Posts Tagged With: Ireland

The Beara Peninsula. Stories of children, swans and hags.

I recently visted  the beautiful Beara Peninsula, which straddles Counties Cork and Kerry, a place of extraordinary natural beauty.  But it’s also the stuff of legends. Two of the great Irish myths have a strong connection to the Beara Peninsula.

The Hag of Beara

First there is the ancient and enduring story of An Cailleach Béara, a goddess of sovereignty giving kings the right to rein, she was seen as the harbinger of winter. She is said to have had seven periods of youth so that every man who had lived with her died of old age. The myth is widespread throughout Ireland with other sites also associated with her, such as Hag’s Head at the Cliffs of Moher and the Wailing Woman on Skellig Michael, created where she is said to have dropped stones from her apron (though as with all these legends these sites have alternative explanations).
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The Hag of Beara stares out to sea.

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Hag’s Head in Co Clare

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The Wailing Woman on Skellig Michael

The Hag however did live most of her time near Kilcatherine where she met her fate when she was caught stealing a prayer book of Naomh Caitairiin, a Christian preacher, who she saw as a threat to her powers. He turned her to stone at Ard na Cailli her face now perpetually staring out to sea. The haunting and poignant figure of the Hag of Beara holds a strong place in Irish culture and her memory is revered, with legends and feast days associated with her all over the country. The rock at Kilcatherine is visited by many who leave coins and trinkets to her memory.
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Hag of Beara

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Offerings left on the rock

The Children of Lir

Another myth known all over Ireland is the Children of Lir. A sad tale of love, loss, betrayal it still today inspires many cultural expressions, in song music and dance. It tells of the ancient King of Lir (of the Tuatha de Danaan clan) and his four daughers, who were turned into swans by a jealous stepmother Aoife. The spell lasted 900 years and they were banished for 300 on Lake Derravaragh in County Westmeath, three hundred on Straits of Moyle, between Scotland and Ireland, and three hundred more on Isle of Inishglora, off the coast of Mayo. The spell could only be broken when they heard the ringing of Christian bells with the arrival of St Patrick.
When finally they heard bells being rung by a monk in Allihies they landed and took on human form and rapidly aged. They were christened and buried by this holy man in one grave under some round boulders. This humble site is the only physical manifestation of this enduring legend.
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Burial site of the Children of Lir

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

Connemara. Beautiful.

I visited Connemara at the beginning of February 2019 after an extensive snowall and having mentioned this to a friend, and how beautiful it was, I was surprised at her response.  “What did I mean by beautiful? Was it just the snow?”

I hadn’t really thought about it; it just was.  I could have just quoted the Oxford definition – ‘pleasing the senses or mind aesthetically’ but that would have been too glib. For millenia philosophers and poets have struggled with the notion of beauty so who am I to think I can explain it, but I felt obliged to respond and to try to put my thoughts into words.

So what did I mean by beautiful?

I just love snow so of course that was part of it but it was a lot, lot more.  I’ve been to Connemara many times and each time it has presented a different face.  And each time I have loved it, but it is notorious for its bleak, drab weather; rain and fog has been the norm in my experience.  Never, for me, have the Gods conspired to produce such sheer perfection as this paraticular weekend.  A world that defies description and conditions attuned to capture every nuance of the landscape.  The mountains of Connemara, the Twelve Bens, have a sublime beauty at any time, but when covered in snow they are dizzyingly so.  And this was no ordinary snow.  Locals I talked to said it’s like this perhaps every ten years.  The purest white.  But what was so special was that the weather, the light and the landscape were in perfect harmony.  That’s what I mean by beautiful.

Let me explain a bit more.

On the Friday I travelled from Oughterard through Maam Cross to Letterfrack.  Taking in Lough Inagh and Kylemore Abbey. A continually moving image of the bluest of lakes, snow-covered rocky mountains, treeless bogs with tussocky grass, or rubble-strewn fields of boulder granite and cascading streams.  All illuminated by the low winter sun, with not a trace of haze, giving an extraordinary light, and enabling capture in my photos of every detail against an endless, azure, cloudless sky.  It was cold; the temperature hardly getting above 0°C, but around every corner I had to stop the car, rug up and get just a bit closer.

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Levallinee, Connemara, Co Galway.

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Lough Inagh, Connemara

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A morning stroll

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Lough Inagh

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Monarch of the Glen

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Happy sheep

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May the road rise to meet you.

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Is this really Ireland?

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The bridge between ice and water.

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Sometimes the view is better when you turn around.

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A Connemara winterscape.

And then there was the beautiful Lough Kylemore and Kylemore Abbey.

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Later that day I headed back east on a little travelled road that takes you across the middle of Connemara from Garroman to Inver.  The locals call it ‘The Bog Road’.  A tundra-like land of grassy plains, granite tors, lakes and bulrushes, turf cutting and the mighty Twelve Bens Range ever-present to the north.  A different beautiful.

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Lough Avally iced over. A reflective scene

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Lough Nacoogarrow near Garroman

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The legacy of the turf cutter

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Cottage on the Owengowla River.

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Lougharnillam and the Owengowla River

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One Twelfth of the Bens

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Bog, lake, river and mountain. One of the prettiest views in Ireland?

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Another view of Lougharnillam and the Twelve Bens

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Lough Avally near Derryrush. Walking on thin ice.

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Winter colour.

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Where the plain meets the mountain

As the end of this extraordinary day approached and I took a little time to reflect at Inver on the southern shore of Connemara and watch the sun light up the clouds and the sea. Beautiful.

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Never far from the music I stayed with some friends at nearby Camus.  There is nothing on this planet sweeter than the sound of two fiddles.  More beautiful. Thanks Bridge.

