Postcards from Ireland: An Interview with Eóin Shiel

Whilst we’re often led to believe that time is of the essence and everything must happen right this minute, in reality most things worth dong take a fair while. This interview with Dublin grind-man Eóin Shiel was started back in 2020—a lifetime ago in ‘media terms’—right back when he was adding what he thought were the finishing touches to his third video, Postcards. Nearly three years later, Postcards is finally done, and after much back and forth, so is this interview. Read it now, or read it in three years… what’s the rush?

Interview by Sam. Header photo by Gavin McGlynn

Ireland has always seemed to have a pretty decent riding scene considering it’s fairly sparsely populated. Have you any theories as to why this is?

I’m not really too sure, but I get what you mean. We have 2 million or so less people in this country than there are in London alone (1,572 km square), spread over a much larger area (84,421 km square). Take into account wet weather and relatively boring architecture, too, and it’s even more impressive that we’ve got the scene we do now and have had over the years.

When you do look at us as a nation, the royal we punch above our weight if that makes sense. Art, music, sport, whatever. Ireland does alright in the global sense. Genuinely I just think Irish people are never far from something or someone creative/expressive/active. Also, we’re quite stubborn people, so challenging activities are good. Touching on what you noted about the sparseness of our population, as a “sport” or the like, it’s a gateway to lots of different things that you may not find from other interests and even moreso, you’d find those less in smaller towns. BMX takes all sorts, leads to travel, meeting different people, I genuinely think that’s a massive part of why people get hooked on it.

When did you get into riding? What was the spark that ignited the fire for bicycle-based stuntage?

Primarily, my dad. He was big into motorbikes as a young fella and I think there was always memorabilia around as well as photos of him riding old AJS’s or the like. He was always into us riding bikes, but not in a pushy way, just very encouraging at the slightest sight of interest. I was woeful at sports, and BMX for the longest time, but when I came across it, I loved it and he was supportive of that. 

I guess around the early 2000’s “alternative” sports were pretty big. I saw old video and jam footage on Eurosport at home and then in the first Mat Hoffman game at a mates house, too. As lame as that may be to some, but everyone discovers something somewhere. In regards to a spark, I just thought it all looked amazing, some of the music was cool (Pailhead?!) and it seemed like something I’d actually want to do. I’ve never really been that into team sports and just don’t get the mania that surrounds them. 

Prophetically, it was the footage of Butcher that blew my mind. All the grinds and street stuff just looked more relatable as I didn’t even know if there were parks in Ireland (there were none outdoors, two or three indoors in the country at the time). Aside from that, watching Butcher riding is just brilliant. What he was doing appealed to me and I’d seen ledges and banks and stuff like that around, so it was more visually accessible to me. I then got a copy of Ride US from a newsagent, then an issue of DIG and that was it. I began digesting all the BMX media I could get. 

Who were the main guys in Ireland when you were growing up?

So, locally, guys like Pete Conway, Ben Murphy, Mat Hislop, Mark Reid, Owen “Jele” Ryan, spring to mind instantly, they were the local linchpins. Always around, always riding and probably the people who were looked up to by a lot of the guys around my age (All five of us). A couple of the lads would help us fix bikes or show us spots, and for the most part, they would help keep our feet on the ground and ensure we didn’t develop notions. There were a few others kicking around, but those were the standouts. A couple of them still ride, but nearly all of them have moved away. 

There were a couple of lads who were a bit better known for their bicycle related prowess and would have made sporadically appeared in some videos and DIG (usually shot by our own Pete Conway or Ricky Adam). They were; Donnacha Carrol, “Jesse” James Murphy and Derek Johnson. They were either living abroad or travelling a lot when I got into it, so they weren’t the main players, more like the local myths. You’d get to a spot and the older guys would tell you who’d done what there and you’d try and figure out if they were taking the piss.

Eóin Shiel – bank to wallride snapped by Eóin Flynn.

