Posts Tagged With: Caherush

Backyard archaeology. Right under our feet. Caherush, Co Clare.

I have spent a lot of my time traipsing around the country exploring archaeological treasures. Ring forts, portal tombs, standing stones, castles, sile-na-gigs, you name it.   I have photographed them and blogged about them. In all that time though I completely forgot to document the archaeology of my own back yard. And I mean literally my own backyard.

In January 2014 Clare, along with much of the west coast of Ireland, was struck with a number of ferocious storm that destroyed beaches and did massive damage to seaside communities. This happened four months before I arrived but the effects can still be seen today.   Hardest hit were places like Lahinch, White Strand, Spanish Point, Quilty, Seafield Pier, Doonbeg, Kilkeee, Kilbaha and Carrigaholt.

In fact the house at Caherush, that was to become mine, was hit hard and inundated, with the then occupants having to be evacuated.

The massive high tides and waves, while doing such obvious damage also uncovered some really interesting things that were previously unknown. For example near Spiddal a ‘petrified’ forest of ancient bog oak was laid bare and, closer to home, a peat layer now covered again was exposed in the bay at Caherush.

This blog is about what was found in the backyard of my cottage after the gravel was stripped away by the waves.  Evidence of long since gone farm buildings was uncovered. A number of different types of paving in close proximity were revealed and these appear to represent the floors of old farm buildings. The site covers 10m x 4m.

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Paving of old farm buildings in the backyard of the cottage at Caherush.

There are cobblestones, setts and flagging, each belonging to a building with a different function.  The original buildings would have been aligned north south. At the southern end an area of cobblestone paving was revealed.

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Cobblestone floor of an old stable.

Cobblestones are one of the earliest forms of paving, the term first being used for roadways in the 15th century in England. The use of cobbles though actually started with the Romans around 250AD. True cobblestones, are small, natural stones with edges smoothed by water, either by the ocean or rivers.  These undressed stones, or cobbles, are often of a flattened egg-shape and were used in their natural state without being worked in any way.  The stones are carefully selected and laid in sand pointy end down and were packed tightly together to provide a relatively smooth and durable surface. This construction has excellent drainage and so they were much longer lasting than the alternative of the time which was dirt. They would also have been used frequently in stables which it is believed was the case here.  A lot of thought went into selecting stones of similar size and shape and in aligning them. It is amazing that it has survived.

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Detail view of the cobblestone paving

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Typical cobblestones selected to be of similar shape and dimensions

Cobblestones went out of favour in the early 1700s and were replaced with setts which are worked into rectangular shapes but still laid the same way. These are actually what people would be most likely to refer to as cobblestone paving now.

So, there is no way of knowing how old this floor is as the tradition of using cobbles may have continued on farms much longer than their use in roadways, especially near the sea. But it could conceivably be pre 18th century,

Next to the cobbles is an area of large irregular slate flagging probably much more recent and representing an access way between the stable and the building to the north. Adjacent to this slate is a beautifully preserved shallow drainage trough made from sandstone setts aligned east west in the direction of drainage. Immediately north of this is a level area of setts in the same rock type and apparently of the same vintage, aligned north south. This area is believed to have housed cattle who would have stood on the level area facing north, which would have enabled the trough to catch their effluent and drain it away. Clever really.

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Cattle shed floor looking from the west.  The drainage trough is in the centre and the area where the cattle stood on the left

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View of cattle shed site from the east.

And then north of this is an area of large flags of Liscannor stone. Mikey Talty who was born in the cottage 80-odd years ago remembers this as a piggery, though he had no recollection of other structures where the cobbles and setts are. The north wall of the piggery had a doorway and this can be seen now filled in in the same style as the surrounding stone wall beneath a lovely stone lintel.

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Piggery floor.  Infilled doorway can be seen.

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Close up of infilled doorway

So there was continued usage of this site to house animals with evidence suggesting the possibility that it may go back over three hundred years.

I think that’s cool. And in my back yard too.

Disclaimer: These conclusions are my own and based on my own observations as well as the recollections of the Talty family. I am not an archaeologist but if anyone out there has specific knowledge of the use of cobbles in farm buildings and their age I would love to hear from you.

Categories: My Journey, Real Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Big Freeze. March 2018. My Story.

What an extraordinary event.

Gotta say I’m not used to snow.  Not used to the feeling of flakes on your face or the biting wind or the stunning beauty when the sun comes out.  Or the slushy wetness that soaks through your boots and trousers and gets tramped through the house.  Or digging the snow from your front door. Or being stuck in your house. Or the vicissitudes of stupidly taking a remote boreen just as a snow shower starts.  I’ll come back to that last one later.

The snow came from that annoyingly named freak weather condition known as ‘The Beast from the East’ which blasted frigid air across continental Europe and over Ireland. It arrived in West Clare on a Wednesday, the last day of February 2018. But it turned out that that was just an entree to a full three course meal which came Thursday and Friday and continued to Sunday.

But first this ‘Beast’. Where did it come from? And why was it so devastating? As a geologist I make a pretty poor meteorologist but those that do know about these things said the whole thing was triggered by a periodic event called “sudden stratospheric warming”. This involved a huge rise in air temperature of around 50ºC in an area about 30 km above the Arctic (the stratosphere).  The origin of this actually goes back to severe cyclones in January in the Pacific disturbing global weather patterns. A true ripple effect. Anyway, this warming weakened the jet stream and forced cold air from western Russia towards Ireland.  Temperatures on the ground in the Arctic were 20ºC above normal, while Europe experienced lows of -15ºC in many places.  And then to complicate it there was Storm Emma which headed north from Portugal.  When it hit the cold air, blizzards, gales and snow were the result.

