literature, or even the sense of mystery and spirituality that has always been associated with them."

Photographer Brian McCready from Co Down has been photographing the Mourne Mountains for over twenty years. Here he shares some of his work and thoughts on the process that leads him back to the mountains, time and time again.

On the summit of Slieve Meelbeg as the sky comes alive at sunset

Home

When I was about twelve years old my uncle introduced me to the Mourne Mountains. After hiking along Trassey track and arriving at the Hare’s Gap, I discovered that there was a whole new world beyond the famed Mourne Wall. One I felt instantly at home in. It wasn’t long before a cousin and I were spending school holidays camping along the Annalong River, beside the edge of Donard Wood above Newcastle, or at the head of the Ben Crom Reservoir. As a result, memories were made and my emotional connection with the Mournes was born.

Approaching the frozen summit of Slieve Bearnagh just after sunrise

Collecting & Gathering

Since a child I’ve also been a bit of a collector. Nothing remarkable in subject matter or volume, just modest gatherings of things I’ve found interesting. From cataloguing and gluing birds feathers in jotters, painting Airfix soldiers and having mini battles behind the sofa, to collecting Topps football cards and building my own fantasy teams. Looking back it appears that I was always trying to arrange the world around me into some sort of order and organise the things in it (quite literally at times) into neat little boxes. My subsequent interest in photographing the Mournes might just be another manifestation of my collecting tendencies.

Although I began to carry a camera with me from those early days, any pictures were merely mementos of those camping adventures. However in more recent years I found myself beginning to photograph the hills themselves and composing pictures to capture the fleeting light and weather conditions I encountered on each trip. Perhaps my way of filling a creative void, of having an object of desire to gaze on when not actually in the mountains as well as being a visual reminder of times past.

I can sit in the one spot for hours, just taking in the landscape and watching the conditions change around me as each cloud passes overhead.

Standing on Douglas Crag watching the sun’s rays begin to melt the last snows of winter

Connection

I have to be honest though, I don’t particularly enjoy hiking and the physical effort involved in getting into the mountains, especially the older I get. I do however love being present in the Mournes. I can sit in the one spot for hours, just taking in the landscape and watching the conditions change around me as each cloud passes overhead. There is a reliability to the Mournes that can only be described as comforting. In contrast to the ever-changing modern world around us, the mountains are a constant; the changes occurring in them being so gradual as to go almost unnoticed during an entire lifetime.

The Mournes are ablaze with colour as the sun breaks through a passing rain cloud

Golden Hour

It’s a strange frustrating thing, the urge to head out in the dead of night and hike for a couple of hours in the dark in time to experience the remarkable sight of the day’s first light illuminate the Mourne landscape from one of its summits. It might seem equally mad to spend an evening standing around a freezing mountain top in the midst of a gale, hoping to catch a few magical moments of golden hour light just before sunset.

One moment I can be busy trying to work out the best possible composition knowing that any minute the last rays of sunlight will burst out over the landscape. The next minute it happens. It’s like a giant light tap has been turned on full, and I’ll be running around like a deranged thing trying to capture these moments of fleeting light before the magic disappears; as if trying to gather up liquid gold before it drains away.

Then it’s gone, and everything’s in shade; and on the long walk back to the car I’ll reflect on another trip to the Mournes, just hoping that when I get home I will have another photograph to add to my collection which in some way encapsulates the experience. If it does, then I’m satisfied (for a few days at least).

Looking back towards the Ben Crom Reservoir on an early morning ascent of Slieve Binnian

Today it’s not quite an obsession, but at every opportunity I head to the Mournes to renew that connection with the landscape.

Lough Shannagh falls into shade as low cloud blocks out the evening sun

Memory

And while I collect these photographs and visual memories for myself, if they elicit an emotional response in others, even if it is just to evoke a memory of another’s own past experience of a day in the Mournes, then they have succeeded on some level, in keeping us all connected to our shared landscape.

Late evening light moves majestically across the slopes of Slieve Binnian, high above the Silent Valley Reservoir


You can see more of Brian’s images at: https://www.facebook.com/brianmccreadyphotography/

A selection of Brian’s photographs are also available from Painted Earth in Newcastle and from Meelmore Lodge near Bryansford.