Posts Tagged With: Cork
Eight kilometers from Skibbereen in West Cork is the village of Castletownshend, the historic seat of the Townshend family. St Barrahane’s Church, built in 1827, sits on a hill above the village. It is accessed by 52 steps. One for each Sunday of the year. It is an elegant building with many original interesting architectural features and some fine detailing, both internal and external, including timber paneling and an organ gallery.
Of greatest interest though to visitors is the addition in the early 20th century of six magnificent stained glass windows.
Three of these are by Harry Clarke, a book illustrator and Ireland’s most famous stained glass artist, who died in 1931, and three are by Powells of London. It is not hard to pick those by Clarke. They are characterised by beautiful, finely crafted, elongate figures and his use of deep rich colours. the wall to the right of the altar has three windows with the Clarke window, on the right, being quite distinct and obvious.
This window depicts French Saints Louis (who was Louis IX, King of Spain) and Martin and was commissioned in memory of a Colonel Coghill in 1921. A window of two lights, the first light depicting St. Louis who was an ancestor of the Colonel. The figures above his head represent the poor who he often fed at his table. The first of the tracery lights depicts a ship in which King Louis sailed to the east to fight the infidels. The second and third tracery lights depict two angels who offer protection to both saints. The fourth tracery light shows St. Martin’s flaming sword, denoting his patronage of soldiers, The second light depicts the meeting between Saint Martin of Tours, dressed as a soldier’s garb, and a beggar who asks him for clothing. Again the imagery is imaginative, stunningly crafted and in glorious deep colours.
The largest window, known as the The Nativity window, was commissioned in 1917 in memory of the Somerville family. This window has three lights, with separate depictions of the shepherds paying homage to the Christ child, the holy family and the magi but with linking elements such as Mary’s dress and the crib that create a unified picture. They are exquisitely decorated in shades of blue, pink, green, red, purple, magenta and gold. The tracery lights depicts three saints, Brigid, Fachtna and Barrahan in gorgeous detail.
When you look at these windows from outside the church, you can have no expectation of how stunning the images are when back lit.
If you a visiting West Cork you really must take a peek. Or look for Clarke windows in Dublin and many other locations in Ireland and England.
He completed over 130 windows. You can find where they are here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Clarke
You hear the words ‘hidden gem’ so many times in Ireland but more often than not they are not hidden and nor are they a gem. I try to avoid the expression especially when it appears on tourists’ must-see lists (hardly hidden then). But actully they do exist and when you find one part of you wants to scream and shout about it and another part says ‘Shhh! Let’s keep it hidden’
The Arches at Reenroe are one such place. I had been to Allihies on the Beara Peninsula three times but not heard about it. That’s the downside of my penchant for arriving blind to a place to discover it on my own.
Spectacular as the arches are, I want first to tell a bit of a story, about how I discovered it and the adventure I had on the way. Stories such as this so typify, for me travel and living in Ireland and the way things just unfold here. Surprise upon serendipitous surprise. The people, culture and place are interwoven like nowhere else. These experiences are truly the hidden gems.
Let me start at the beginning. Or even a bit before the beginning.
It was a gorgeous sunny June morning (yes, this is Ireland) and I was visiting the location of the Dooneen Copper Mine. This is a marked tourist spot on the Wild Atlantic Way a few kilometres from Allihies, so it has the squiggly iron marker to let you know that it is worth stopping. And to a lapsed geologist such as myself that is indeed true. This is the site of the first of Puxley’s copper mines discovered in 1812. Because of its location on the coast, it struggled both technically and commercially, but the upside of this is that the site is largely intact and we can get a unique insight of how it must have looked before it was exploited.
The cliffs here are a series of headlands of Devonian sandstone. One of these promontories is in shades of orange and cream rather than the more normal greys. It is about 80 m long and up to 10 m wide. This unique coloration is due to oxidation of what was essentially a quartz sulphide rock. As you walk along the narrow path you see traces, under your feet and in the walls, of bright green staining. This is malachite, copper carbonate and a telltale sign that deeper down there are copper sulphides.
Walk onto the next headland to the north and look back. Now you see it in it’s full glory. Brilliant green patches tell of a very rich lode. But why is it still there considering it contains such valuable minerals?
At the eastern end at sea level is an adit and there appears to be another in the adjacent cliff at the western end. These would have been where the miners first chased the copper but constant inundation made it impossible. A shaft was sunk on the land side but again flooding meant more and more sophisticated machinery was needed to keep on top of the pumping. Eventually the elements won and in the 1870s the mine was abandoned never really making much money. But this has left us with this magnificent example of a virtually untouched outcropping ore body.
