Posts Tagged With: history

Ruins and Ruined Dreams. An Abandoned House in Roscommon,

I have talked about abandoned houses in the Irish landscape many times. They are so characteristic, they are part of the DNA imprint of the countryside. Ruins appear to date from many times and reflect the struggles of the Irish as they deal with famine, invaders and economic and social dislocation. Naturally the iconic image is of the castle ruin or the grand manor house, but cottages and farm houses are so much more abundant. I often wonder about the stories behind these buildings. Ruined lives and ruined dreams; or did they find a better life somewhere else.

IG3C3144_1

This is one such house. It lies on the edge of the Kilronan Mountain Bog near Ballyfarnon in north Roscommon. A remote place.  It is close to the Arigna coal mine and perhaps the family living here derived its income from there.  The ruin is intact but blackened walls at the entrance suggest maybe some fire damage at some stage. It is not an old house and the front door is missing a panel so curiosity got the better of me. I walked into a time capsule.  IG3C3115_1

The house is a mess. Largely empty with years of accumulated debris covering the floors. Sheep have been regular visitors.   The rooms are spacious and well suited to a family.  The walls are bare save for a small crucifix over the living room door.  The walls were generally neutral colours but through the peeling paint are bright greens and pinks reflecting changing fashions. The kitchen was bright blue with pink trim.  Scrape away the sediment on the floor  and it reveals a very 60s brightly coloured lino in the main living room.  Definitely not to everyone’s taste but an individual statement.   No personal possessions remain.  Nothing that would give us a sense of who lived here.  Items too large to take though have been left behind.  A television, some chairs, a fridge and stove. All now beyond use.

IG3C3117_1IG3C3123_1IG3C3143_1

IG3C3127_1

Stairs lead to a mezzanine level with two rooms, shelves and some decaying mattresses.  Everything is still there in the bathroom, even the shower curtain and taps.

IG3C3129_1IG3C3130_1IG3C3139_1

I got the sense of a comfortable home. There is central heating and fireplaces in every room; there was insulation in the ceilings and to me it would seem they had the trappings of a good life.

What went wrong and when? Where did they end up? Fortunately we can answer as to when?  A newspaper among the papers strewn on the floor dates from July 1997.  My eyes fell on an article with a headline: “Anna Spices up Wimbledon”.  A sixteen year old Anna Kournikova was at the beginning of her rollercoaster ride in the world of tennis while this Roscommon family grappled with a very uncertain future.

IG3C3124_1

My original thought that the breadwinner worked at the Coal Mine makes sense except that it closed in 1990.  Perhaps they struggled on for another 7 years before finally giving up.

We will never know what makes a family walk away and leave their house.  Leave fridges and stoves and furniture.  Leave curtains.   And head somewhere for a better life.  Unfortunately it has been a huge part of the Irish narrative for nearly two hundred years.

No doubt such events happen in other countries but what is different here is the scale of the dispossession and that the evidence remains for decades perhaps even centuries with these dwellings lying empty and untouched; as if interfering with the ruin would somehow be disrespectful.

So many pages of the Irish Story lie open to us in this way.  However the writing is indistinct and many times illegible and impossible to decipher.

These ruins for me are always a time to pause and think.

 

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

An Apology to Turlough O’Carolan

Driving through Keadue in the very north of Co Roscommon, as I was on this crisp, clear Autumn day, you are reminded everywhere of Turlough O’Carolan. There is what seems to be a new sculpture in the main street of this spotless town with a harp at the centre and there is a Heritage Park with monuments to the man. A carved coloured stone with the music for Sí Beag Sí Mór sits in a rotunda that looks out over the village to the Arigna Mountains.  And if you come back in August next year you can attend the 40th O’Carolan Harp Festival.  Though born in Co Meath, the blind harpist and composer lived in and around Keardue/Ballyronan so this is definitely O’Carolan Country.

 

IG3C2815

The village of Keadue

 

 

IG3C2791

Tribute to O’Carolan?  newly installed statue in Keadue.

 

And just out of the village, there is the Kilronan Cemetery where he was buried. The elaborate entrance proclaims this with a carved stone mounted over the gate.  His grave lies within the family crypt adjacent to the ruins of the Abbey.

 

IG3C3007

Entrance gate to the Kilronan Cemetery

IG3C3009

Detail of the front gate.

IG3C2999

Kilronan graves

IG3C2984

Kilronan Abbey ruins.

 

The sun was shining when I visited and of course I had to take a ‘selfie’ of me playing Sí Beag, Sí Mór at the grave site. Now I am not a superstitious person but I swear that as I played the last note a black cloud came from nowhere and filled the sky. The heavens dumped for about three minutes as I retreated to the safety of my car.

 

IG3C3018

The headstone of the grave for Turlough O’Carolan. 

IG3C3028

Sí Beag, Sí Mór

IG3C3034a

One minute later the heavens dumped.

 

I get the message, Turlough. I have to admit that a friend warned me not to do it. Now seriously, I’m sure it wasn’t the worst you have heard, but I promise never again.

Sorry.

If you’re in that beautiful part of the world. Go visit. Just don’t play Sí Beag, Sí Mór.

Categories: My Journey, Stories, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Route 1 from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Almost.

I know those who follow this blog probably do so because they are interested in my posts on Ireland.  Well I recently had a holiday in the States so I have a few other stories to tell. So I will get back to Ireland but in the meantime I will talk a bit about my visits to San Francisco and then later New York.

I had just spent some time discovering San Francisco.  My plan was to drive south from there to Los Angeles on Highway 1.  Legendary names like Monterey, Big Sur and San Simeon were on the itinerary and I had given myself three days. What I wasn’t really aware of was that this actually wasn’t now possible due to a landslide and storm damage near Big Sur last year and consequent closing of the iconic bridge there amid worries as to its stability.   But as I headed off I didn’t know this.

Leaving San Francisco shrouded in its usual summer fog was not exactly what I would have hoped for but you don’t need crystal clear blue skies to enjoy this place.

