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The vanishing face of the Emerald Isle

(Above) Beth Nyberg at the Seven Churches, one of Inis Mor’s most famous sites.  - Courtesy of Beth Nyberg
(Above) Beth Nyberg at the Seven Churches, one of Inis Mor’s most famous sites.
— image credit: Courtesy of Beth Nyberg

Islander Beth Nyberg captures images of the Irish countryside.

The Emerald Isle cast a spell over Beth Nyberg before she even saw it.

Irish on both sides, she absorbed a love for her ancestry at her maternal grandfather’s knee. In Ireland, she says, “I feel like I’m whole.”

Nyberg is a professional horsewoman and photographer who earned a degree in riding instruction in the land of leprechauns.

Her three-week vacation there last summer yielded the photos for her upcoming exhibit, “A Land of Light and Eire,” which will hang in the Metro Market Café during March.

Culled from more than 2,200 digital images, the 38 carefully chosen shots give testament to Nyberg’s goal.

“I wanted to capture the essence of Ireland, the parts people are looking for,” she said. “Part of the island that’s timeless and it’s changing so fast.

“Now with all the EU money, they’ve fixed the roads and put in highways.”

She is dismayed by the changes she sees each time she visits the country.

“When I was 18, you could go climbing everywhere in the castles, the monuments,” she said.

Now many, like Bunratty Castle, have been given over to the National Trust and have restricted access. A route she used to follow for two hours by car now is done in 45 minutes.

What’s missing with this?

“All the towns, all the special things,” Nyberg said. “Stone arched bridges, they’re losing them. Tract homes are built right outside villages.”

Using only available light, Nyberg captured pastoral scenes, interior settings and castles in a way that shows “how it really is or, if you want to use your imagination, what it was like,” she said.

Photography came into Nyberg’s life when she was just 9, when her dad showed her how to use his big Canon camera. At 17 she got a job in a photo lab, learned to print, and did weddings and family portraiture for three years.

Off to Eire

Nyberg traveled to Ireland while in her teens. In 1981, after her father died, she, her mother and her grandmother moved to County Wexford from California to start life anew.

She was 18 and had suffered the deaths of her dad and grandfather within a two-year span.

The women sold everything and shipped six cats across the ocean. They had a business plan and were ready to roll.

Everything was good, except the timing. Their move collided with a big recession; their American investor lost his business and other things fell through.

They needed money to start over, so her mother chose to return to California. She wanted Nyberg to come with them, too.

Nyberg faced a tough decision. She had two job offers in Ireland, her own horse and a chance to live with friends.

“I was 22 at that point. It was sort of scary,” Nyberg said. “My mom offered to pay for shipping my horse back.”

After much deliberation, Nyberg agreed.

“It was a forever thing, but it wasn’t,” Nyberg said wistfully.

Back home in Woodside, near San Jose, Nyberg resumed working with riders as a coach and teacher in two barns, once of which she helped start.

“Photography always stayed with me. Times were lean and I did photography at horse shows,” she said. “Photography...hasn’t been able to be my focus because life intruded.”

Nyberg and horse Briar Rose, who will be 28 in May, moved to Bainbridge in 1991. From 1993 to 1999, she owned Bainbridge Saddlery, next to Sawatdy.

She sold some of her photography from the shop and arranged guided tours to Ireland, specializing in riding excursions and cross-country jumping at Greystones Equestrian Center, an 18th-century estate.

In between she took her groups on driving tours, where they reveled in the history and culture.

An intrepid traveler wherever she goes, Nyberg cheerfully yet determinedly scales walls and clamors over rocks to get to the view or site she wants, always with camera in tow.

“Going on trips, my broad interest is the ancient history. The myth and folklore are real interests to me. I like the verifiable fact history as well,” she said.

Last year Nyberg moved to Suquamish.

On March 8, her life will come full circle, as she leaves her job at the Meridian to join the staff of Earthbound Expeditions on Bainbridge Island. Once again she’ll lead tours to her adoptive country, where she’ll capture images and share her knowledge of the land. She can’t suppress her joy.

“There really is a big thrill to me in showing (people) Ireland,” she said, adding she loved getting photos and different points of views from previous tour-goers. “I get to learn about other parts of the world as well.”

Nyberg’s photography puts a face to the places she sees.

From pastoral scenes of sheep and hills to a bagpiper in the mist or a jug set out on a window sill, her images capture the many moods of Ireland. They are at once strong and soft, with a palpable aura that is stunning.

Each picture “engages the imagination,” Nyberg said. “Think what happened there, what do you think it could be.”

Nyberg agrees with a friend’s assessment of her love affair with Ireland. “You just melt into the landscape,” she said.

With shining Irish eyes, Nyberg agrees.

“I have every hope of living over there again,” she said.

* * * * *

Through Irish eyes

To honor Beth Nyberg’s photography exhibit “A Land of Light and Eire,” a no-host artist reception will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. March 3 at Metro Market Café in the Meridian, 360 Knechtel Way. Complimentary food will be offered. The photos will be on display March 2 to 31. The café is open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday. Call 842-4114 for information.

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