But I digress. In the car park I met Viv Kelly, visiting from Dublin, with members of her family. She said they were going to look for what they called the Arches and headed off on foot. I was intrigued and headed off in the same general direction. But for me the search proved fruitless and I actually had no idea what I was looking for.
So I continued my explorations, by car, of what is one of my favourite drives, between Allihies and Eyries. The road snakes through sculpted hills, twisted rocks and abandoned houses and at one point the highway (if you can call it that) drives through someone’s yard with the house on one side and the barn on the other. Harking back to the time when living right on the road would have been hugely desirable. There were panoramic vistas, bicycles and bog cotton.
Satisfied, I headed back to Allihies to join an afternoon session with two legends of Irish music – Jackie Daly and Matt Cranitch. I soon forgot about arches and such.
It was now about 6.30 pm the music had ebbed away and I was sitting outside O’Neill’s Pub pondering my next move. I was approached by a lady who became my immediate best friend after she complimented me on my fiddling. She mentioned she had been that day to visit some sea arches! Those same arches that Viv had told me about. She reached for her phone to show me some pictures. I politely covered her screen (I hate spoilers) and asked instead for directions after telling her of my earlier vain search.
Basically it appears I was in the right place. ”Look for a white cottage on the left and opposite you will see a wooden gate with a blue rope and a sign saying ‘please shut the gate'”. That seemed simple enough so I had another go. At about the spot she indicated I saw a white building, more of a bungalow really and it wasn’t on the left it was on the right and I couldn’t see a gate, so I was confused and drove on. Fruitlessly. Now the Irish are not great on giving directions so I went back to that bungalow thinking maybe ‘left’ meant ‘right’, and sure enough there was a gate, my view blocked by a beautiful old vintage Mercedes. The gate had a blue rope and a hand written sign saying ‘please shut the gate’. Finally.
I headed along the well worn track, passing a group of picnickers. They had selected an idyllic spot. Smoke rising from a fire and the smell of cooking chicken. I was just a little jealous but I apologised for intruding and after getting a little sage advice on what I was looking for, I continued my search.
Not far ahead I came across the first arch. You don’t actually realise you are on it until you make your way down to the shore and look back. Way grander than I’d imagined. Tantalisingly the calm water in the chasm disappeared to the left. You knew there was more.
Back up to the top and I continued across the fields until I reached a rocky headland. Here there are more arches. Two precarious bridges span a steep sided chasm. One looks like it is about to collapse into the ocean as one day soon it inevitable will. Real selfie territory. They have formed by selective erosion of softer rock (probably along a fault) in places leaving the remnant bridges of rock. I had brought a sandwich and doughnut with me and enjoyed my own little picnic.
I felt there had to be more and sure enough I found a number of other narrow steep sided arches and then a perfectly protected and wave free channel passed under another series of bridges. This turned out to be the other end of the channel under the first arch. I followed it back and observed two land bridges over this channel.
In total I saw six arches. It might make more sense if you look at the google map image. The major channel has essentially created an island with two natural bridge accesses (nos 1 and 6). This has followed a major east west fault. The other arches (numbered 2 to 5) have formed on softer shaley bands within the sediment sequence so they parallel bedding.
I absolutely loved this place.
That should have been the end of my story but it wasn’t.
I must have been exploring for an hour and a half. Heading back past the picnickers I was surprised at being asked to join them. They plied me with wine, crab claws, chicken, potato and roasted seaweed. The burgeoning friendship nearly ended though when they offered me a hot rock to sit on! Brian, from Edinburgh, a scholar in all things gaelic, explained that the picnic was in memory of a time when they ‘cooked’ a salmon in this very fire 20 years ago. Sashimi salmon in the dark was the outcome. No fish this time though.
I met Cormac Boydell and his partner Rachel, who live next door to that white bungalow overlooking this dramatic bay. Cormac is a renowned ceramic artist. I wished I had time to have a closer look at his work. But what was really interesting was that in a previous life he was a geologist. Spooky enough but, hey, he worked in Australia during the nickel boom of the 70s and, get this, he worked for CRA, the first company I worked for. And he was based in Kalgoorlie in western Australia, where I lived for six years.
We talked for ages as darkness descended and until the lure of the music back in Allihies became palpable. I took my leave, happy that my search for the Arches, initiated by a chance meeting with Viv from Dublin had ended with such a rewarding encounter.
These days are truly the hidden gems of Ireland.
How would you like a castle in your front yard? Well in Ireland you can have one. They say a man’s home is his castle. Or should that be a man’s castle is in his home.