Where I could, I tried to record the event with my camera and words. Here is a personal account of how it all unfolded around my little part of West Clare.

Wednesday 28th February 2018

We knew it was coming. Temperatures had been way below normal for days and the web was alive with warnings.  Yet I had no idea exactly what was in store. Just two weeks earlier I was chasing all over Ireland to Louth and Armagh and Kerry and Wicklow and Connemara because of snowfalls there. Now it was here in my front yard.  It was snowing when I awoke and it continued to snow.  I was excited enough to venture out around 9am.  The snow wasn’t heavy; just a few centimetres so I figured there would be no real problems except that is that the weather accompanying this snow was truly living up to the appellation that is the ‘Wild Atlantic Way’.  I headed to Spanish Point Beach, braving snow showers and bitter wind.  I’ve seen this beach battered with giant waves, covered in froth and foam and perfectly still with nary a ripple. Never though with white snow meeting the yellow sand. It was not comfortable as mini blizzards would sweep in between the sunshine. Nevertheless I was totally entranced and happy.  The showers faded during the day and though the temperature hardly went above zero, the snow melted by the late afternoon and the streets of Miltown Malbay returned to relative normality. This turned out to be a temporary reprieve.

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Snowstorm on Spanish Point Beach. Wednesday 28 February 2018

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Spanish Point Beach, Wednesday 28 February 2018

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Bell Bridge House Hotel.  Wednesday 28 February 2018

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Mouth of the Anagh River.  Looking across to Caherush.  Wednesday 28 February 2018

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Bridge over the Anagh River.  Wednesday 28 February 2018

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Spanish Point Beach. The sun shone briefly.  Wednesday 28 February 2018

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Spanish Point Beach.  Looking from the Armada Hotel.  Wednesday 28 February 2018

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The Clogher Road.  Looking towards my cottage.  Wednesday 28 February 2018

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Caherush.  Low tide. Wednesday 28 February 2018

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Mutton Island.  Wednesday 28 February 2018

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Caherush looking towards Quilty.  Wednesday 28 February 2018

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Miltown Malbay  Wednesday 28 February 2018

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Miltown Malbay.  Wednesday 28 February 2018

Thursday 1st March 2018

I woke up reluctantly poking my head above the sheets with the temperature hovering at -4ºC.  A quick look out the window showed a complete white-out. It was a stunning sight. I love how you don’t know it’s happened during the night. So quiet unlike a rain storm pelting on the slate roof and rattling the windows.

The rocks and cliffs of the bay at Caherush were covered with a thick white carpet and it was still snowing with some vigour.  Around 9am it brightened and it stopped snowing.  I rugged up and took a walk up the Clogher Road.  I was joined by the neighbour’s dog, Valdo.  Briefly. This was much too exciting;  he had better things to do and left me to my meandering. The sun broke through the clouds and its rays made the hills gleam.  My neighbour Michael Talty, stopped his car for a chat. He was heading to Kilrush for some tractor parts. A farmer doesn’t stop for a bit of snow.  So of course I didn’t refuse the invitation to join him. I think he quickly regretted it as I had him stop at Quilty where the snow, the water and the sand united to create a magic world. Mutton Island sat like an iceberg off the coast. I had to photograph them.

As we left Quilty and headed south, there was only a light dusting over the fields. This part of West Clare had escaped the heavy falls that we had experienced. Business done, followed by an hearty breakfast in Kilrush we headed back north to Caherush.

We were passing O’Looney’s lovely pub just a few kilometres from Quilty at Molosky. Stop! I exclaimed as I caught a sight, out of the corner of my eye, of the falls at the Annageerah River. They were frozen! Michael waited patiently as I clambered over a gate and headed across a slushy snowy field to photograph the incredible sight of ice sheets draping the rocks and icicles clinging to wherever they could; where normally water flows. So lucky to see it.

Back home to the Clogher Road which by now was starting to thaw.  It was 2 pm and still -1ºC. The temperature never got to zero during the whole day

Encouraged by the condition of the roads on our journey, I cleared the snow from the car and headed north through Spanish Point along the coast towards Lahinch. The air was clean and crisp and the sun was making a good fist of doing its daily job but the thick cloud resisted. Nevertheless the bucolic landscape had become a patchwork of white fields and the coastline was now the White Cliffs of Clare. The views coming into Lahinch were unfamiliar but truly jaw-droppng. Though thick here across Liscannor Bay the fields were green. The snowfalls were obviously quite patchy.