During a recent snoop through some old mags I saw that a young Eóin Shiel wrote into Dig to state that owning the ‘right parts’ didn’t matter. Do you still stand by this statement? And also, was it a buzz to have your letter published?

I knew it would come back to haunt me some day. It was a buzz, some Dig adhesives and a free pair of Osiris along with a letter in print? Good times. Rewards for being verbose? Brilliant. Young Eóin was naive as anything, but I still stand by it. I was pretty new to BMX and didn’t understand what small, rider owned business stood for or that they weren’t as well financially insulated as bigger brands. 

That letter came around because there were guys my age, with no jobs, riding around in entire Etnies get ups, with custom completes and I was lurching about on a Specialized 415 with one piece cranks and knock off skate shoes, but I had some second hand parts and clothes from the older guys. I’m not trying to go all working class hero here, as we weren’t skint, but we weren’t rolling in it either. Even still, having the “right” stuff just wasn’t an option at that time. I think I earned 15 or 20€ a week from the bike shop I was in (underage wages etc) and that was what I had. I saved up for parts and so on, but it was meagre till I had my own full time job. 

Now, that said, my dad got me a Fly Pantera frame and some parts for my 18th birthday and I was fucking delighted. Bockety wheels from the Specialized and all. Still, that was amazing. I know I’m rambling, I’ve typed it out a few times and I think the main thorny issue for me was that I discovered there was a BMX scene in Dublin and it had the same kind of gatekeeping attitude as any small hierarchical social circle you come across. Not quite the Stonecutters, but in some cases not very welcoming. The same kind of bullshit you take up BMX to get away from. There’s always the dreaded “cool” factor in everything. Such is life.

To bring it back to having the right stuff, some people don’t have that option. They ride what’s available to them. It’s not rocket science. It should also be encouraged. You want to ride and you ride what you can, brilliant. Who gives a flying fuck if you’ve got a Mongoose frame to tide you over and your pedals aren’t a pair. If it works and feels halfway decent, perfect. These days I’m a fucking cliché anyway. I spend my extra money primarily on rider owned brands and fancy beers. Mid thirties, average at best with a T1 Skapegoat and Big Four bars. Don’t listen to me. 

Apart from the work of the Adam Family (not to be confused with the Addams Family), I don’t know much about Irish riding videos. Can you give us a bit of a run-down of videos from over there?

Before we gloss over them, let’s be fair, the Adam brothers are responsible for showing some of our riders/riders in general in the best way possible. They’re massively important to the documentation of and encouragement of our scene. I vividly remember a lot of Ricky’s photographs from when I got my first magazines, be it the music review section or riding in DIG. I know we can hardly call him under-rated or whatever, but much like DIG’s own article, way back, about underground artists and how they influence a movement, I genuinely feel that Ricky’s work influenced a lot of us more than we might realise at first. Also, he’s just a really decent person. I attempted to move to Leeds in 2007 (definitely nothing to do with a break-up) and while the local riders were really welcoming, Ricky took me out on shoots and to gigs and stuff like that. I remember going over to his and getting a sneak peak of “Destroying Everything”, he didn’t have to, it probably didn’t spare him a thought, but it meant a lot. As for Pete… a few medals, a NORA cup or two, a property empire and suddenly a cup of coffee doesn’t do it anymore. Champagne and truffles or nothing, these days. 

I jest, Pete’s put up with my questions and ideas since 2006 and never once been anything other than enthusiastic. Whether it was letting me stay at his for days on end or fielding camera questions, he’s a gem. Unlike Bono, we like the local lad who did well. 

Donnacha Carrol was the main guy in the Republic of Ireland around the turn of the century, he put together some videos that were bootlegged by all the younger guys and watched till they were worn out. His final one was amazing and Taj of all people was at the premiere. I was at home with pneumonia… fucking raging. Legend has it he also made one video that was completely edited, but only produced incompletely. Each rider got a copy with only their part and the friends part on it. So if you wanted to watch the whole thing, it was a bit of a collective effort. But, while it sounds unlikely, I like to believe it as Donnacha is a mysterious man. For the record, he definitely put out three VHS videos that were really good and a lot of daycent web edits.