Just imagine the things you could do with your very own castle. Like, use it to store your ride-on mower or maybe as a cubby-house for the kids.
I came across this one recently. It is just on the outskirts of Liscarroll in Co Cork, which of course has its own Castle that dominates the village. I could not find a name for this one though, so hence I have christened it Castle Gan Ainm, but it is just like the many hundreds of Tower Houses you find all over Ireland.
This one though is literally in the front yard of a farmer’s house.
It is in surprisingly good condition really and many of the features of such houses are preserved. For example there is a chute from what would have been the garderobe (fancy name for medieval toilet – comes from the cry ‘garde robe’ made as a warning to those below, before effluent was unceremoniously tipped onto the street). There are also a few modern additions such as the ‘rooftop garden’ comprising, at this time of the year, gorse in full bloom.
And of course the resident border collie. The Keeper of the Keep?
I had high expectations. An intensive four days of workshops from Caoimhin O Railleagh, Four nights of ‘luxury’ on the shores of Bantry Bay. Meals. All the ingredients were there. Food, fellowship and fiddle.
Would my expectations be met?
I am a bit of a workshop junkie and I am guessing that over the past four years I have had instruction from well over forty different fiddlers while living in Ireland. But Springboard Fiddle Retreat sounded different. Workshops in Ireland generally follow a set pattern, in place since the Willie Clancy Festival started nearly fifty years ago. Bring in a name fiddler, for up to a week. Three hours a day; usually a mixed class of fiddlers or wanna-be’s of all ages and stages. The teaching is based around learning new tunes but there is rarely time for individual instruction or to gain a deeper understanding of the instrument.
But Springboard did not follow this formula. As I said it is residential and there were only a dozen of us. It was a Thursday afternoon and fiddlers from all over Ireland, a couple from Scotland and from the US and a couple of ex-pat Aussies joined others at Linden House on the shores of Bantry Bay in West Cork. The location was hard to find but stunning. I have separately blogged on this little corner of Ireland and the beauty of Glengariff and the surrounding forest, so you can see more HERE.
But it wasn’t just the location. The house was purpose designed to accommodate up to 20 people. There were two wings and multiple stories and it made a beautiful architectural statement as it stepped its way down the contours of the land melding into the forest and surrounded by beautifully tended gardens and tall gaunt oaks. There were a number of large living spaces with giant picture windows taking in the vista and plenty of nooks to meet and play fiddle in small groups or withdraw for some quiet time. Everything was provided for a wonderful livable escape.
Then there was the food. Oh dear. Expectations regarding this weren’t that high when I read it was vegetarian. Nothing against vegetarianism, but I will be honest, I do enjoy the meat-and-three-veg world . But as it turned out absolutely nothing to worry about here. We were incredibly well looked after by chef Jenny and her assistant Anda. The food was truly a marvel. It was prepared with great thought and obvious love. A riot of colour and flavours with some ingredients I have never even heard of and others used in ways you wouldn’t have imagined. All combined with skill and originality. The food was indeed part of what was a total experience We were constantly reminded of the parallels between our explorations with music and the eating experience. Each day one ingredient was chosen as a theme and dishes reflected different and sometimes surprising approaches to the use of this. Just as we would choose a theme for the day on our journey with the fiddle.
Speaking of the fiddle that’s what we were there for, so let me talk about that.
Caoimhin is an accomplished and widely respected traditional Irish fiddler. His collaborations are many and include musicians from wide backgrounds such as piper Mick O’Connor, West Kerry box player, Breandan Begley, sean nos singer Iarla Ó Lionáird, Clare fiddler Martin Hayes and musician/physicist, Dan Trueman. He plays with The Gloaming. His music is rooted in the traditional world of piping and Sliabh Luachra but he has explored Norwegian and Icelandic music, the Hardanger fiddle and plays in various cross tunings. He has always been seeking new ways of voicing the fiddle. As a result he has developed a unique and recognisable playing style.
Very quickly I realised this fiddle workshop would be different. Caoimhin is a brilliant, relaxed and engaging teacher with an innovative approach. The time available and the ambience allowed plenty of space to explore concepts that were very new, to me at least. We spent little time actually playing. But always new concepts were put in the context of playing traditional music. We spent a day on cross tuning. For myself I stuck with GDGD but others went off in all directions. Indeed people were playing together with wildly different tunings producing surprising outcomes. There were no boundaries. We were encouraged to play tunes we knew opening up new possibilities and to then try our hand at composing melodies.