IG3C7460

Goodbye to San Francisco with the Golden Gate Bridge shrouded in mist.

The geologist in me wanted to find the San Andreas Fault.  This was my first challenge.   The city behind, I followed Freeway 280 and Highway 35 as they traced the line of  the Fault. The fault itself though lay to the west of the highway and was defined by a linear river and lake system known as Crystal Springs and San Andreas Lake. So there wasn’t a lot to see.

IG3C7555

San Andreas Lake, south of San Francisco.  The lake fills the valley which marks the path of the San Andreas Fault.

There were a couple of spots where the rocks in the road cuttings showed strong evidence of shearing and slickensides and where extreme measures were taken to support the crumbling rock in road cuttings.  I assume these are due to splay faulting from the San Andreas.

I looked for a spot where I could cross the fault line on the way to Highway 1 But at the probable location there was nothing to see from the massive bridge over the lake.

I didn’t realise the fault line was so inland.  Next time I will do more research.  Oh well. I headed back to Highway 1 through the rugged hills of the Miramontes Ridge to the coast at Half Moon Bay. Nowhere to stop and take photos on the way!

Half Moon Bay is a pretty spot where you can partake of gourmet food, taste olive oil, visit boutiques or craft shops if that’s your wont.  Or do as I did and have an organic salad and listen to some accoustic music in the garden of San Benito Cafe. That was a pleasant surprise.

Now I was really on Highway 1 so I headed south. I took every opportunity to get off the freeway onto the coast and there were plenty of places to stop and walk down the cliffs to deserted beaches.  At San Gregorio Beach, at Pescadero Beach and then the lighthuse at Pigeon Point Bluffs. And one of the best windsurfing and sail boarding locations in California at Waddell Creek.

On the way there were rugged cliffs, and jagged coasts, banks of fog rolling in with blue sky behind, a lighthouse silhouetted in the mist, pods of pelicans, marsh and bogland with a congregation of egrets, a phallanx of wind surfers and sail boarders taking advantage of a favourable breeze, hardy flora, solitary birds of prey and all the time the Pacific Ocean on my right.

IG3C7678

Coastal scene at San Gregorio Beach

IG3C7702

The coast near Pescadero Beach

IG3C7723

Pigeon Point Bluffs

Panorama Highway 1 1

A bank of fog rolls in over Pigeon Point

IG3C7882

Egrets at home in the Pescadero Marsh

IG3C7909a

An egret takes flight.

IG3C7771

Man takes flight.  At Waddell Creek.

IG3C7798a

Waddell Creek Beach

IG3C7819

Waddell Creek Beach

IG3C7930

The food bowl of America.  Growing Vegetables near Monterey

I had intended to visit the boardwalk at Santa Cruz but the crowds and the chaos turned me off.  After all it was just a collection of carousels and rides though the fact it had been there since 1907 was of interest to me.  So I continued on and finished the day in fading light in a classic American motel in the town of Marina, just north of Monterey.

The next day I wanted to take the 17 mile Drive around Pebble Beach south of Monterey.  Renowned for its wildlife and for its scenic beauty I was a tad surprised when I was asked to pay $10 but the fine print on the ticket says I could have my money back if I played a round of golf.  Yeah sure. Read on.

IG3C7942

The Monterey entrance to the 17-mile drive.

Once you drive in the gate the first image you have is of the lush greens of a luxury course where it meets the Pacific Ocean.  There are indeed eight golf courses on the peninsula. Including two that are regularly rated in the top 10 in the world.  Pebble Beach which is open to the public and costs $525 a round (but you get your $10 back) and Cypress Point (which is NOT open to the public and is the most exclusive in the world with only 250 members!).  Non members just cannot play there and members include zillionaires such as Bill Gates but shamefully if your rich but black you can’t be a member.

Many of the courses hug the coast and reach inland to the marshes and forests.  Indeed there are greens and tees located within the beachside rocks dunes and cliffs.  Huge granite boulders and cypress pines are a feature.  Challenging would be one word to describe many of the holes.  The famous Par 3 hole 16 at Cypress Point requires a 230 yard drive over the swirling ocean to reach the tee.

IG3C7958IG3C8013

IG3C8066

A glance down to the shore reveals a young seal seemingly unperturbed about being alone.  Just basking.   Lines of pelicans soar overhead making their way north and the rocks are covered with cormorants and gulls including the elegant California Gull with the red dot on the beak and the distinctive grey plumage of the Heermann’s Gull (The head turns white when they are breeding.

 

IG3C8000a

A young seal basks on the rocks

 

IG3C8090

A pod of pelicans and a lonely cypress.

IG3C8084a

Pelicans in flight

IG3C8112

California Gull

IG3C8223

Adult non breeding Heermann’s Gull

Look hard and you will see the perfectly camouflaged Californian Squirrel.  This is a ground squirrel unlike his tree based cousin perhaps more familiar to those on the east coast or London for that matter.  Darting about in and around the rocks and then standing up like a prairie dog.  Motionless.  Certainly they are cute but they are still considered a pest as they were in 1918 when children were enlisted to poison the rodents which were then apparently threatening the war effort against the Germans (see the squirrel army dressed in Kaiser -type hats in the poster below).

IG3C8133

California Ground Squirrel

IG3C8217

Squirrel on its back legs

 

image

Poster from 1918 encouraging children to kill squirrels.  The poison of choice was strychnine.

I mentioned spotting a seal.  Well nothing really prepares you for Bird Rock Island.  I could hear the barking before I saw them.  It lies just off the coast about half way around the drive.  It is literally covered with sea lions and seals.  The sea lions are spread all over the rocks hanging precariously, with some occupying the summit.  Their climbing skills are remarkable.  The rock is shared with cormorants and gulls and the surrounding water is their playground.  The barking is incessant as is the cavorting.  Beats Sea World.