I continued to Ennistymon. I wanted to see the Falls here.  Would they be frozen?  Well no they weren’t and they were quite subdued, as we hadn’t had a lot of rain for a week or so but they were framed with snow on every exposed rock with icicles hanging from branches and protected crags. The Falls Hotel looked like an alpine resort

A few flurries of snow were appearing now. I love that word ‘flurries’. Not one you get to use very often. Time to head home. Why didn’t I just stick to the main road? It had been treated with salt and grit and was perfectly clear. I was lulled I think into a false sense of safety. So with the help of Google, I took a back route to Miltown Malbay, it wasn’t long before I got into serious trouble. It was only a small hill. A narrow single lane boreen. With a hedge on the left and a ditch on the right. I knew I had to use a high gear and travel at a decent clip but I lost traction very quickly and found myself half way up the hill and going nowhere. Under the snow was a layer of ice. With wheels spinning I couldn’t go forward. With no brakes, reversing was pretty scary. I honestly don’t know how I got out of that. Reversing back down the hill and using the gears to slow down, the wheels went wherever they wanted.  One minute I slid into the hedge. Straightening up then I would head towards the ditch. It was probably only 200m of reversing first down the hill then back up another but it took forever until I came to a farm gate. The drama still wasn’t over as it took many goes slipping and sliding all over before I edged the nose of the car into that refuge and was able to turn around and drive home. To my warm fire and a few relieving tunes and a glass of the small.

That was some day but the wires (as we used to call it before the wireless world took over) were full of dire warnings of another storm. Emma was arriving and would collide with the Beast and batter us with wind and massive snowfalls. Code Red all over the country.  Bread and milk had disappeared from the shops. This really was serious.

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Panoramic view of Caherush bay.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Caherush Bay at low tide in the snow.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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My cottage on the shore. Thursday 1 March 2018

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More snow.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Caherush Bay Thursday 1 March 2018

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Mutton Island.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Sugar Island and Quilty. Thursday 1 March 2018

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The sun breaks through. Thursday 1 March 2018

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Joined on my walk by Valdo.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Joy.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Looking down the Clogher Road.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Driving into Quilty.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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The Quilty Shore I.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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The Quilty Shore II.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Quilty Shore III.  With Mutton Island in the distance.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Breakfast at Kilrush.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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The snow falls again at Annagreenagh Falls, near Quilty.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Annageeragh Falls.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Annageerah Falls.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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View towards Cliffs of Moher from Spanish Point.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Near Spanish Point.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Near Lahinch.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Lahinch. Thursday 1 March 2018

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Moy House.  Lahinch, Thursday 1 March 2018

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Cliffs south of Lahinch.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Fenceline and cliffs.  Lahinch. Thursday 1 March 2018

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Lahinch. Thursday 1 March 2018

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The Falls at Ennistymon. Thursday 1 March 2018

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Falls at Ennistymon.Thursday 1 March 2018

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Looking towards the Falls Hotel on the Inagh River at Ennstymon.Thursday 1 March 2018

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Icicles I .  Ennistymon.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Icicles II.  Ennistymon.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Icicles III.  Ennistymon.Thursday 1 March 2018

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Icicles IV.  Ennistymon.Thursday 1 March 2018

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Icicles V.  Ready to drop.Thursday 1 March 2018

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Frozen grass on the menu today. Lahinch. Thursday 1 March 2018

Friday.  2nd March 2018

It would reek havoc they said.  And they were right about that! Friday morning saw a thick cover of snow over everything with drifts up to a metre. We, in Clare though,  seemed to get off rather lightly. The east and the south of the country were lashed with ferocious snowstorms. Back here in Clare, snow piled up against my door, just like in those movies set in countries where they have real winters.  It was obvious I was going nowhere today, so I settled in with a warm fire to wait it out. Even if I wanted drive anywhere the Clogher Road was not going to cooperate. It continued to snow all day. I ventured out in the late afternoon as the snow eased. The tide had come in and the ocean was tranquil with the bay in front of my house looking surreal with its brilliant white ‘beach’ all the way down to the high tide mark. The car remained in a drift and I went nowhere. No thoughts of a session and in any case most pubs were shut. Marooned. Like millions of others across the Once Green Isle.  Who knows how much fell? I heard a figure of 40cm but I would say much more in some places.  At least it had stopped.

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My cottage.  Marooned.  Friday 2 March 2018

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Going nowhere.  Friday 2 March 2018

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The Clogher Road.  Friday 2 March 2018

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Caherush Bay at high tide.  A surreal calmness.  Friday 2 March 2018

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My front patio.  Friday 2 March 2018

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The ‘beach’ at Caherush.  At my front door.  Low Tide.Friday 2 March 2018

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Caherush. Friday 2 March 2018

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The ‘beach’ at Caherush.  At my front door.  High Tide. Friday 2 March 2018

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The Clogher Road.  Friday 2 March 2018

Saturday. 3rd March 2018

More snow overnight but by the morning all was quiet. Temperatures were up now with a maximum of 2ºC for the day. A veritable heat wave. I was still going nowhere. The predicted rain didn’t arrive but by the afternoon I decided the snow on the roads had started to melt sufficiently to venture out again. Roads had a lot of snow in massive drifts, sometimes two metres high, and in many places were down to one lane. Those roads that were treated were passable but venture off the main roads at your peril. I’d learnt my lesson.  Most residents who live up narrow lanes were were still stuck.  My route again took me to Lahinch and Ennistymon.  The snow was still thick and extensive but the melt had started.  Lahinch golf course was more whites than greens and it was easy to become blaze about the stunning beauty all around.  Snow was still everywhere in Ennistymon, Lahinch and Miltown but the ploughs had been through and it was now more of a hazard to pedestrians.  Businesses were starting to reopen.  Life goes on.