Another day we looked at tempo and the concept of expanding and contracting time. We were introduced to the Cyclotron, software by Daniel Trueman, that enables you to vary the space between notes within a tune and ultimately the rhythm and feel. We looked at discovering amazing sounds by exploring the real estate of the fiddle and the bow. We looked at difference tones – notes that only exist in the mind, and we looked at poly-rhythms.
Sounds heavy but it wasn’t. There was were five hours each day of classes, but it went so quickly. And it wasn’t all work.
Afternoons were filled with activities; organised or less-organised. There were ad hoc workshops including ‘dalcroze eurythmics’, yoga, role play games or you could brave the cold (it actually snowed one day) for a swim with the seals. Or you could just go off and practice.
The evenings sometimes went in surprising directions; activities including table rugby and games that totally messed with the brain in quite different ways.
A highlight was the Dining in the Dark experience. On this occasion we were treated to a wonderful five course degustation menu prepared and presented by Jenny and Anda, who were the only two ‘sighted’ residents of the house for the night. There were plenty of surprises with our taste buds made keener by the darkness. A butter tasting. Who would have thought? Kale served three ways. A colcannon to die for. A sweet dish which baffled me but turned out to be carrageen pudding and a cheese plate highlighting how good Irish cheese actually is. The meal was interrupted at one point by a spellbinding soundscape of wild fiddle from Coaimhin the sound coming from everywhere as he strolled around the house. Then there was what seemed like an eternity of silence. This was brought to an end by tentative noises made by just one or two at first but then by the full ensemble with whatever came to hand, ultimately turning into an untamed cacophonous symphony of sound and noise of Dada-ist proportions rising out of the darkness.
It is hard to quantify what one gets out of such an experience. I didn’t learn any tunes. There were no sessions in the traditional sense. But I didn’t come for that. What I did get were immeasurable experiences of sharing music and musical thoughts, new ways of looking at timing, rhythm and tone, An insight into new paradigms of playing music and lifetime friends.
A true springboard. Definitely a dive into the unknown.
The Springboard Fiddle Retreat was held on 15th to 19th March 2018. Check their site http://www.westcorkmusic.ie/retreats/springboard for info on 2019.
Glengarriff sits on the upper reaches of Bantry Bay in West Cork. I was lucky enough to spend five wonderful days there last week at a Fiddle Retreat and was able to closely observe the various moods of this sublime waterway. I never actually visited the village of Glenngarriff itself, as my accommodation was tucked away on its own private estate behind the golf course; so private and so quiet that in the time I was there encountered not another soul. other than my fellow residents.
Join me on a walk through this blissful elysium.
Bantry Bay is a drowned river valley (like Sydney Harbour), and its quiet, still protected waters are dotted with steep sided rocky islands sometimes capped with remnant, thick sub-tropical vegetation.
The surrounding forest of magnificent oaks birches and conifers has (where the rhododendron hasn’t taken over) a primeval under-story of forest detritus draped with mosses, lichens and ferns, in places forming a vivid green carpet. There is a bubbling stream of crystal clear water that snakes its way down the steep slope into the Bay, cascading over the smoothed rocks and falling into occasional, inviting, pellucid pools.
Azaleas and camellias add colour. This is only March and the rhododendrons can’t be far away from joining in.
You regularly sight seals cavorting on the shore.
The scene was ever-changing. One moment bathed in brilliant sunshine, then heavy cloud. Frigid weather brought some light flurries of snow flakes drifting to the ground but not settling and then blue skies brought out the singing birds. A Great Tit in an oak tree near the house harmonising with the sweet sounds of the fiddle coming from inside.
Another wonderful hidden gem in beautiful West Cork.
Ireland is full of surprises.
It’s late on a freezing cold March evening and I’m leaving the pretty West Cork town of Bantry on my way back to Clare, after spending the afternoon touring Sheep’s Head. I pick up a hitch-hiker, Sophie, heading to Kealkill about 10 km away. As this is on my way, no problem. She asked to be dropped in the village saying she would get another lift from there. As there are many ways to get where you want to in Ireland, it wasn’t really out of my way so I offered to take her further. Five kilometers on she asks to be dropped at at a lane. Now we were in the middle of nowhere.
On enquiry it turns out she lives “just a little way” down the boreen which she was going to walk. I love the way when you give someone a lift in Ireland they just say “drop me here”, sometimes way short of their destination because they don’t want to inconvenience you further. So 1½ km later we arrive!
Anyway, she was good company and during our short journey I heard all about her family’s move from the UK to 20 remote acres in West Cork, of her daily commute of three hours to Cork city for study and of her menagerie including some more slightly unconventional animals such as emus, a herd of forty pygmy goats and a ‘boer goat’ along with the more conventional dogs, cats, chooks and pigs.