IG3C8455

Bird Rock from the mainland

 

 

IG3C8453a

IG3C8627a

Just nearby was a ‘venue’ of vultures resting on the shore (trust me; It’s a ‘kettle’ if they’re flying and a ‘wake’ if they’re eating!).  At first in my naïveté I thought they were Condors.  But good old Google and no they are Turkey Vultures or that very American appellation Turkey Buzzards.  They are impressive birds and beautiful in flight.  They do have a bad rap though because of course they are carrion eaters and hey, they are not exactly pretty.  The featherless head is said to enable them to burrow into carcasses more easily.

IG3C8813IG3C8753a

IG3C8765a

Just off the coast of Bird Rock lies Carmel Canyon an offshoot of the 10,000 ft deep Monterey Canyon.  During summer cold water wells up from the Canyon and this brings nutrients and feed and is responsible for the rich marine life.  The area was declared a sanctuary in 1992.  This time of the year there is also a variety of coastal flora.  Some familiar some not.  There is what we call ‘pigface’ a perfectly adapted succulent which actually comes from South Africa and heaps of others I have no idea the names of.

IG3C8841IG3C8836

IG3C7667_1

IG3C7673

Pigface.

But in truth the most distinctive vegetation is the Monterey Cypress.  They occur in forests or as single or groups.  They are native to the peninsula but have been cultivated widely around the world.  Often bare of leaves except for a canopy they can have twisted trunks and branches or even grow horizontally as they cope with the harsh conditions.

IG3C8985

A Cypress Forest.  Monterey,  The trees love the cooler summers and the constant fog.

IG3C8052

Near Pebble Beach.  Survivors.

IG3C9015

Monterey Cypress.  The road map of a hard journey.

But the area is synonymous with one particular tree.  The Lone Cypress.  It is located between the Pebble Beach and Cypress Point Golf courses and sits exposed to the elements on a granite outcrop as it has for maybe 250 years.  Held up now by wires.  it is seen as a symbol of rugged individualism and struggle.  It is much photographed but on this day my efforts fall way short, due to fog and haze.

IG3C8950

The Lone Cypress

My final stop was at Cypress Point.  The actual point not the golf course.  Of course it is covered with pines but of interest here were some sea otters.  Unfortunately I only caught occasional glimpses as there were a bit reclusive.  And really hard to photograph but they are recognisable.

IG3C8929

The coast at Cypress Point

IG3C8908a

Two sea otters at play.  Point Cypress

The Peninsula is a place where conflicting needs seem to coexist.  Luxury homes sit beside extraordinary natural beauty, impressive wildlife and millions of visitors.  Golf and bird watchers inhabit the same space.  It all seemed to be pretty well managed.

 

IG3C8873

Innovative architecture.  Pebble Beach

IG3C8881

Grand houses grand view

 

I spent much of the day here but it was time to move on.  Big Sur was my next destination but I needed gas (as they say over here).  The helpful man at the gas station told me that I was wasting my time as the road had been closed over a year.  So Plan B.  Leave the coast, head inland through Carmel Valley across the hills, and join HIghway 101. Just keep that in mind if you want to drive Highway 1.  You can’t.

Heading inland I took local roads.  It was a very different landscape.  The fog soon lifted.  to reveal steep hills, sometimes forested sometimes bare and sometimes covered with yellow grasses.  IG3C9042IG3C9031

IG3C9082

Carmel Valley itself is a wine growing area and lies in a wide flood plain surrounded by a mountain range. I can’t comment on the wine but the view was special

 

IG3C9074

Carmel Valley

IG3C9073

 

The second night was spent in King City, A not very remarkable motel in a not very remarkable place.  That left just a short (?) few hours drive left to Los Angeles for the next day.

I stuck to the inland road so my dream of completing Highway 1 was not to be.  But this was my first dose of real US Freeway traffic.  There was one section near Santa Barbara where it took nearly two hours to travel 10 miles  There seems to be an inverse rule that the wider the freeway and the more lanes, the slower it will be.  Still the cd was blaring out Irish tunes and this is the American Dream isn’t it. The road trip?  Crawling along the Freeway.

Ahh no; really there was a lot to see.

The Salinas River Valley is home to the very large San Ardo’s Oilfield.  The Miocene sands here are rich in oil bearing sediments and oil wells with ‘nodding donkey’ pumps are as far as the eye can see.  It is surprising how the simple beam pump used in the mining industry for centuries is still in use as the main method of extraction.

 

IG3C9105

San Ardo oilfield

IG3C9111

A bean pump at San Ardo

 

 

IG3C9142

San Ardo oilfield

 

It’s not generally thought of as a pretty sight but for the geologist in me it’s like looking through a window into a decaying technology extracting a dying product.  Already in many parts of California the acres of nodding donkeys have been replaced by acres of solar panels and windmills.

The drive along Highway 101 takes you in large part through the earliest settled parts of California.  The original settlers (ie invaders) were the Spanish and they set up a string of Missions between 1769 and 1833.  They were set up by the Fransiscans to evangelise the native Americans.  There were 21 of these Missions and they formed the basis of the colony of New Spain known as Alta California and part of the Spanish Empire.  They heavily disrupted native Californian life by forcing them to live in settlements, introduced ranching, fruits, vegetables, horses and technology but left a lasting legacy in terms of modern California with the cities of Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, and San Francisco developing around missions.

Mexico achieved its independence from Spain in 1821 and took Alta California with it and in 1849 ceded it to the United States as a result of losing the Mexican war.  Ironic actually as gold was discovered in California that same year.

 I visited one of these missions at San Miguel.  Built in 1797 close to a Salinas Indian village the aim was to convert these natives to Christianity.  It is still largely in original condition and though not run now as a mission is used for regular church services. You can tour through the building which includes many notable featurs such as a collonade of 12 arches all different sizes and shapes, a plaza with a fountain, a courtyard, an alley through the buildings to allow sheep to enter, original furnishings and art work, a beautifully decorated church and an adjoioning cemetery with the interred remains of 2,250 native Americans.