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The Clogher Road is now passable. Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Welcome to Quilty Holiday Cottages.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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The Bell Bridge Hotel and beyond.  Spanish Point.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Caherush.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Behind the Strand.  Clogher Road.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Panoramic view of Surf City Lahinch.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Ennistymon. Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Blake’s Corner. Ennistymon.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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The Inagh River and Ennistymon.   Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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The old Railway Bridge over the Inagh River,  Ennistymon.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Lahinch. Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Snow dunes, Lahinch.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Lahinch Castle.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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The Golf Course at Lahinch..  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Lahinch  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Another view of the Castle.  Lahinch.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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The estuary at Lahinch. Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Snowy hills above Lahinch Golf Course.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Miltown Malbay.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

Sunday.  4th March 2018

No snow last night and finally the real thaw started. It still only got to 2ºC maximum all day but the lure of a music session at lunch time in Ennis was too much for me to resist. The Clogher Road was mostly clear now. Mikey Talty was, like many, shoveling snow off the road in front of his house. I stopped for a chat.  Mikey had been living here for over 80 years. “Have you ever seen anything like this before?” I asked. “Aah yes” he said. “When I lived in the States”. 

Grinning I went on my way. Ireland does get heavy snow every few years. But not so often in these low lying coastal areas such as West Clare. The road to Ennis goes over Slieve Callan and the snow was thick in the hills and again there were drifts, metres high, meaning it was a slow trip. The music at Cruises Pub in Ennis was fantastic, with a huge crowd, desperate for a circuit breaker from the travails of the last few days. I returned about 5pm and it was still felt more like a journey through the alps rather than rural Ireland. I wasn’t ready to go home and called in at Hillery’s, for the regular Sunday evening session.  Life goes on.

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Mikey Talty, resident on the Clogher Road for 82 years clears away snow.  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

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Snow drifts on the road to Inagh.  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

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Heavy cover of snow remains.  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

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Even the windmills stopped turning.  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

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Lonely cottage at the food to Slieve Callan.  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

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Switzerland? or Ireland?  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

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The boreens were starting to clear.  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

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Looking forward, looking back.  Mt Callan.  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

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Enjoying the craic at Cruises Pub in Ennis.  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

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The snow melts in the fields on the Clogher Road.  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

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Caherush.  The rocky bay is returning to normal  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

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Almost gone.  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

Monday, 5th March 2018.  

It wasn’t quite over yet. Still the predicted rain never arrived and most of the snow on the lower ground had retreated but I knew it was still lying in the uplands.  Maybe the Burren would be worth a visit.  I wanted to see it.   Temperature was still around 2ºC in the morning as I set out but by the end of the day it had risen to 5ºC.  So I drove to Poulnabroun and then to Ballyvaughan and back through Carran.   It took all day.  It was cloudy and misty so not ideal but walking in the stillness of a snowy Burren was something truly special.  So quiet with hardly a soul on the road and those that were seemed to be heading somewhere else. A privilege to see it like this. I encountered a few busloads of tourists and they like me were the lucky ones.   The dolmen at Poulnabourn was looking resplendent and I viewed the wonderful stone walls literally in a different light as they stood out framed by the whiteness of the snow and the sky.  See if you agree with me.  The hills actually had a lot more snow than was apparent from a distance with the clints and grykes retaining the snow where it had melted elsewhere.  The Turlough at Carran, a wondrous geological feature  had plenty of water, though much of it appeared to be covered with ice. I imagine a couple of day earlier you might have been able to walk across it. By the way turlough, along with drumlin and esker are the only three words of Irish origin that I know that are  used worldwide as geological terms.  Thick snow was still on some of the Lanes but the snow ploughs were out and about so I imagined most would be passable.

The event that had dominated Irish lives, closed schools, airports highways and even pubs, isolated people for days and created timeless memories was over.

And that seems a good place to end this story.

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Plenty of snow on the way to the Burren.  Monday, 5th March 2018.  

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Poulnabroun Dolmen.  Monday, 5th March 2018.

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Poulnabroun Dolmen.  Monday, 5th March 2018.

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Near Poulnabroun Dolmen.  Monday, 5th March 2018.

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Burren scene.     Monday, 5th March 2018.

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Burren.  Monday, 5th March 2018.

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Burren.  Monday, 5th March 2018.

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Burren.  Monday, 5th March 2018.

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The tourists still come.  Monday, 5th March 2018.

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Burren. Monday, 5th March 2018.

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On the way to Carron. Monday, 5th March 2018.

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Still heavy snowdrifts.  Monday, 5th March 2018.

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Carran Turlough.Monday, 5th March 2018.

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The Turlough. Much of it is still frozen.  Monday, 5th March 2018.

Here are some pictures of those wonderful stone walls:

Tuesday 6th March 2018

I thought I had finished this blog but it was much brighter this morning and by the afternoon the sun was returning.  The temperature soared up to 7ºC.  Out my kitchen window the paddocks were pretty much free of snow.  Not Mt Callan.  It looked glorious (despite those windmills) with patches of sun glistening off it.  I had to go up and take a closer look.  There was plenty of snow so, sorry, a few more pictures.

Almost a week.  A week I won’t forget.

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Mt Callan.  The view from my kitchen window. Tuesday 6th March 2018

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Ruined cottage.  Road to Mt Callan.  Tuesday 6th March 2018

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Behind Miltown Malbay.  Tuesday 6th March 2018

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Mt Callan. Tuesday 6th March 2018

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The Summit.  As close as I could get.  Tuesday 6th March 2018

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Abandoned barn.  Mt Callan. Tuesday 6th March 2018

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The roof of the world.  Tuesday 6th March 2018

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Situation normal.  The gulls have returned to Caherush.

