Saturday, December 03, 2016
Amsterdam, NY ,


Erik Schnackenberg explains one of his photographs to the crowd Saturday at the Amsterdam Free Library.


Photojournalist shares tales of Northern Ireland unrest

Sunday, March 17, 2013 - Updated: 4:31 PM


Recorder News Staff

During the late 1970s, Northern Ireland was in unrest.

A conflict, commonly known as "The Troubles," plagued the country with conflict between the Protestant and Catholic communities in the country for a myriad of reasons.

Glen resident Erik Schnackenberg saw this firsthand and he had the opportunity to share this with members of the Amsterdam community at a special program at the Amsterdam Free Library.

During the 1970s, Schnackenberg was a photojournalist in New York City and recognized that a borough of Queens had a strong Irish-American population.

He began hearing more about the unrest overseas.

"At that point in my life, if people were shooting at each other, that's where I wanted to be," Schnackenberg recalled, adding that for years he identified himself as "an adrenaline junky."

He went to Northern Ireland four separate times throughout that decade, mainly on assignment.

But, as Schnackenberg said, he didn't go "flat footed."

"I had contacts first. I made a lot of good contacts in Queens with people who knew (people there). You talk to this person. He'll talk to that person," he said. "Knowing nothing, with no contacts, I'd be a tourist, with no place to go, no nothing.

"The whole point was people were shooting, and I wanted to know why."

Schnackenberg got there knowing nothing but what a "normal American" would know, of the "poetic" and "cute" Irish that were "superficially" portrayed in American movies.

"Until I got there, I didn't realize how complex it was, how long-standing it was ... where people still talk about a battle in the 1600s as if it were last Wednesday. That stunned me," he said.

While in Northern Ireland, Schnackenberg met the Irish Republican Army in various fashions, and throughout his trips he learned that there were different factions of the IRA.

The Official IRA were socialists and Marxists, he said, which amazed him.

"The people doing the shooting were an offshoot of the IRA," he explained. "The IRA wanted to use social media, the way they did in this country during the Civil Rights. They were into the Civil Rights Movement. They were getting shot at and killed in their beds and a faction felt, well we're not going to take this.

"They became the Provisional IRA."

He added that the conflict wasn't just religiously-based, it was also political.

Schnackenberg's knowledge of "The Troubles" is endless.

On Saturday at the Amsterdam Free Library he shared his stories, his knowledge, and his photographs with about a dozen or so residents.

Each photo was black and white.

Schnackenberg said he decided to do this because it really portrayed the state of the country at that time.

His photographs mark the moments during his four trips there.

He said his last trip was his last because it appeared he had overstayed his welcome, and an intelligence officer had given him a threat that they were tired of him.

Tim Lane, a Glen resident who has met Schnackenberg a handful of times, said he wanted to hear about Schnackenberg's stories.

"It was very educational particularly about the 70s and 80s," Lane said. "I would like to know more about what precipitated that hundreds of years ago."

The presentation, he said, gave him a new reason to do some personal research on world politics and his Irish heritage.

This weekend being St. Patrick's Day weekend, is a way to bring the holiday back to its roots, he said.

"I think our world has turned so plastic that it's important that people should take a more serious look at all of their heritage," he said. "People's heritage is important. ... It's nice that we homogenize in this country, but people still have an identity and it's nice to find that."

John Naple, who also attended the talk, said its good to think about such pieces of the past.

"I hope that things are much better now," he said. "I just think history is neat and you can learn a lot from it."

Naple said though he isn't Irish, the talk gave him that opportunity to learn about a country that he has visited.

"I think it's terrible (to hear about) the Catholics and Protestants fighting so I certainly hope that's all over."

Schnackenberg said he decided to contact the library about coming to talk about his travels and share his photographs because he was struck by the library's emphasis on history, particularly when he saw apresentation was put on by the Ukrainian community in Amsterdam about the Holodomor.

"When that group gave a talk, that struck a note and I contacted them (the library)," he said. "We still have Irish in Amsterdam, so why not.

"The whole thing is like an onion. You peel one layer and you discover something else that's deeper than just Catholic against Protestant. There's more political, economic, social, the whole thing."


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