 

IG3C9183

Plaza and fountain San Miguel Mission

 

IG3C9170

Main gate to the Mission

IG3C9199

Collonade with 12 arches

 

 

 

These buildings are held in high regard and their preservation a priority as they are  a treasured part of Californian history.

The missions were accessed by a road known as the El Camino Real (The Royal Road) going from San Diego to north of San Francisco.  Much of it was just a goat track but in places it was marked by carved crosses in trees.  As you would imagine most haven’t survived but one was discovered near San Miguel and is on display here.  Today Highway 101 pretty much follows the old route and it is marked by bells on poles. Tradition has it however that the padres spread mustard seed along the route creating a golden highway helping the pilgrims to find their way.

So I’d certainly recommend the journey.  Check whether Highway 1 is open and be prepared to travel other routes.  Get off the freeways and take your time.  It’s always rewarding.  But that’s the great thing about travel.  There’s always something else to discover somewhere else.  It just might not be what you expect.

IG3C9362

 

IG3C9386

California grass.

 

 

 

 

Categories: America, My Journey | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Here today, gone tomorrow? The reappearing beach at Dooagh, Achill.

Achill, Acaill, Ecaill, Eccuill, Akill, Akle, The Aukilles.

These are some of the names recorded historically for Achill Island in West Mayo. The original meaning of the name however is unknown.  This is perhaps fitting as the Island itself is somewhat enigmatic.  I am constantly surprised, as I was on my most recent visit in July 2017.

Dooagh is one of a number of pretty villages on the island.  It has variously prospered and faded over recent centuries.  It became a hub when it received villagers who abandoned their homes in Slievemore during the mid 19th century.   The village is nestled on the Atlantic shore and its wellbeing has always been connected with the sea.  Fishing, seaweed and the hotels and guest houses that lined its sandy beach.  Then in 1984 the sand disappeared.  A wild storm stripped it away to the bare rock.  The decades passed and Dooagh had resigned itself to its beach’s fate until in April 2017 the sand returned.

Dooagh beach 1

The world went just a little mad, but this is a  perfectly natural event and has apparently occurred many times before.  John O’Shea, who has lived in a house on the beach for 46 years explained “When the wind is up north the sand builds up, when the wind’s sou’ west the sand goes out.”  It happens with Keel, Dooagh and Keem Bay, he said, and it happens regularly.  But this time seems to be different. The story has gone global.   John has had phone calls from Texas, Netherlands, New Zealand asking what’s going on.  A group of Chinese came – they didn’t want to see the Cliffs of Moher they wanted to see the New Beach!  Irish Times reported it and since then the story has spread.  Al Jaziera, The Times and more recently the Guardian did a six page spread.

Dooagh beach 3

IG3C3576

A particularly high tide and favourable marine conditions along with the northerly winds has brought back the sand and boulders that had been waiting below the low tide mark.  The world has taken notice and the tourists have come.

Beaches are a dynamic environment.  Man’s desire to live close to the beach creates conflicts that are often resolved by serious intervention in the natural process.  Huge quantities of rock are sometimes dumped to protect buildings or infrastructure and prevent erosion of the land and sometimes sand is ‘shifted’ from elsewhere to maintain  a ‘beach’.

IG3C3573

What has happened in Dooagh however shows that if we just leave things alone, Nature will find a way to restore equilibrium.  Beaches disappear.  And they come back.  We should celebrate with the people of Achill the return of  its sixth beach and hope that it lasts a long time.  But if it doesn’t last and the tides and winds sweep it away, we should celebrate that too.  These natural rhythms are on a planetary time scale and rarely on a human one.

Please take note Mr Trump.

Dooagh beach 2

 

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

A taste of Connemara

In early July I was at a traditional music festival at Spiddal in Co Galway.  I’ve been to this Festival every year and each time I was able to get into the hills and explore bits of Connemara.  Well this time the music kept me pretty busy and the weather was very changeable so no road trips.  But in a way I tasted a lot more of what makes Connemara unique.

The organisers of the festival found me some accommodation in a traditional Connemara cottage on the outskirts of Spiddal, which, due to the owners being away, I had to myself.   It was a time capsule. Made from large blocks of granite, covered in a thick coating of white and with a thatched roof.  It was like a picture postcard.  There was a second thatched cottage linked to the first with a glass walled room creating a rambling, many levelled, mix of old and new.

IG3C9301

The cottage near Spiddal where I stayed

 

In original condition the main cottage had the characteristic low doors, constantly collided with the top of my head. Something I struggled to adjust to.  There was no internet, but somehow this seemed appropriate.  I was told that the traditional design of the cottage was to have the front door aligned with the back so the wind would ventilate the house and blow away the chaff making life easier for the residents and the cohabiting animals.  Both doors were there with the front door though now converted to a window and the back door having wooden half doors and being the current main entrance to the cottage.  It was easy to imagine a house full of people and livestock seeking shelter from the bleak winter.  Life would have been tough.

 

IG3C9312

Original front door, now converted to a window

IG3C9291

Original back door, looking through to front.  

 

The cottage is part of an unplanned scatter of houses, old and new, lining a winding lane twisting through the granite outcrops towards the bare plains above. Very different landscape to what I am familiar with in Clare.  On these slopes there is thick vegetation attempting to reclaim the land. Giant granite boulders probably dropped by glaciers.  Hedges, some well trimmed others not.  Lovely gardens and as usual carefully maintained cottages next to carefully preserved but ignored ruins. My every move was watched by the happiest cows in the world.

IG3C9336IG3C9314IG3C9332IG3C9347

Then I find myself on a narrow boreen,  running through an open treeless bog land covered in bog cotton, piles of carefully stacked turf, granite boulders, the inevitable encroaching windmills and a misty view back over Galway Bay.  The lane draws me on and I pass a man and his dog, a figure that could have walked out of the 1800s.  The rain returns however and I cut my trip short.

IG3C9370IG3C9382IG3C9393IG3C9412abc IG3C9381

Just a taste this time but I will return soon for the full degustation meal.