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A bird’s eye view.  Tuesday 6th March 2018

Categories: Real Ireland, Wild Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

A Musical Week in Clare, Ireland

I have lived for the past 2½ years on the coast near Spanish Point in County Clare. There has been a constant stream of visitors during this time. Some were family, some good friends but some were strangers. Some stayed for a night, some for more than a week. All leave as life long friends.  I have hosted 76 guests, many more than once.

They are all people I meet through music, or the music session, or during my travels in Ireland. They have come from Ireland, Australia, France, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, United States, UK, Canada, Japan, Brazil, Denmark and Czech Republic and each has a story. Every single one of them has enriched my time here and it has been a joy to have met, enjoyed their company and shared a shared passion for things Irish.

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French Windows

 

Just last week I hosted three wonderful friends, Julie, Romain and Anna from Carcassone in the south of France. Of course we played tunes, that’s what they came for, but we cooked, imbibed, sampled cheese (sorry, fromage!), and exchanged stories.

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The sun came out on the last day.  Lunch on the porch.

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Cheese, wine and bread from Carcassone.  View from Caherush. 

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It didn’t matter that it rained. I am grateful that we were able to experience an ideal slice of Clare music and musicians in the week they were here. This is what is so special about this place. So many memorable moments, but come next week and it will be the same, but completely different.

So many highlights. Sunday. A pub session in Miltown Malbay at Hillery’s with Conor Keane and Jackie Daly firing on all cylinders, Julie and Romain brought some elegance to the proceedings as they danced a mazurka, French style. Monday.  Fitz’s Bar in Doolin, Tuesday. The cosy Cooley’s House in Ennistymon. On Wednesday a trip to Ennis – a chilled out session at Brogans did little to prepare my guests for the madness of Moroney’s in Ennis where the victorious young Clare hurling team were in full voice and there was some fiery sean nos style dancing from Canada, US and Ireland. A visit to the Burren Thursday and sharing some tunes stories, songs and poems in the kitchen of the irrepressible Oliver O’Connell . And they joined in on my regular Thursday house session with some local West Clare musician friends. The craic went until 4am.  Situation normal.  Oh and what a way to finish! A phalanx of pipers led by Blackie at the Friday Piping Heaven Piping Hell session in Ennis.

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Sunday.  Jackie Daly, Conor Keane and Dave Harper at Hillery’s Bar in Miltown Malbay.

 

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Sunday. A French mazurka in an Irish pub.

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Monday.  Tunes in Fitz’s Doolin.  Photo Anna. 

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Monday.  Fitz’s

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Tuesday.  Cooley’s House.  Ennistymon.  Photo.  Anna.

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Wednesday.  Eoin O’Neill, Brid O’Gorman, Jon O’Connell.  Brogan’s Ennis

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Wednesday.  Anne Marie McCormack, Marcus Moloney and a member of the young Clare hurling team.  Moroney’s Ennis.

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Thursday.  Joining Oliver O’Connell in his kitchen.  Photo Anna.

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Thursday.  House session at Caherush.  With John Joe Tuttle, Ciaran McCabe and J-B Samazan. 

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Friday.  Piping session, Blackie O’Connell, Tom Delaney and friends.  O’Connell’s Bar, Ennis,

 

For me these musical experiences are enhanced immeasurably when I am joined by those who approach the music with the same ardor as me. It is my privilege indeed to host such people.

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New friends.

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Blue and green. 

 

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All is not what it seems. A little story from the Wild Atlantic Way on the west coast of Clare.

I live in a remarkable spot and I have written of it and photographed it many times. Point Caherush lies between Quilty and Spanish Point along the spectacular west coast of Clare.  Indeed it was spectacular before it became part of the Wild Atlantic Way but now of course it is legitimately spectacular because it has a label with the word ‘wild’ in it. Anyway I live at the end of a one kilometre long boreen known locally as the Clogher Road. My front door looks out over Quilty and Mutton Island. Here’s a reminder.

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My little cottage nestled on the rocks at Pt Caherush

 

The rocks at my feet though are similar to the rest of the West Clare coastline from Loop Head to Doolin, and comprise shallowly dipping interbedded sandstones and shales.  For the whole time I have lived here I assumed that I was living at the edge of a wilderness (that’s the ‘wild’ in Wild Atlantic Way!). A thin strip of pristine land beyond the rolling green that is everywhere so heavily moulded by man.  I surmised, somewhat romantically, that only the hand of the sea had sculpted the shore. Despite this I was troubled by some observations I could not explain. Perfectly circular holes in the rock sometimes with radial joint patterns around them were disturbingly reminiscent of what I had seen in open cut mines. This made no sense. There was nothing to mine in these barren sandstones.

But I didn’t think of the sandstone itself.

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Perfectly circular holes and radial joint patterns on the rock platform at Point Caherush

 

One day I was chatting to Mikey Talty, a resident of this place all his long life. I have written about that day in a previous blog, when three generations of the Talty family were harvesting kelp from the bay. Mikey is full of wonderful stories but he really got my attention when he mentioned working as a young man in the 1950s at a massive quarry operation on the Point. He showed me where the crushing plant was and described how truckloads of rock were carted away to build roads as far away as Kilrush and Kilkee. This mining it would seem had changed the shape of the headland and much of the protection of the bay was lost.

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Mikey Talty talks about Caherush in his youth.