Pygmy goats. I had never heard of them before but it seems are becoming more popular as pets and they are seriously cute. Boer goats come from South Africa where they are usually reared for meat. They are a rather large lump of goat but I can see that some would find them perfect for a pet, in the same way some people get attached to pigs.
They are a wild flightless bird that roams the outback of Australia. The third largest behind the ostrich and cassowary, and I have certainly never thought of them as pets. Just between you and me they have a bit of a reputation as being dumb. When you encounter their gangly form on outback roads, as you often do, they show remarkable suicidal tendencies running parallel to your car until they find an opportunity to randomly veer directly into your path.
Canadian biologist Louis Lefebvre, when asked to name the world’s dumbest bird responded, “That would be the emu.” Of course Australians reacted negatively to this criticism of its national bird from a country where its police force still rides on horses. Ha, Just kidding. They, however, may not be as dumb as we think. In 1932 the Army were called in to cull 20,000 emus that were destroying crops in Western Australia. Armed with two Lewis guns and 10,000 bullets they were embarrassingly defeated, retreating after killing only a few hundred birds. The birds seemed to have an innate understanding of guerrilla tactics, continually splitting into small groups and chaotically running off in different directions. And their tough hide also proved remarkably resistant to bullets.
They are however insanely curious. I remember encountering a flock. somewhere in the far west of NSW, which I observed from a distance. They didn’t run away; just watched me. I slowly wound down the window and started rustling a packet of chips (crisps, I think you call them). Almost immediately they came over to the point where one was brave enough to try and grab the colourful packet through the window.
But hey. Pets? I have never met anyone, even in Australia, who had a pet emu. Just not ever on my radar. Sophie was happy for me to have a look at her Irish versions of the Emu.
They were very friendly and came running over to greet us. I should say friendly to people and seemingly also goats but they hated dogs, chasing them wildly around the paddock.
Darkness arrived and I had to head off but I was left with the slightly discomfiting image of emus, tall and proud surrounded with green rolling green hills and not a eucalypt in sight.
Ireland continues to surprise.
Allihies is a very photogenic village near the tip of the Beara Peninsula. I have blogged on it before (click here). There I gave an overview of the whole Beara Peninsula as well as highlighting the extensive history of copper mining in the area, but I didn’t mention the pretty beach near Allihies, which I didn’t visit last time.
Back in the Beara recently, I had a bit more time and found myself on the strand during a break in the bleak weather. This beautiful place has a very interesting back story and an unexpected connection to the mining operations located high up in the hills above the village.
The beach is a surprise. It seems like it shouldn’t be there. The whole coastline here is rugged and rocky and apparently too wild for sand to accumulate. And yet there it is, an extensive thick accumulation of golden sand in a protected inlet.
A close look however shows all is not what it seems.
The sand is very coarse. It is also very uniform in size and it only comprises fragments of quartz and shale. There are no organic bits or shell fragments as you would expect. In fact is unlike any beach sand I have seen. There are no dunes; just a thick deposit of banded unconsolidated coarse sand. And due to the lack of fines, it is not compacted as might be expected. It is very hard to walk on and especially hard to climb its slopes.
So where did it come from?
This is where the mining comes in. Copper mining took place at Allihies for over 70 years starting in 1813. In its day it was the largest copper production centre in Europe. Allihies was remote and there were no environmental or safety controls and the Mine Captains pretty much did what they liked. So rather than build an expensive dam to contain the tailings they were pumped into the local rivers that eventually found their way to the coast at Ballydonegan. Standard practice then. Environmental vandalism today.
So what are tailings? In hard rock mining the rock containing copper minerals is brought to the surface for processing. The total percentage of copper minerals may only be about 2-5% so over 95% of the rock mined must be disposed of. It is crushed and then the copper minerals are separated with the remainder of the rock disposed of. It was lucky that the processing this time didn’t involve toxic chemicals so the tailings was reasonably clean. It accumulated at the mouth of the river and eventually the Atlantic Ocean converted it into a beach. The vast majority of visitors are probably totally unaware that it is man-made.
It is a pretty place. A great safe swimming beach and stunning views. It is ironic though that in the 21st century it is one of the attractions of the area whereas two centuries ago it would have been a major blight on the landscape and that a place of such beauty exists because of man’s indifference and ignorance.
Anton Zille is from Moscow. He plays the fiddle, is a regular visitor to Ireland and is totally obsessed with Irish music. Not just Irish music but music from Sliabh Luachra. He runs Sliabh Luachra sessions and dances in Moscow and is a fund of knowledge on the genre.