There was a guy called Gav Hughes who made a few edits in the early 2000’s but he dropped off the face of the earth. But that’s always part of the cycle, some people have a shorter time in the scene but stick in your memory because they were around when you started out. To me it was like he was around forever. It’s a shame all his stuff will probably never be seen again.

On the west coast, Mike Haran has been at it a long time, putting videos out under the name of his crew, The Barstool Crew. His work is more crisp and made in HD, unlike what you’d expect from the likes of myself. He’s put out a couple of full length videos online and a load of edits. He put out a full length around this time last year with a lot of the younger lads first “proper” sections. 

Eoin Shiel – double peg by Michael Haran

I’ve only been to Dublin in Ireland, which definitely had a pretty Euro feel to it. What’s the rest of Ireland like—is there a noticeable difference between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland?

Dublin is a funny one, the city centre is a mix of a few eras. But, the main thoroughfares have a fairly Georgian feel to them, given the whole, you know, British occupation of Ireland and all that (lads… seriously, bad form). Obviously as time has moved on and our own government and local councils have been a bit quick to approve “European building 32b”, the capital has lots of glass, marble, chrome, stainless steel and not so much character. Outside of the city, there’s strata of development, loads of Edwardian stuff in Dublin, then you get into fairly standard deviations of 20th century builds as the sprawl goes on. We thankfully got a few Brutalist buildings or campuses which provided some spots. As for the rest of the country, bigger towns will have small centres that have some colonial era buildings and older industrial or domestic buildings that will either have been commercialised or turned into offices or apartments. You’ll have large housing and industrial estates on the outskirts that are more of a 20th century thing providing some spots. 

The countryside is largely agricultural with loads of small towns and villages. Pubs and churches with villages built around them. It takes some work to find new spots in the backwoods, but it tends to be worth it, Derek and Pete found a full pipe in between the road and arch layers of a bridge once. Apparently it rode awfully, but abseiling into a spot is worth it.  North to south one of the main differences you’ll notice immediately is the way the footpaths, roads and junctions are laid out, different furnishings, materials and markings, kilometers for us, miles up North. Housing styles vary a little bit too, but there are some similarities in the areas that have been around longer (as they would have been funded and planned by branches of the same governing body), parts of Belfast and Dublin look fairly similar, loads of red brick, loads of granite. Aside from that, there’s a fair bit of difference between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Some aesthetic, but mostly, it’s cultural. 

Derek Johnson – fakie wallride – photo by Eóin Flynn

Obviously this is a huge subject that probably can’t really be boiled down to a brief question in an article on a bike riding website… but is there still tension between both areas? As someone who’s probably covered a fair chunk of the island on riding trips and stuff, what’s your perspective on how the situation is today? 

To pull back the curtain here, this is the second answer I’ve given to this. I’d rather answer it than avoid it, but I also have to be completely clear, I’ve never had to live with any of the issues that people have in the North. My mam is from Belfast and as a result of listening to her and spending a lot of time up there with family and friends, I’ve definitely been given a fairly broad picture of how things were for her and her siblings growing up, how things have changed in the years since and from friends who live there, how things are now. I remember armed checkpoints at the border as a kid, watchtowers, armoured vehicles and the like, then they slowly started disappearing. But that’s not going to paint a fair or nuanced picture. 

From a frequent visitor’s perspective, things have come a long, long way. If we related it to riding, like anywhere, you’re best asking locals about what’s good, where’s worth visiting and things to avoid. I’ve only ever encountered issues a handful of times, but it was no different to going into a rough part of Dublin and bumping into locals who didn’t want you riding something in their estate. However, due to some community traditions, there’s times and places you do and don’t visit certain places. Wrong jersey in the wrong stand, if you get me? 