Categories: My Journey, Real Ireland, Wild Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Tom Carmody – Home in a box.

I first met Kerry accordion player Danny O’Mahony in Birmingham in 2016 at a Festival, where he surprised with an amazing set in concert with renowned fiddler, Liz Kane. I then heard him again more recently at Ballyferriter in West Kerry. It was here he played his mighty Tom Carmody accordion. It was hard not to notice it. As dazzling as his playing.

IG3C7280

Intrigued, I chatted to him afterwards about this instrument, and my interest was piqued so we agreed to meet at the Rowan Tree Café in Ennis for a chat. I want to write here about the story that unfolded. It is a story of a tradition that spans time and continents. Of happenstance and passion. Of connections and stewardship. And of rescue and revitalisation.

IG3C7273

I have to start somewhere so who was Tom Carmody? Danny explains. Tom is not well known today but he was a master accordion player born in 1893 in Dromlought near Listowel in Kerry and emigrated to New York in 1925. He immediately made an impact and during the Irish recording boom of the 1930s appeared on many 78s with James Morrison.  New York was a melting pot of Irish melodies; and new tunes and new influences made for a vibrant scene. Indeed, Danny says that Tom introduced James to the tune “Stick across the Hob” which was to become the famous ‘Morrison’s Jig’. One can only assume Tom was in much demand as he became the first to play Irish music at the Waldorf Astoria and was employed to organise music there.

Flashy players required a flashy instrument. And Tom had the flashiest. He commissioned an Italian maker in New York, F Iorio, to make this instrument for him. It was loud and brash as was its exterior. Gaudily decorated with the Irish and American flags and detailed inlays in mother of pearl on the fingerboard incorporating a harp and shamrocks. The name TOM CARMODY is boldy emblazoned across the instrument where it will have maximum exposure. It is a work or art. But the story behind it is just as interesting. It was nearly lost.

IG3C7299aIG3C7293IG3C7292

Tom returned to Kerry in the 1970s and died in 1986. This was the year Danny started to play the accordion. Danny grew up with no knowledge of this Kerry man, despite the fact he was a distant relative. He is a grand nephew. Growing up, Danny tells, his father was an accordion player with a overriding passion for the instrument. There were three gods in his house. As in most Irish homes silence was demanded for the Angelus when it came on the radio but in the O’Mahony home, silence was also demanded if there was a tune from Joe Burke or Tony McMahon.

Twenty years later Danny discovered the legacy of Tom Carmody and in 2006 he found the location of the Tom Carmody box. Following the death of Tom’s wife in the 90s it had passed to Denis Moran, her nephew. Denis did not play and it lay forgotten in a shed behind his cottage.

Danny approached Dennis to ask if he could borrow it with a view to photographing it. What he discovered was the accordion in its original case in a very sad state. It was all there but held together with binding twine and caked in dust and grime and a home for live insects.

It was almost too late. Its fate was somewhat ironic. From what we know about Tom and from contemporary photos he was a very dapper and meticuluous man, always well presented and his instrument always in immaculate condition. No doubt he would not have been pleased to see it now.

Denis agreed to let Danny take it away. It was cleaned it up and this revealed it to be in marvellous condition externally but totally seized up. Seeing it now Danny, was desperate to get it back to playable condition. Further negotiation ensued and with some trepidation it was agreed to let Danny take it for two weeks to see what he could do. With the help of accordion guru from East Clare, Charlie Harris, they feverishly went to work and brought it back to life, carefully cleaning and tuning the original reeds which were underneath it all in perfect condition. The only part that needed replacing was the left hand leather strap!

It must have been a remarkable experience to hear that box sing again just as it did in the 1930s.

Danny was concerned that it would continue do deteriorate if kept under the same conditions. He broached this with Denis asking him if he, Denis, could keep it in his bedroom with him so it was not subject to extreme temperature variation. The answer was “Oh no, I couldn’t do that”.  But Denis had done his homework and was happy that Danny would be a suitable custodian of the instrument and gave it to his care.

Danny also obtained valuable material on Tom including photos and all his recordings so since then he has researched his legacy and Tom’s tunes on Tom’s box are a feature of some of his concerts. The work of this forgotten box player lives on.

IG3C7288

I love stories like this. But it could have been very different but for Danny’s persistence and a little bit of luck. If you get the chance to hear him, go listen.  You might be lucky and hear him play the Tom Carmody.

Meanwhile you can check out his website at http://www.dannyomahony.com/

 

Categories: Real Ireland, Stories, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Beach at Allihies, Co. Cork. A Beautiful Legacy of Ignorance and Indifference.

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.

IG3C4137

The beach at Allihies

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.

IG3C4147

The inlet at Ballydonegan with the Allihies Beach, the village in the background and the Caha Mountains

IG3C4028

A glorious setting and safe.

IG3C4138

Sand, water, rocks and sky

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.

IG3C3970

Coarse sand.  Lots of quartz and rock fragments

IG3C4098

Thick banded sand.

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.

IG3C4113

Tailings sand deposited among the rocks near the mouth of the river

IG3C4080

The mouth of the river.  Some unusual giant ripples.

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.

IG3C3991

Tranquil and empty.  Mid June.

IG3C4038

Not quite empty.  Holiday makers from the popular adjacent caravan park

 

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

The Vandeleur Walled Garden, Kilrush. Of Fragrance and Famine.

 

IG3C0215

The Vandeleur Walled Garden is located near Kilrush in the south western corner of Clare. I visited it in the middle of Spring when it was at its charming best. It is a formal garden space within high walls and is now a place of calm, peace and reflection. Especially reflection.

Historically it was the private garden of the Vandeleurs, who were the largest landowners in the area. It is completely surrounded by enormous stone walls and was located close to the family home, which was destroyed by fire in the 1890s and demolished in the 1970s and is now a car park.  The rectangular design was oriented to catch maximum sun so today Mediterranean plants thrive.