Sliabh Luachra is an ill defined area in the heart of Munster, straddling the Cork-Kerry border. Here a unique musical and dance tradition evolved, perhaps, due to its isolation. Perhaps also because of this isolation it remains preserved to this day. Numerous dance sets survive with local variations and with local tunes for accompaniment.
Oh yes, Anton. I had spent the week with him and another visitor from Moscow, harp player Catherine Moskovskova, at the Scoil Cheoil an Earraigh in Ballyferriter, near Dingle. This was back in February 2016. When I mentioned to Anton that I knew nothing of Sliabh Luachra, he seized the opportunity. “Oh there’s a session in Newmarket you might like on Monday. Why dont you give me and my friend Catherine, a lift there?” “And I will show you Sliabh Luachra”.
It did cross my mind that there was something ironic about being shown the hidden secrets of an area, that most Irish know nothing about, and having the culture explained to me by a fiddling Muscovite. Naturally I agreed.
Mea culpa time. I have already admitted I knew nothing about Sliabh Luachra. Its music, its geography, the culture. Of course I had heard of Padraig O’Keeffe and Johnny O’Leary and Jackie Daly and Denis Murphy and Julia Clifford (I even own a copy of Star Above the Garter on vinyl). But growing up in the Australian trad music scene, such as it was, no one played polkas except beginners and if they did play them they didn’t know how to play them properly. This was reinforced when I moved to Ennis, where it is rare to hear a polka or slide in a session. When you do, often as not, someone would raise their fingers forming a cross as if to ward off vampires.
But Sliabh Luachra is not just polkas and slides. Reels, hornpipes and jigs get a good look in. There is a wonderful book on Johnny O’Leary’s music by Terry Moylan. His repertoire showed a surprisingly even distribution of polkas, slides, jigs, reels and hornpipes, though slides and polkas together made up nearly 50%. This pie chart shows this.
In fact the arrival of polkas and slides was probably in the late 19th Century. Prior to this manuscripts from Sliabh Luachra are devoid of these tunes and dominated by reels, jigs, airs and programme music.
The name Sliabh Luachra. One translation is ‘mountain of rushes’ which would be fairly apt as it is covered by bog and beds of rushes. Another says the name comes from Ciarraí Luchre, a pre-celtic god who also gave Kerry its name. In any case the area was largely uninhabited until the 16th Century and then stayed a remote outpost away from the gaze of the authorities. It wasn’t until the 19th Century that roads were built and the area became noted for butter production.
Culturally the area has a unique heritage. Famed for it’s literature and poetry as well as its music.
So Monday night in Newmarket found us in Scully’s pub.
Behind the simple unpretentious façade is the perfect session pub. The music is in the back room as it has been for over forty years. Large enough to accommodate twenty musicians comfortably. This night there were a dozen.
The pub has been in the Scully family for over nearly 100 years. Sessions started at the behest of Jackie Daly, who lived five minutes away in Kanturk, in the early 70s and have been held every Monday since.
It became THE gathering place with Jackie Daly joined by Johnny Leary, Julia Clifford, Jimmy Crowley and many others. With many of the attendees being taught by Padraig O’Keeffe there was a direct link to the master. It is kept alive today by stalwarts like Timmy O’Connor, who unfortunately wasn’t there this time, and Ray O’Sullivan and John Walsh, who led the session this time.
This was a gathering of musicians who wanted to play together for the sheer fun of it. So of course it was a bit up and down. There were some beginners and they were given quite a bit of scope to start tunes. There was Marie Forrest on the piano; she’s been coming for 36 years. This added a strong rhythmic element and you could just imagine the floor filled with dancers.
Of course there were polkas and slides but there was a good mix of all the old standards. Many of the polkas I didn’t recognise, but many I did. It certainly helped that I play regularly with Jackie Daly, who now lives in Miltown Malbay in County Clare and plays in Friels Pub every week. What I really loved was the sharing culture of this session. If people didn’t know the tune then it was played again, slower, for people to pick it up. Perhaps this was a hangover from the days when people such as Jackie and Johnny O’Leary were the custodians of the tunes and passed them to the next generation.
The pace was gentler than I expected. Sweeter. Not at all like the West Kerry version with its preponderance of accordions and driving rhythm (Cooney/Begley influence?) .
This seems to be the only regular session in the Sliabh Luachra region which was surprising for an area with such a rich tradition. A bit like East Clare I suppose where it is hard to find a session outside of Feakle.