It’s not my place to speak on tension, though,  as it’s something that I don’t have to deal with and to paint it with broad strokes isn’t going to help a real outsider understand it any better. A lot of people went through some really difficult times and there are a couple of sides to that history, so I’m not the person to give it the old “ah sure, it’s grand” treatment. Depending on where you grew up, who you learned your shared history from and a lot of other factors, you’ll likely have a very different view than someone else from another area. Captain Fence Sitter. 

Good answer. Back to riding stuff, In the same way that Phoenix riders took their brakes off, and Leeds riders wore black t-shirts that were too small, are there any specific traits to the Irish scene. Is there an ‘Irish style’ at all? 

We all love a fitted suit and have haircuts that you could set your watch to. If for some reason you are talking fashion… I’d say it’s pretty similar to a lot of scenes I’m guessing? Mid 20’s upwards, stocked up on chequered shirts and jeans. Young guns in their dickies and skate hoodies. Again, broad strokes, but it’s not something I’ve given much time to. Riding wise, it’s a small enough scene, but there are subsections within it, so, you can’t pin it to a national style as it were. 

If I’m going to go that direction, though, you’d  find a lot of predominantly tech style riding with some bigger stuff thrown in from the West Coast and Midlands riders that doesn’t seem to happen as much on the east. 

On the East, we have had more bowls built in the last 15 years, which has been an influence to a fair group of lads. There’s always been a really dedicated trails scene too and that seems to have made an impact on the younger generation. The older guys would mostly have ridden the now defunct indoor parks and the trails that are still going, so I think that’s had a similar influence. A bit of airing, more spot oriented and generally less technical street moves. 

Up North there’s always been a determined park scene with Matt Gillespie spearheading that, but a couple of really good riders like Peter Adam, John Wells, the Sharpe brothers and Luke Godson are the ones that stick out to me. Pete’s Emerald Video needs to be seen for that one. Some younger lads are getting into it, too.

Eóin Flynn – narrow hop-in snapped by Jake Ryan

When did you start filming stuff? What made you pick up the camera?

2005 I think. I bought a handycam with a clip on Raynox fisheye and made a couple edits of mates and put them on CD-ROM. Around 2006 I was then talking to Peter Adam at a jam and suddenly I was saving for a TRV900 and some batteries. 

The deciding factor was the excitement of recording the stuff I was trying to do, along with the other guys and then being able to put it to music. It’s pretty appealing when your world is what you’re doing with your friends on your bikes.

It comes from a really simple enthusiasm and without sounding cheesy, I still get such a buzz from just that. Of course, you end up going down the rabbit hole, like riding, where that initial simplicity is replaced by a bit of an obsession/focus on minutiae and your own preferences and ideas. But, the buzz is still there. I love capturing and the cutting, never gets old really. I hate the text parts though, I’d love to learn proper animation but I just don’t have the patience.

How long have you been making your newest video? 

Spring 2016, since the last one was edited, but not authored. While I was waiting to finish up authoring and packaging, I filmed some stuff with one of the lads with the idea of doing an edit, but I apparently hate my own mental well-being, so it quickly turned from filming one guy, into filming anyone who was out during the first month or two. That turned from a larger edit into filming a full length DVD. I set myself a 2018 deadline. Clearly, that worked out well. 

Jake Ryan – barspin to fakie – photo by Eóin Shiel

You’ve made a few vids now. What’s your usual process for making videos? Is it just a case of harvesting as much stuff as possible and then editing together, or do you edit as you go?

I edit as I go. I think that’s how I’ve always done it. I’m an over-thinker, so It allows me to go back and watch, change, change again until I’m relatively happy. 

Raincheck – I was just excited and wanted to make a video and figured it out as I went. I was really into it, but wasn’t very focused on the details to be completely honest and I regret that somewhat. There’s a bit of a curve of quality within that one.

With {winston} I had much more of an idea of the video I wanted to make and how I wanted it to look and feel if you get me. I feel there’s almost more of a narrative to it, it ties together well and I was really happy with the soundtrack. As well as being more critical of who and what went into the video, I was making that video for me. 

