Rules of Engagement

For over a year now I have been living in Passage West, Co. Cork and for over a year I’ve been wondering how to get inside a premises to photograph it. The building in question is the Sisters of Mercy Convent, a big building, which now lies derelict with boarded up windows and a huge iron gate with padlocks on it and complete with barbed-wire. Every time I’ve walked by I’ve thought to myself, “There must be a way”. So I wrote an email to the town council about a month ago. Two weeks later (after a nice summer break from their hectic schedule in Passage West) a Town Councillor, who will remain nameless, got back to me.

It turns out a company purchased the building and its grounds several years ago with the intention of actually doing something with such a big building with lots of potential. They didn’t. Instead the building remained locked up and over the years has been falling apart and vandalized frequently. The Councillor informed me that this company, in the past year, has gone into liquidation and that the building is now property of NAMA (National Asset Management Agency) and ownership lies with the Minister for Finance. The Councillor also informed me that the Town Council and County Council have been trying (unsuccessfully) for the past year to get someone from NAMA to reply to them in regards actually doing something about the situation. After replying to the Councillor and saying (more or less) “Oh well, fuck it – but thanks for the information”, I then got a phone call.

It was the aforementioned Councillor who said that what he was about to tell me could not have been written in an email for fear that it would jeopardize his career. He said that, officially, it didn’t seem likely that I would hear back from the National Asset Management Agency or the Minister for Finance in my lifetime if I were to contact them. So he suggested I break in and take the photographs. I asked him if there would be any trouble with me Breaking and Entering a building now owned by the Government. He said that if I was to get caught or arrested by the Gardai then they would have to contact the owners of the premises and ask them to press charges and thus putting the onus on an actual person and speeding up the Council’s own line of inquiry into the building.

Pretty strange. I considered it and felt the risk was too big. So I started my own line of inquiry and came across some local “characters” (local Sunday painter, ex-Postman with heart complications, etc…) who pointed me in the direction of the old caretaker of the building (whose house is directly behind the Convent). Knocked on his door three times in half an hour with no answer. Then again, if I was some old guy, I’d feel pretty apprehensive about opening the door to some weirdo with shifty eyes and a camera over his shoulder, too. I asked a neighbor some questions and told my strange story. He told me to come back later.

I will return and get those God damned photos if its the last thing I do. And who knows, it could be. But if I get caught up in some Government fraud/embezzlement/break-in scandal I will try and post all those photos here first. Taking photographs should never be this difficult. Especially photographs of a fucking building.

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