Next day Anton, as promised, was my guide on a tour of the area. There were so many familiar town names. Ballydesmond, Scartaglen, Newmarket. All with polkas and slides named after them. Apparently the local set dances had no names and the early collectors identified them by the locality. The tunes attached to these sets were then somewhat arbitrarily named also. Many tune names became attached to towns only as a matter of convenience so not too much can be read into the name.
We had to visit the holy shrine. The birthplace of Padraig O’Keefe. The house where he was born in 1887 is at Glountane Cross. It is still there. Just. He lived there until he died in 1963.
His father was the headmaster of the nearby national school and Padraig became a teacher there in 1915. We visited the school which is also a crumbling ruin.
He was not happy in the job and left about 1920 to become and itinerant fiddle teacher. For the next 40 years he walked up and down the hills of Kerry/Cork sometimes as much as 30 miles a day.
By all accounts he was a good teacher and developed his own style of notation. A system of 4 spaces between 5 lines to show the strings and the numbers 0 1 2 3 4 to show the fingers. A number of his manuscripts survive and are housed in the Irish Music Traditional Archive. These images come from their online copies.
He frequently played in Jack Lyon’s Pub in Scartaglen which is still there.
Among his pupils were Denis Murphy, Murphy’s sister Julia Clifford and Johnny O’Leary.
Sliabh Luachra is not just Padraig O’Keeffe and the music. There are a lot of interesting things to see. It gets quite hilly to the south with the Paps of Anu dominating the landscape to the south. The name originates from the similarity of the two mountains to the shape of the breasts of the legendary pre-Christian goddess Anu (Danu). THis is the same Danu that gave her name to the Well known traditional band, the River Danube and Denmark! You can drive through these mountains though the roads get a bit rough. We visited Shrona Lake. Ruggedly spectacular.
Then there is An Cathair Cubh Dearg. Also known as The City, this site with the Paps as a backdrop is said to be the first place populated in Ireland and the oldest centre of continuous worship in the world! Tuatha De Danann (descendants of Danu) settled here 10,000 years ago. The ring fort wall dates from this time. It was later used as a place of Christian worship.
So that’s it. Sliabh Luachra. Great music, heritage, landscape. And thanks to Russian ‘collusion’ I now understand it better!
I hope my blogs on Ireland aren’t getting too boring. Each time I discover or rediscover a new place I can’t stop scraping up the superlatives. I’ve blogged recently on the magic of Glencolmcille and south west Donegal, on the spirit of Achill Island, on the beauty of Doughmore in West Clare and West Connemara and many places in between. Recently I visited the Beara Peninsula again for the first time in twenty years. And I’m sorry but I have to regale you with more resplendent words yet again.
The Beara Peninula is one of those wonderful headlands that define West Kerry and West Cork, jutting prominently into the Atlantic and adding a whole lot of extra kilometres to the Wild Atlantic Way. Many have well known and evocative connotations. The Iveragh Peninsula, better known as the Dingle Peninsula, and the famous Ring of Kerry are the prime destinations for visitors and do not fail to disappoint. Less well known are the Beara Peninsula, Sheep’s Head and the spectacular Mizen Head.
The attractions of the Beara Peninsula are however becoming better known and I am told by the locals that this summer it was crowded with visitors. I chose to visit in late October. The weather was good (in Irish-speak that translates to ‘no rain’) and it has to be the perfect time. At the western end, the roads are almost deserted and you feel you have this magnificent landscape to yourself.
An obvious draw of this place is that it is more compact than the Ring of Kerry but there is so much variety, so much of interest and so much to fill the shortening autumn days that it was hard to leave.
So what does this little treasure offer? For a start magnificent vistas are around every corner. You can approach from the Northern Road or the Southern Road but my strong recommendation is you find time to do both.
And sometimes you see something that you know could not be replicated anywhere else in the world. The patchwork quilt and stone walls that say Ireland, Ireland, Ireland.
There are a number of mountainous rocky passes. I explored the Caha Pass this time, which links Kenmare with Glengariff. Here there is stunning scenery and four remarkable tunnels (known as Turner’s Rock Tunnels) built in the 1840s when they decided to go through the rock rather than over it. Quite an engineering feat for its day and very unique for road construction as most tunnels in Ireland were built for railways. Indeed the railway construction boom did not start until the 1840s so these tunnels predate any rail tunnel in Ireland. From this impressive road there are craggy mountains, magnificent pasture and grasslands, and sweeping panoramas. Next time I will do the Healy Pass.
Elsewhere you will see wild, coastal panoramas, verdant forests, jagged islands or houses perched on grassy knolls with staggering views or nestled into rugged rocky cliffs.