 

With this new knowledge I now see the evidence everywhere in my wanderings. Of course the drill holes were for the explosives, some still showing their perfect shape and probably unexploded, and others with radial shatter patterns showing they did their job. There are rock exposures that are not natural and there is angular rubble strewn, that has yet to be smoothed out by the ocean.

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Blasted face at limit of quarrying

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Quarried rock face and blasted rubble

 

It is hard now to understand the thinking that would have led to the locating of a quarry here when there would have been plenty of locations away from the coast. I would like to think that in ‘modern’ Ireland it would be impossible to conceive of permission being obtained today for mining on the seashore. Perhaps planning approval wasn’t needed then and certainly priorities would have been different.

I can find nothing in the literature about this operation and maybe the memory of it is only now with those who lived or worked here. But the record will stay in the rocks for hundreds of years and I am sure it will confuse and intrigue future generations of geologists and non-geologists, who wander around Point Caherush, as it did me.

Categories: My Journey, Real Ireland, Wild Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Where the ocean kisses Ireland and the waves caress its shore : of seaweed and báirnachs.

Where the ocean kisses Ireland and the waves caress its shore
The feeling it came over me to stay forever more

These words are from a Saw Doctor’s song, The Green and Red of Mayo. OK, they are about Mayo but they could just as easily have been written about Clare. Or about my house which is right there on the rocks; where the ocean kisses Ireland.

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At the moment it is a hive of activity. Seaweed harvesting is in full swing and there are regulars who visit the shore to collect winkles or báirnach (limpets) or drop in a line hoping for a pollock or mackerel.

Gerard Talty runs the seaweed farm and his pasture is right at my front lawn. He has developed a thriving business exporting at least a dozen products made from seaweed collected at Caherush and nearby and processed right here on the Clogher Road. Talk about coals to Newcastle, Japan is one of his biggest customers.

One bright day recently I went out to chat to the guys. There were three generations of Talty’s working the weed. Ger, his father Mikey and son Evan. That in itself is pretty unique.  Currently they are harvesting the kelp. Laminaria.  Ger is a great advocate for seaweed and he extolled the many properties of this particular variety of kelp. It eats cellulite; you can bathe in it; it is rich in magnesium; it has a chemical make-up that is closest to human blood. It is chock full of chlorophyll. Or you can cook any number of delicious things with it. There’s carrageen and dillisk and sea lettuce and all the rest too but today it was about kelp. Something I didn’t know about kelp was that the fifth taste, umami, was recognised in kelp in 1908 though it was nearly a hundred years later before it was given credence as a distinct taste alongside bitter, sweet, salty and sour.  This came with the discovery of umami taste receptors in the tongue and the stomach.IG3C6789IG3C6853IG3C6754IG3C6771IG3C6836

Seaweed farming has a long history in West Ireland. A poem, probably dating from the twelfth century, describes monks harvesting dillisk from the rocks and distributing it to the poor as one of their daily duties. It was used as a food and a medicine, as chewing tobacco, ingested to eliminate worms, and was recommended as a remedy for ‘women’s longing’ whatever that was.  Seaweed manure was particularly important in areas with poor soil, and conflicts were fought over seaweed rights and access.

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Ireland’s tradition of kelp harvesting dates back to the seventeenth century. It was burnt in stone kilns, the ruins of which are still visible in places. The ash that remained was used for glazing pottery and for making glass and soap and then later to produce iodine. This latter discovery kept the tradition alive until World War II. Now the tradition is continued by people like the Taltys.

I spoke to Ger’s dad Mikey. A resident on the Clogher Road for 79 years. And still driving the 1969 Massey Ferguson to harvest the weed. He remembers when the tractor replaced the horse and cart. I’ve seen him doing any number of farm chores, including driving the excavator onto the beach to clear drains or transporting silage and of course helping with the seaweed harvest.

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We had just a few minutes before an errant shower interfered with the dialogue but there is nothing Mikey doesn’t know about this bay. He told me the best way to cook báirnach or where I can find evidence of them eating báirnach in the 11th century in the middens of a castle around the point.  And more surprisingly how Point Caherush was a major quarrying operation back in the 50s. This was intriguing and prompted me to investigate further. I will blog on this another time.

So with the tractor loaded and the threat of imminent rain, the operation concluded for the day. Ger told me that this kelp was the best for seaweed baths. Slippery; and hot water brings out the beneficial nutrients. “That’s what you get down at Trump’s” he said, referring to the Donald Trump owned resort at Doonbeg, ten km away.IG3C6867

I think I might go and take a bath.

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Ireland – The Next Chapter

I’ll start this blog with some good news. Those of you who follow me on Facebook will already know that my application to remain in Ireland has been accepted and I can stay another 12 months.  The wait has been interminable. Over four months without a word and without any response to enquiries.  Everyone I spoke to about it seemed to think that was pretty normal and that I just had to wait.  Meanwhile my visa had expired and my life was on hold.  My inability to prove residency and obtain an Irish driving licence led to refusal to re-insure my car and so for three months I have been unable to drive.  It will still be a couple of months before that is rectified.

I wonder why some countries make it so difficult for people to come and live.  I am sure Australia is just as bad with people wanting to reside there.  I just don’t get it though.  I am self-sufficient, I have met all the requirements, I accept that I can’t work or run a business but still I have to go through all these hoops and am met with a wall of silence when I try to find out what’s going on.  In Ireland, the hundreds of millions of people in the Eurozone can come and go as they please but the few thousand Aussies who want to make Ireland home (even for a short while)  find that to stay longer than 90 days is laced with any number of difficulties.   A country looking to recover from an economic catastrophe should be welcoming anyone who wants to come here and spend money.