The original garden design was simple and functional as it was mainly used for produce, fruit and supplies for the household. It also included a large greenhouse. All that is gone and the garden lay forgotten for decades. Restoration commenced in 1997 and it was opened in 2000.   It has been redesigned as a recreational space with lawns, an horizontal maze, an hedge maze, plantings of exotics and an arboretum. It is a lovely space. There is a red theme throughout with furniture and installations matching some of the plantings.

IG3C0299

Remnants of the supports for the roof of the greenhouse

 

IG3C0303

Lawns and plantings cut by gravel paths

 

IG3C0281

Mediterranean plants thrive.

 

IG3C0254

Vigorous growth under the high walls

 

IG3C0234

The Garden has a red theme

IG3C0557

Red theme reflected in plantings.

But despite all this beauty as I stroll around my mind remained troubled.

Near the entrance is a small plaque.  It says “Dedicated to the memory of the people evicted from the Estate of Landlord Hector Stewart Vandeleur. July August 1888”. The effect is somewhat diminished though with the tag “Erected by the Kilrush Tidy Towns committee April 2010”

IG3C0220

Memorial plaque near entrance to Garden

I suspect most people just walk by and give only a passing thought to this hint of the awful history that accompanies the family responsible for this garden. I   wonder further how many people actually are aware of what happened in this place during the 1800s, as their children skip and play on the lawns and chase each other through the hedge maze or as they wander along gravel paths and admire the plantings from all over the world.

IG3C0436

skip and play

IG3C0451

Children take a short cut across the Horizontal Maze

There is no information provided so I too was in the dark. My interest piqued though I explored further a little later.

So who were the The Vandeleurs? Descended from Dutch merchants, they settled in county Clare at Sixmilebridge in the early 17th Century.  In 1712 the Earl of Thomond leased the Kilrush estate to the family who eventually purchased it in 1749,   The lands amounted to almost 20,000 acres spread over a very wide area of West Clare.  John Ormsby Vandeleur played a major role in the development of the town of Kilrush in the early 19th century and built Kilrush House (to which the garden was attached) in 1808. Later the Vandeleurs gave land for the building of the Catholic Church, convent, a fever hospital and, ironically, the workhouse.

The family however is remember more for the large number of evictions that took place in the famine years and then again some forty years later.

As I said the brochures you collect at the entrance make only passing reference to these events with the words that “history must never be repeated”.  But behind this is a painful picture of despair, cruelty and terrible injustice.  I am sure all my readers will be well aware of the Famine. An event that killed one million people and forced another million to flee to other lands. But as I dug deeper the sense of injustice increased and I think it is worth retelling the story at least as it impacts the Vandeleurs.

As the Famine took hold in 1847 and tenants were unable to pay rent mass evictions began. Not just by the Vandeleurs but by landowners all over the country.

County Clare however had the highest level of evictions, relative to its population, of any county in Ireland and Kilrush Poor Law Union had the highest level of mass evictions in Clare. So the Vandeleurs were right in the centre of it.

We are lucky that the records of Captain Kennedy who was the administrator for the Kilrush Union are available and they make extraordinary reading. Captain Kennedy was extremely disturbed by what was going on and though he was diligent in administering the regulations he did what he could to alleviate the plight of those affected and destined for starvation, disease and the workhouse.

A quick word on Kennedy.  He was a good man caught in terrible times.  He later went on to be Governor of Western Australia but he never forgot Kilrush and regularly sent money back there.

In early 1848 he observed in one of his regular Reports.

“I scrutinized a list of 575 families here, and saw each individual; On one estate alone, little short of 200 houses have been ‘tumbled’ within three months, and 120 of this number, I believe, within three weeks! The wretched, houseless, helpless inmates, for the most part an amphibious race of fishermen and farmers, scattering disease, destitution, and dismay in every direction. Their lamentable state of filth, ignorance, destitution, and disease, must be seen to be comprehended.”

In July of that year things were desperate:

“Twenty thousand, or one-fourth of the population, are now in receipt of daily food, either in or out of the workhouse.

“I may state in general terms, that about 900 houses, containing probably 4,000 occupants, have been levelled in this Union since last November. The wretchedness, ignorance, and helplessness of the poor on the western coast of this Union prevent them seeking a shelter elsewhere; and to use their own phrase, they “don’t know where to face;” they linger about the localities for weeks or months, burrowing behind the ditches, under a few broken rafters of their former dwelling, refusing to enter the workhouse till the parents are broken down and the children half starved, when they come into the workhouse to swell the mortality, one by one. It is not an unusual occurrence to see 40 or 50 houses levelled in one day, and orders given that no remaining tenant or occupier should give them even a night’s shelter.

“I have known some ruthless acts committed by drivers and sub-agents, but no doubt according to law, however repulsive to humanity; wretched hovels pulled down, where the inmates were in a helpless state of fever and nakedness, and left by the road side for days.

“As many as 300 souls, creatures of the most helpless class, have been left houseless in one day, and the suffering and misery resulting therefrom attributed to insufficient relief or mal-administration of the law: “

I could go on. In total there were close to 7,000 evictions. The event, of course, changed the nation. It was surely inconceivable that it could happen again. But extraordinarily it did; and the Vandeleurs were in the forefront.

A series of bad harvests plagued the country from 1870. This had led to a movement in the next decade for tenants’ rights and land reform with the foundation by William O’Brien of the National Land League.   The ‘land question’ caused major upheaval in the county and people flocked to Ennis in 1880 to hear Charles Stuart Parnell make his famous “Boycott” speech.

Landleagueposter

Irish Land League poster from the 1880s

By1885, bad weather, poor harvests, falling prices and declining markets had again taken their toll, and thousands of tenants, especially in the western parts of the county, found themselves unable to pay rents.

The National League introduced the Plan of Campaign in 1886. This was adopted by many tenants who got into trouble. Where a landlord refused to lower his rents voluntarily to an acceptable level the tenants were to combine to offer him reduced rents. If he refused to accept these, they were to pay him no rent at all, but instead contribute to an “estate fund”.