The drive to the end of the Peninsula and Dursey Island is not to be missed. But be prepared for perhaps a little disappointment. Ireland’s only cable car which links the island to the mainland and at this time of the year only runs between 9.30am and 11am was ‘fully booked’ and not operating for transport of people. It was being used for the day by the local farmers to transport hay across the narrow channel. Where else would tourists be turned away, some mind you who had travelled especially, in favour of bales of hay? Only in Ireland. But somehow it didn’t matter, there was so much else to do and it will be there (possibly) next time. You’ve got to admire the ingenuity of the farmers here. I saw an old ‘retired’ cable car in a yard being used as a chook house. Love it. And love the little insect houses thoughtfully provided by one farmer.
Then there is the colourful palette of the charming village of Allihies, which single-handed may be responsible for keeping alive the paint pigment industry in Ireland. Purples, pinks, indigo and every other colour merged harmoniously into the greys, greens and reds of its rocky backdrop.
And towering over the town is the architectural masterpiece of the Engine House of the Mountain Copper Mine built around 1810. Maybe you think masterpiece too strong a word but it is at least the equal from a heritage perspective of the megalithic ruins or the monastic abbeys that populate the tourist guide books. This is the finest example of an historical mine building I have seen in this remarkable condition. It speaks of the confidence and wealth that the mine brought to this remote outpost as it became one of the jewels of European copper mining during its heyday from 1810 to its closure in the 1920s. There are plenty of reminders of the mining period; old shafts and adits, mine workings, two other engine house ruins, stone walls and in places the tell-tale green and blue staining of copper carbonates.
There is a museum which gives a very good account of the mining story but unfortunately it is a bit expensive which turns some away. All aspects of the story are covered including the geology, mining technology and social impact. As a geologist it was of course fascinating. And even more so for me having met the next generation of miner there, young J and his mum Frances, locals who had come to see if they could find any copper. As it happened I had seen some workings with strong copper on the way up the hill, so I offered to show them and took them there. J’s wide eyed fascination and enthusiasm was enough reward. Maybe I have helped kick start another geologist’s career.
Still on copper, I stopped at Puxley Manor near Castletownbere. Actually the site of the mansion is right near the ruins of Dunboy Castle but more on that later. It would seem that the location is well cursed having witnessed a number of tragedies over the past 4oo+ years.
When I first saw the Puxley mansion it was 20 years ago it was a shell of a ruin. It had been the home of the Puxley family since the 1700s. They pretty much owned the copper mining industry here and ended up fabulously wealthy. As the industry declined so did the Puxley wealth and when his wife died in childbirth Henry Puxley, the last owner, abandoned the castle. Worried that the British Army would take over the abandoned house, the IRA torched it in 1921, destroying it and its contents. The shell was sold at auction in 1927 but remained a forlorn ruin as this photo shows.
This is what it looked like when I saw it in 1996. It was sold to a developer in 1999 and the Celtic Tiger roared. It was to be transformed into a luxury 6-star resort hotel, the only one in Ireland. Massive restoration and conservation work was carried out and all progressed swimmingly with a soft opening in 2007. That was until the money dried up in 2008 with the GFC. By 2010 the project was abandoned and a mesh fence erected. The bats returned but not the visitors. This is how it appears today. The rotting hull of a large boat sits in the harbour as if to reinforce the tragedy. Such a grand vision. The restoration did not however extend to the gate house which stands impressively ruinous.
I said earlier that Dunboy Castle remains were nearby. This was the ancestral home of Donal Cam O’Sullivan, last of the Gaelic chieftains and a thorn in the side of Elizabeth I during the nine years war which started in 1594. In 1602 she sent a large battalion of troops to destroy O’Sullivan and the 143 men, who tried to defend the castle, could not withstand the British canon. Surrender was not an option after an emissary sent to discuss terms was hung in full view of the defenders. This ultimate fate awaited all those remaining once the British destroyed it and the castle was never lived in again.
The name O’Sullivan however is everywhere on the peninsula. You can’t avoid it.
This little enclave of Cork is truly a gem and you could spend a week here or even a lifetime. There are plenty of stone circles, forts, monuments, holy places (such as the Mass Rock) and extraordinary natural wonders to explore and discover. Oh, and sheep. And there’s Dursey Island, if the cable car is running. And if you’re up for it you can walk it all on the Beara Way.
The beauty though is not just in the grand vistas but in a host of other details for me that capture the personality of a place. Here are a few photos that speak loudly about the struggle for life for both nature and man.
So that’s it. I’ll be back and very soon.