Anyway I am undaunted because I am not ready to go home.  Over the next year I will explore ways of obtaining longer terms of residency to continue on my musical journey.  But Ireland has become much more than that to me.  It has etched its way into my being.  With a few exceptions, which I won’t dwell on, I have been welcomed here with open arms and open hearts.  It is such a contrast to the anonymity of Australian suburbia where you can live for years and never be recognised by your neighbours. Here I live in a small community and people take you as you are.  I am often greeted by strangers “with a warm and kind hello” as in the lyrics of the song “The Clogher Road”.  I have had many offers of lifts to do my shopping or get coal as people became aware of my predicament.  And in my cycles around West Clare I am often tooted with recognition or waved at by people who obviously know me even if I don’t recognise them.

And I feel part of the wider community also, throughout Clare and beyond.  Facebook and this blog have allowed me to keep in contact with the hundreds of people I have met through music in Ireland and around the world.  And to share my experiences and images.  I have received a terrific response to my posts and it seems to me that the Irish and followers of Irish music around the world love to read about and see what’s happening around the country.   Many of my overseas friends tell me they live a little vicariously through my blogs until they can actually get here themselves.

So I will continue to write and photograph.  I will of course play music.  Both in sessions and at home.  I can feel myself improving and want that to continue.  Perhaps I won’t go to sessions every night – I will speak about that in another blog.  I want to explore more of this country and as soon as I can drive I want to revisit some of my favourite places (such as Connemara, Aran Islands and Donegal,) and to find new favourite places, especially in the remotest parts of Ireland to discover the people and music there.

So please stay with me on my blog and follow me on the next stage of my journey…

Here are some of my favourite pictures from the past year or so, which may help you understand why I don’t want to go home.

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A stormy day near Spanish Point, Co Clare

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The last day at the old Brogan’s Pub in Ennis.

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Sunset at Caherush, Co Clare

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A peek into a session at Pepper’s Pub, Feakle, Co Clare

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My cottage in Clare

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Near Mullaghmore, Co Sligo

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The Burren bathed in golden light

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The magical Mount Errigal, Co Donegal.

Categories: My Journey, Real Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Winter in Ireland !

They said I wouldn’t survive the winter.

Well it’s approaching the end of January and I am still here. But I have to say that these last few weeks I have really felt what it is that everyone has warned me about. The realisation hit as I stood on the cliffs of Sleave League in southwest Donegal trying to stand up straight enough to take a photograph, wrapped in multiple layers but still feeling that wind cut through to the bone. It was a brisk 4˚C at midday but with the wind chill it was sub-zero. It was numbingly cold but the photos I took that day look deceptively pretty, with blue skies and gorgeous colours reflecting the sun off the cliffs. The camera never lies but it doesn’t always tell the full story.

And then the other day the maximum on the mercury back home in Clare was 1˚C. It was snowing across the county, indeed all over the west, but not here at Caherush on the sea.

I stand outside my front door. The wind here is relentless and constant. This day you can hardly stand up as it whips the usually calm waters of the bay into a seething boiling maelstrom and further out past Mutton Island, massive waves roll in through a sea of foam and whipped up spray I can see the spray drive high over Mutton Island covering its castle as waves crash in from the west. Some intrepid gulls fight the elements to carry on with their continuous search for sustenance seemingly just hanging in the air almost enjoying the challenge as they feast on the abundant feed whipped up by the furious waters. And a handful of ducks continue to forage on the shoreline despite being buffeted hither and thither. And on the land, cattle turn their backs to the wind to provide some protection. There is no rain at the moment, in fact patches of blue appear through the clouds to tantalise and at least give an impression of warmth soon dispelled by the reality closer to the ground. I don’t stay out there long. Valdo, the farmer’s border collie runs up, stone in mouth, inviting me to play, seemingly oblivious to the unfriendliness of the elements. No walk along the shore today Valdo, that’s just a distant memory. Back inside though the house is cosy, the fire goes all day and if I’m not warm enough I sometimes turn the central heating on also. I play music. I write. I read. I watch the odd movie. And when I get bored I play some more music. My day really begins at 9pm when I head out to look for tunes, an increasingly difficult challenge.

So I am still here. My adopted countrymen can’t understand this. They see the endless blue skies of a Summer Bay Utopia and a bikini-barbecue lifestyle to match and wonder why I would want to come here. They all have relatives in Perth who will never come home. And they all want to join them there in the warmth. So why don’t I feel the same way. Don’t get me wrong I love Australia (well when it is not being stuffed up by uncaring governments!) but I have had decades of it and the Australian summer holds no attraction for me anymore. Yes, day after day of blue skies, but it comes with often unbearable heat (depending where you are, and I spent a lot of my time there in 40 plus temperatures in the desert), the threat of fires, not sleeping at night, hot westerly winds. It all makes you actually crave some ‘weather’. That craving for weather is certainly satisfied here. In recent days I have seen it at its rawest – driven through a snow storm, been pelted by hailstorms, 130kph winds and 30m waves. But seriously this wild winter is a small price to pay to live in this glorious country and be surrounded by music every day. I feel blessed.

So if I go home it definitely won’t be because of the weather.

