Ireland was born March 12, 1914 in Hempstead, N.Y. to Edward V. Ireland and Meta Steininger. His mother died when we was very young, but he always spoke kindly of the substitute mothers provided for him and proudly of his artist father. His father worked for MGM Studios and painted posters for many famous movies, such as "Gone With the Wind."
After completing two-and-a-half years of college and working as a poultry farmer, Ireland joined the U.S. Army at age 26 in 1940. He was in the Cavalry back when the Cavalry still had real horses and mules. The Army sent him to saddle and harness maker's school and he served as a Tech 5 in the veterinary detachment. He worked with the animals, feeding and caring for them, and as a muleskinner, the driver of a mule team pulling a wagon. After four years the detachment was deactivated and Ireland was discharged, receiving the American Defense Service Ribbon, the American Theater Ribbon, the World War II Victory Ribbon, the Good Conduct Medal and Expert Rifleman qualification.
He moved to Alaska in the spring of 1951 and "enjoyed the openness and freedom of Alaska during Territorial times," he once wrote. He lived in the Anchorage area for a while and then moved to a wilderness area in the Talkeetna Mountains 50 air miles from a road, where he lived in a cabin he built himself for almost 22 years. He wrote that "During that time the local wildlife watched, and when they incurred no harm from the human intrusion, they became accustomed to it and the human presence was accepted. The wilderness environment was respected, never wasted, and it seemed like the human was rewarded in always having enough." He wrote, illustrated and had published a book about his wilderness life. At 75 he returned to civilization "because the survival work was becoming onerous," he wrote, "and I didn't seem to be learning much any more. I had left Civilization because of not liking it, did not expect to like it upon return, and that expectation was fulfilled. I am a 'misfit': too decrepit to live as I'd like, and discontented any other way." He lived in Homer for a while, in Seldovia for two years, then Haines, and returned to Homer after becoming ill.
Ireland was one of the last skilled leather workers who used traditional hand-stitching methods. The opportunities to pass on this dying skill to future generations was an important part of his later years. His friends wrote, "Those who knew and loved John are well aware of how much good he has done in the last years given him in Homer. After a valiant battle against cancer, John succumbed quietly.
"In later life John received a profound insight which he expressed thus: 'Wisdom is the ability to see truth.' Within this context, John was certainly a wise man, for he always strove to see and express truth. His many friends will miss him and remember him with love."
Ireland is survived by his cousins, Jane Fleisher of Sequim, Wash., Jean Paisley of Garden City, N.Y. and Jay Baumann of New York. His half-brother Michael preceded him in death by three weeks.