Vandeleur’s tenants adopted this strategy, which was summarily rejected and negotiations went nowhere. And after a long stand off the evictions commenced in October 1887. But the main evictions of the Vandeleur tenants were not until July 1888. It was a massive operation. A procession moved from house to house that comprised hundreds of men and was 1¼ mile in length.  It included detachments of police, hussars, government representatives, the landowners, Emergency men, Infantry, cart loads of observers, visitors and a massive battering ram. It is estimated that up to 10,000 people were there on some days.

battering

The Irish Collection

23144955540_e65c53e0ef_hThe mob was resolute in its intent and ruthless in its implementation. Here is a description of the demolition of the house of Michael Cleary, near Moneypoint.

Cleary had strongly barricaded the house and was clearly prepared to resist. First of all cordon of police and soldiers were drawn up about the house, but at some distance. Smoke was coming from the chimney – and the first action taken was to block the chimney with straw. Possession was then demanded and the only reply heard was a laugh from some girls inside. The police were now ordered to fix their bayonets, while the bailiffs got to work with crowbars and hatchets, but to little effect. An attack on the door moved it only slightly and hot water was thrown out. The tripod and battering ram were then brought up – and after a long time eventually made a breach in the wall. A shower of hot water was thrown out through the breach.

Finally, a large section of the wall crashed down to a cheer from the Emergency men. Two girls and their two brothers who were in the house were seized by the police The house was then knocked to the ground.

The eviction of Mathaiass Macgrath from Moyasta a week later received the most attention as he resisted strongly and was brutally beaten. His mother, watching this, collapsed and died that night. The evictions ended two days later.

photographing_evictions_vandeleur

These Vandeleur evictions were on a much smaller scale than those in the Famine years. only 22 houses were destroyed compared to the many thousands previously. However, Because the event was so well documented and photographed and because of the resistance of the tenants it received wide publicity. This was a factor in reaching a settlement which led to the tenants being able to resume their land a year later.

The photographs above and many others were taken by Robert French and are now in the collection of the National Library in Dublin. They were a major factor in changing perceptions. Maybe more would have been done if the public had been better appraised of what was happening during the earlier evictions.

So back to the garden. Earlier I commented that there was no informaton on these events. But I am now in two minds. Perhaps we don’t need an Interpretive Centre to tell us of these terrible events.  Perhaps it is a place for people to enjoy in their own way.   For some just to walk and contemplate and for others to run and play.

And for others it is a place to honour and respect an extraordinary formative time in Irish history. To reflect on inhumanity and injustice. To ponder on the harm man can do to their own. To contemplate and to evince hope for the future.

IG3C0305

Enter a caption

 

 

Categories: My Journey, Real Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Stone Walls of Aran. A Triumph of Adaptability.

 

IMG_5678

 

The Aran Islands are one of the harshest environments in Ireland. Hardly a tree, little natural soil, plenty of rock, no surface water.   But it does have, for Ireland, a relatively benign climate and its greatest resource – a resilient and enterprising people.  It once supported 3,500 people in the 1840s but how has around 1,300.

The islands (Inis Mór, Inis Meáin, Inis Oírr)  are stunningly beautiful but the feature of the landscape that strikes you most when you visit the islands. are the walls and the limestone pavements so typical of the Burren. The two go hand in hand.  There are over 2,000 km of stone walls on the Aran Islands. This is mind boggling considering the total area of the islands is only 46 square kilometres.  I doubt that there is such a concentration of stone walls anywhere else in the world.

IMG_5799

A typical Aran scene.  Narrow walled roads and houses on a treeless landscape.  

IG3C7179

Lush paddocks surrounded by Aran walls.

IG3C7333

 

In fact at ground level staring out over the paddocks often all you can see is stone walls forming a continuous covering of the landscape.

IMG_7349

Walls form a continuous blanket over the landscape

 

Most of the walls were probably built in modern times (since the 1820s). They are made of limestone gathered from the adjacent fields, Of course in our mindset we tend to think of these walls as boundaries of land holdings. Most are not.

 

But first. The oldest surviving walls on the Aran Islands are those associated with the famous ring forts. At Dún Aonghasa,  one of the most impressive forts in Europe,  the earliest of the walls appear to date from 1100 to 1000 BC, that is Late Bronze age though considerable additions and modifications were made in medieval times (c800AD). Extensive further additions and repairs were made in the nineteenth century in the name of conservation. Clear differences in the masonry or these three periods are apparent. Especially obvious are the buttresses which were controversially added in the 1800s to ensure stability of the earlier walls. The stone for the walls here was quarried nearby, as revealed by the regular shapes. The quality of the stonework is amazing, especially the oldest parts of the wall,  and much of it has been in place for 3,000 years.

IMG_6661

Dun Aonghasa.  Ancient wall from 1000BC

 

IMG_6636

 

But back to the other stone walls.  Up until the 1840s there was a system of shared common land ownership in the west of Ireland, known as the Rundale System. So there was no great need for farm boundaries. However following the abandonment of this system, stone wall, ditches and hedges were used to define land boundaries.

 

However the farm walls on Aran, as I have already aluded to, are largely not the boundaries to land holdings. The paddocks are too small and irregular. They appear to be a method of handling waste rock gathered from the fields to improve the quality of the pasture and to enable soil improvement by the use of seaweed and to allow the growing of potatos. They define manageable parcels of land and protect the soil from being blown away by the wind. Quite brilliant really.

 

They are always built without mortar – the ‘dry stone’ technique and require constant maintenance. A number of styles are apparent and these may be a response to the availability of source rock, the type or shape of the source rock, the needs of the site or the skills of the craftsmen.

 

For me the most striking and beautiful are the Lace Walls. They are essentially see-through and come with lot of variations presumably at the whim of the builder. Some have large gaps and some are tight.  All are so called single walls unlike the double walls more characteristic of other parts of Ireland.   By the way, there have never been professional stone masons on the islands.  The walls are all built by residents who acquire the skills as a normal part of their farming tool kit.