Here are some photos that say winter and Ireland to me…….

the wild Atlantic.  Spanish Point Co Clare

the wild Atlantic. Spanish Point Co Clare

Spanish Point

Spanish Point

Stating the obvious.  White Strand near Spanish Point, Co Clare

Stating the obvious. White Strand near Spanish Point, Co Clare

Cattle turn their backs to the wind.  Spanish Point, Co Clare

Cattle turn their backs to the wind. Spanish Point, Co Clare

Caherush, Co Clare

Caherush, Co Clare

wind blown foam,  Spanish Point Beach.  Co Clare

wind blown foam, Spanish Point Beach. Co Clare

Spanish Point Beach.  Covered in foam.

Spanish Point Beach. Covered in foam.

Wild Atlantic.  Spanish Point.  Co Clare

Wild Atlantic. Spanish Point. Co Clare

Sleave League, Co Donegal

Sleave League, Co Donegal

Ice.  Gweedore, Co Donegal

Ice. Gweedore, Co Donegal

Fanore Beach, Co Clare

Fanore Beach, Co Clare

Caherush Bay during a gale.

Caherush Bay during a gale.

Caherush Bay. Co Clare.

Caherush Bay. Co Clare.

Ice crystals on the windscreen.  Sixmilebridge. Co Clare

Ice crystals on the windscreen. Sixmilebridge. Co Clare

Ice on the road.  Mount Callan, Co Clare.

Ice on the road. Mount Callan, Co Clare.

Categories: Wild Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Home

Well it has been a month since I have posted and a lot has happened. I have kept telling myself I will catch up when winter arrives but it never did. We have had an amazing warm September and the first couple of weeks of October with more blue skies.  That all camne to an end last week and we have had our first taste of winter.  I am ready for it!

Those of you following me on Facebook will know that I have found a house to rent. I can’t believe where I have ended up. A magic place on the water between Spanish Point and Quilty near Miltown Malbay in west Clare.

My cottage is at the end of a row of houses that stretches along the Clogher Road to Point Caherush. It is situated on the edge of the land where it meets the rocky shore. Surrounded by gravel and a high wall there is no softening green garden but the starkness somehow seems appropriate. Adjacent is an old whitewashed stone shed with a slate roof and behind that are large domed sheds that constitute the operations base for my landlord’s extensive farmland, which stretches beyond in all directions to the sea. Everyone here talks about nothing but the storms last January and the damage done by the high tides, but I am assured by the owner that the new seawall will keep the ocean out.

The house looks directly south across a shallow bay and to the treeless plains and hills that are so characteristic of this part of West Clare. In the distance I can see Quilty and the round tower of its church poking above the horizon. And out beyond the now calm ocean is the uninhabited Mutton Island only accessible by boat. I have a table and benches, like those provided at picnic sites, outside my front door and from here I can see the sun rise over the hills to my left and watch it all the way to where it disappears into the Atlantic Ocean on the right. The last month has provided glorious clear blue skies and amazing sunrises and sunsets. For most of the day the sun streams invitingly into the house filling it with light.

The bay is forever changing moods. At low tide the ocean floor is exposed across its entire width. Rocks and seaweed predominate with pools of water left behind temporarily. It is not what is conventionally regarded as appealing. At high tide the rocks are completely covered and though there is no pristine white sandy beach, just boulders and kelp and various flotsam bordering the calm waters, the scene has a raw beauty that is captivating. There are very few people. Occasionally I will see someone collecting periwinkles or the landlord’s brother collecting and drying seaweed for his business or the occasional walker or a mother pushing a pram but for the most part there are just the sea birds, which provide plenty of movement and interest and there is Valdo, the neighbour’s border collie who spends all day chasing them.

Just a handful of steps and I am on a rock platform that stretches along the northern side of the bay to the end of the point. The rocks dip largely to the south at about 20 degrees and the sandstone and shale layers provide a series of steps which one seems to be forever climbing. At low tide you can walk all the way around the point. At the end of the point the calmness of the bay gives way to breakers which hint at the power that the Atlantic can unleash. For now though it is has been mostly peaceful but I have had a little taste of its power last weekend. There are some spectacular folds in the rock layers and the dip changes from the south to the north and back to the south providing plenty of geological interest. If I walk the other way I walk across the boulders and weed best negotiated at high tide. There is an exposed layer of peat just above the high tide mark. It provides a fascinating insight into the formation of this unique part of the Irish landscape as abundant, partially decomposed trees, branches and roots protrude from the ground. Further round the point towards Quilty is a cliff face formed of jagged, loosely consolidated boulders that appears to be a glacial moraine and the weathering of this cliff contributes to the mix of irregular and rounded boulders seen on the shore.

I am seeing it at its absolute best but I already love this place. It is not the Ireland I expected to live in but I finally have a sense of place and I am so looking forward to spending the next year here.

To cap all this off the house has a rich musical heritage. It was the home of JC Talty, who played pipes and flute with the Tulla Ceili Band for 35 years, until his death in 2006. He was mates with Willie Clancy, Paddy Canny and Leo Rowsome among others. It is inspiring to think that these guys may well have played music in this house. It was also a favourite place for his niece Brid O’Donoghue the well-known Miltown whistler who came here after school regularly to learn her craft from her uncle.

As I said the place has many moods. I have tried to capture this with some of these photos from my first month here.

I will soon get to posting some of my thoughts and adventures from a truly wonderful summer.

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Categories: My Journey, Wild Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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