I was saddened to hear of the death of conservationist Éamon de Buitléar earlier this week. As Ireland’s best known wildlife filmmaker Éamon de Buitléar was a pioneer. He was the first man to bring the Irish countryside into our living rooms and to instill an appreciation of the natural environment in so many people. My earliest memory of his work was the TV programme Amuigh Faoin Speir (Out Under the Sky) which he co-produced with Dutch artist Gerrit Van Gelderen. As a young child I was so transfixed by Gerrit’s wildlife drawing and Éamon’s easy manner that I hardly noticed that the programme was bi-lingual. Having had our fill of Irish in school any Gaeilge would normally have us running for the hills. De Butleir’s down-to-earth presenting endeared him to the nation. We ambled through bogs, over mountains and, my favourite, across seashores guided by his unassuming commentary. His knowledge benignly shared with us so that we too could acknowledge the beauty in our surroundings and the need for its preservation.
Amuigh Faoin Speir went out on RTE every Sunday evening for about ten years, its remarkable success acclaimed with a Jacobs Award in 1967. In the mid 70s the duo went their separate ways. Both remained heavily involved in the world of wildlife filmmaking with Gerrit presenting a follow-up programme To The Waters and the Wild. This was a similar format to Amuigh Faoin Speir. Now Gerrit was both commentating, in his softly spoken Dutch accent, and working on the show’s visuals. He continued to employ his signature “live” drawing – hugely fascinating to me as a seven year old aspiring illustrator! In his 1985 biography Gerrit writes that the “live” drawing was inspired by a film he had seen in which Picasso created a similar effect. He goes on to explain how this technique worked. A large glass panel was installed in a door frame. One side was covered with a sheet of news print and backlit. Gerrit then stood behind and, using a fat felt-tip marker, drew his observations from nature. The whole process was filmed from the front. Gerrit quickly became expert at mirroring text so his audience could read it.
Sadly, Gerrit passed away in 1994. Both men have contributed so much, not only to willdlife filming but also to the attitude of the Irish public towards our environment. By entertaining countless Irish families over the years our eyes have been opened to the significance and beauty of our flora and fauna. Their work has truly helped spawn a more environmentally conscious society. For that, Éamon de Buitléar and Gerrit Van Gelderen, we will always be grateful.