This time around, I feel like it’s a further take on how I put the second video together, but without as much consideration for length. I’ve been told that apparently 20 to 30 minutes is ideal… So, this time you’re getting three times as much goodness. I’ve found an aesthetic (arguably) that I like and I want to make a video that way. I don’t feel that fixated on what other people do or expect anymore. There’s nothing worse than copy and paste in videos. 

Florian Stecker – holy wallride – photo by Eóin Shiel

What other videos are you into? Do you watch much riding stuff?

It’s pretty much a joke with anyone who knows me, but the Northern UK stuff made a massive impact on me in the early 2000s. Voices I’d say was the eye opener. Since then, that has continued with the TWW, the Strangways series, Fluke Life etc. I’ve always enjoyed keeping up with friends’ work from Canada, DWOK/Badventures and their ilk. Obviously the Skapegoat videos have been a massive influence and I enjoy the East Coast and Salt Lake stuff, too. I’ve always tried to keep my own filming and editing/music selections as honest to what goes on here, too. There’s no point in emulating something or representing your scene a certain way if it’s not authentic. 

I barely watch anything that isn’t a DVD anymore. I’ll occasionally check out some new stuff, it’s mind bending what some of the lads are doing, but it rarely strikes a chord that I feel buzzed on. If it looks good or like the rider is actually enjoying themselves or like there’s a good time being had, that pulls me in more. I keep my eye on people making videos and generally pick them up. I just prefer a beer and a DVD of an evening every so often. Being completely blunt, a lot of it doesn’t really interest me anymore. I’m not a technical person. These days I’m happiest doing a couple of tables In Bushy park, then maybe some grinds or wallrides somewhere and then chatting absolute bollocks while I film the lads. Time is in short supply these days, so I’d rather not waste it on needless consumption or negative environments.

We started this interview over two years ago. What has happened since then with the video? Was it just a case of wanting to make it the best video you could whilst waiting for a time to premier it?

The whole COVID thing ground everything to a halt and it was frustrating at first. I’d organised a premiere, ironically in the taproom of the brewery I ended up working for a few years later. After a while, I saw it as a lucky break. The video then was nowhere near what it is now. I figured I’d press on and try and make it as realised as I could. The premier was a little rushed, Florian was back during the summer and Jake was threatening to premiere a video he’s been working on for his GUTTER project, so I felt like I should probably stick a fork in it. (I’ve known Jake since he was about 11 in 2007 and I’ve travelled with, ridden with and gotten far too drunk with him over the last few years. He’s probably responsible for this coming to fruition more than anyone else.)

In the lead-up to the premiere, some things fell into place with riders being around a bit more, chance sessions with a few lads that lead to rounding out sections and Peter Adam fleshing out his part by about another minute, which I wasn’t convinced would actually happen. I just wanted to make sure the efforts of the lads in the video were given the right amount of respect. The Left thing was always about the stuff going on here, I always felt lucky to get to document it and I don’t take it for granted.

The premiere was nearly a disaster, my hard drive corrupted and my laptop wouldn’t work with the projector, thankfully Jake had insisted on copying an export onto his laptop, which did work with the projector… he just turned up 90 minutes later than planned… It nearly broke me.  Since then, there’s been no extra clips, but I’ve made a few major tweaks and asked one of the young lads to take care of titles and graphics and he killed it. Thanks Rob. Even since the premiere I had so many issues getting it all across the line, but, it’s done and that’s really nice.

Last question… what are you going to do now that Postcards is finally done?

I want to focus on shooting photos, riding more and if people still want to work on parts, I’ll happily film. “I’ll never do another video”… We all know how that works out.

But like I said, I want to ride my own bike a bit more, I definitely fall into the film everyone all day and kill myself for the last half hour demographic of rider/filmers. I get really wrapped up in projects, and I’d like to try and step back from that. As of last year I finished a joinery course, as of this year, I’ve started working to become a brewer… essentially, I can’t not have a project. So, I think I need to figure that out. More than that, I’m pretty fond of my good lady and the young fella, I’m looking forward to more days off in their company.

Postcards is available now.

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