IG3C7451

Open lace wall using regular vertical ‘mother’ stones

IMG_5812

Open Lace wall in very slabby terrain.

 

 

IMG_7742

Closer packed lace wall with some larger and more regular stones

 

IG3C7379

Tight lace wall with even sized stones.  

IMG_7500

Tight lace wall.  Very few gaps.

 

Feiden Walls (from the Irish for ‘family’) are characteristic of Aran and the west of Ireland. They are built with a ‘family’ of stacked stones. Often there will be vertical slabs (mother stones) which act as a frame within which smaller stones (children) are stacked.  There are countless variations.

IMG_7851

Feiden wall

 

IG3C7499

Two stage wall with Feiden wall at base and tight lace wall at top.

 

Between the fields are narrow roads know as róidín but access is usually across fields rather than around them. This seems strange as there are very few gates. This didn’t really hit me at first but most fields appear to have no access. A closer look however reveals “phantom gates”. A ‘gap’ roughly filled with stone. These are called bearna, or “Aran gaps”.   Many are filled with rounded stones as they are easier to dismantle and roll away. There are many variations and again, they appear to be unique to the west of Ireland.

IMG_7818

Note the narrow walled roads between the fields.

 

 

IMG_7697

A bearna.  Stones in ‘gate’ were removed to gain access and then replaced after.

 

Each time you visit these islands you see more.  It’s like reading a book over and over and seeing something different each time. Initially the sheer scale and quantity of the walls is a little overwhelming. But they are a aesthetic and functional marvel and a wonderful example of man’s ingenuity in adapting to his/her environment.

Stone, earth, land, climate, food; all intricately woven together, driven by remoteness, resilience and the need for self sufficiency has created something truly unique.

IMG_7917IMG_7914

IG3C7449

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

Life Wasn’t Meant to be Easy Part 2. The Search for St Ruth’s Bush.

I recently blogged on my troubles finding the Bealin Cross. Well not wanting to labour a point but on the same day I had a similar interesting experience trying to find St Ruth’s Bush.

Really I knew nothing about St Ruth’s Bush, except that it is the name of a lovely reel.  Of course in my ignorance I imagined it was referring to a Saint in the mould of St Brigid.  Perhaps the Patron Saint of Gardening.  But I made no enquiries.  Well I was wrong.  Not only was Saint Ruth not a Saint but she wasn’t a she!  I’ll come back to that in a moment but first a bit of Irish History.

Driving in Ireland I like to travel off the motorway as much as possible so coming home from the North on a recent road trip, just past Balinasloe in Co Galway, I saw a turnoff to Aughrim.  Aha my chance to visit the site of the Battle of Aughrim.  Another tune name but to my shame I knew nothing about this battle.  In fact it was the definitive battle of the War of the Kings, the battle between the Jacobites, supporting Catholic James II and the English/Dutch backed Williamites.  The battle was fought on July 12th 1692 and ended badly for the Irish and their French allies.  A total of 7,000 were killed in the worst massacre on Irish soil. Ironically, the battle was going well for the Irish until fate intervened. Firstly they had been supplied with the wrong musket balls which didn’t fit their guns, but even worse their leader was decapitated by a stray and fortuitous canon ball. Leaderless, the Irish disintegrated and the battle was lost.

Their leader was Charles Chalmont,  The Marquis de St Ruth.  Saint Ruth.

This defeat led to a series of devastating events for Ireland. The surrender at Limerick, The Treaty of Limerick, the repudiation of that Treaty by the Protestant dominated Irish Parliament, and the subsequent penal laws and centuries of British domination of Ireland.

So back to St Ruth and his Bush.  The Bush was planted in an open field and reputedly marks the spot where St. Ruth fell from his horse after his head was blown off.  I was determined to find this bush.  It was marked on the self guided battle tour and referred to in all the guide books.  No problem I thought.

So I get myself to the right area and find a sign adjacent to a field.  This must be it.  Looking for some guidance I saw none but started wandering aimlessly across the paddock.  Looking for a bush.  Not looking promising as I was rescued by a voice from an adjacent house.  “Can I help you?”

“Oh  you won’t find St Ruth’s Bush there.  It’s too boggy.  No one goes that way.”  She directed me back up the road I had come to a yellow house and told me to walk through an adjacent gate and across the paddock.  So I did this.  Mind you there was no signage here but there was a beautiful steel stile,  which took me into an empty paddock.  In the distance I saw another stile, so I headed that way.  No bush anywhere.  Now I was joined by a flock of friendly sheep very keen on following my progress.  Across that stile I was in another empty paddock.  No signs and no bush.  I walked to the other end of the paddock.  Nothing.  My companions were no help.  I was perplexed and retraced my steps.  I then caught a glimpse of a stile in a side fence and this proved to lead to the holy grail.

ig3c2763_1

My friendly companions

 

Here there was a sign.  However this was just a viewing platform and in the middle of the paddock in the distance was a fenced off compound surrounding some very unimpressive weeds.  I had found it.  The memorial to this pivotal event in Irish History and the worst military disaster in the country was some straggly undergrowth in the middle of a boggy field.

ig3c2780

ig3c2782

St Ruth’s Bush

 

Sorry but the photo is just as unimpressive.  It was raining and as it got heavier, I hurriedly retreated.  With a mixture of satisfaction though that I had found it and sobering reflection on its significance.  There are a number of other sites to visit in the vicinity and each in its own way takes you back to the horrible events of that day and the devastating significance to the Irish people.  A lonely bridge, a ruined castle and empty paddocks all tell a sordid but sad story.

ig3c2797

Attibrassil Bridge

ig3c2738

Ruins of Aughrim Castle

 

When I play the evocative tune The Battle of Aughrim now, it is hard not to think of those 7,ooo souls and the millions who suffered as a consequence.

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

Blog at WordPress.com.