That should have been enough but I was ready for another course of Connemara’s extraordinary visual degustation. Predicted showers saw me resist a return visit to the mountains and, following Bridge’s advice, I headed to the coast for a taste of what she calls the ‘real’ Connemara.  With unfamiliar names like Annaghvaan, Lettermore, Gorumna, Lettermullen, Furnace and Crappagh I travelled this string of rugged, unforgiving rocky islands, linked by causeways; so wild it was left out of the Wild Atlantic Way. I just loved it. Met Éireann was spot on though. Storms rolled in from the north bringing snow, sleet and hail and then just as quickly disappeared over Galway Bay.  The stunning landscape with its sculpted coastline and quiet inlets, ice covered mirror-blue loughs, stone walls, thick bogs, neat cottages and rocky fields creates a frowzled, disorderly wildness. Framed always by the serenity of the snowy mountains to the north. The interplay of black clouds, dappled sunshine and an extraordinary pallete of rich colours made for vistas that would have defied the painter. Truly beautiful.

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The Ring near Camus

View north from Camus Hill.  Storm rollin in

View north from Camus Hill. A storm rolling in

The Twelve Bens completely blacked out.

A Connemara scene. The Twelve Bens completely shrouded in black cloud.

One minute before the snow and rain hit.. South of Camus

One minute before the snow and rain hit.. South of Camus

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A Connemara cottage under a light dusting of snow

Swans fishing through the ice.  Carrowmore West

Swans fishing through the ice. Carrowmore West

The storm has passed

The storm has passed.

Snow on ice. lake at Carrowroe West.

Snow settles on the ice over this lake at Carrowroe West.

Near Carrowroe West

Home sweet home. Near Carrowmore West.

Looking from Lettermore to Annaghvaan

Looking across the estuary from Lettermore to Annaghvaan

The estuary at Lettermore

The estuary at Lettermore

A cottage near The Hooker Bar on Annaghvaan Island

A cottage near The Hooker Bar on Annaghvaan Island

Cottage on teh island of Furnace.

Cottage, walls and a boreen on the island of Furnace.

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A small iced lake at Derrynea, near Carraroe. Completely frozen over at 3:30 pm still.

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Lough Awilla on the island of Gorumna. [sounds like a kingdom in Game of Thrones] The ice is thawing. Twelve Bens in the distance.

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Lough Awalia, Gorumna Island. Bulrushes poke throught the ice.

Reflections on the ice. Loch Awalia,.  Handful of stones.

Reflections on the ice. Loch Awalia,. The handful of stones I threw rest on top of the ice.

Breaking the ice.

Breaking the ice.

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A Connemara granite wall incorporates existing granite boulders.

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The island of Lettermullen. Glowing in the afternoon sun

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Lettermullen from Crappagh as the rain sweeps by

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White cottages occupy the hills between the bogs. Lettermullen.

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A study in dark and light. Lettermullen.

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Connemara walls take everything in their stride.

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A thundercloud develops over the hills of Connemara

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…..and letterboxes.

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The prettiest golf course in Ireland? Connemara Isles Golf Club on Annaghvaan Island.

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The view from the Third Tee at Connemara Isles Golf Club

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As I sorted through my images from those two days, I felt so grateful that I was able to be there, and to experience this release from the endless drabness of the Irish winter.  I got more images in those two days than a photographer should reasonably expect in a year.

That’s what I meant by beautiful.

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

Scandals & Scoundrels. The Early Days of WA’s Golden Mile.

In a former life I was, for three years, Chief Geologist at the Super Pit,  Australia’s largest gold mine consuming what’s left from undergound mining of Kalgoorlie’s Golden Mile. The richest concentration of gold in the world. Mining has been carried on continuously here since 1893, when gold was first discovered by one Paddy Hannan, from the village of Quin in County Clare.

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The Golden Mile in 1905.  Photo JJ Dwyer.  WA Museum

The Golden Mile in 2017.  The Super Pit.  Eastern Goldfields Historical Society

Don’t get me wrong, Paddy was not a scoundrel; I’ll talk about those characters in a bit.  Paddy Hannan led a party of three Irishmen that changed the history of Western Australia, starting a rush that populated the desert and rescued a depressed economy.  There are many reminders of the man – Hannan Street, Hannan’s Hotel, Hannan’s Lager (now sadly defunct) and a statue in the main street erected in the 1920s.  Before the name was changed to Kalgoorlie the place was even called Hannan’s.

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Paddy Hannan, taken in the mid 1920s.  Photo Battye Library WA.

 

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Hannan Street, Kalgoorlie, Postcard from 1907.  Coll. Bob Singer

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Crowds gather in Hannan Street, said to have been made wide enough to turn a bullock dray. Coll. Bob Singer

It’s a great story.  Briefly, Paddy emigrated to Australia in 1863, escaping post famine Ireland.  Eventually his six brothers and sisters followed him.  Not an uncommon thing. He started in the mines of Ballarat, but prospecting was in his blood and after limited success in New South Wales, South Australia and the Southern Cross field in WA, he ended up in Coolgardie, the site of the first major gold rush in WA, in 1893.  He was too late there and in June 1893 headed further east into unknown country.

John McMahon takes up the story in ‘Ramblers from Clare and Other Sketches’ (1936).

“At what is now Kalgoorlie, one of their horses strayed. During the search for the horse they found gold in some quantity.  On the nearby ridge of Mount Charlotte they found water, an essential prerequisite for their work. Then Paddy found a series of gullies where gold was clearly visible. Within two days they had unearthed 100 ozs. of gold. [that’s nearly $200,000 worth in today’s value]  Paddy Hannan rode to Kalgoorlie to register his claim and was awarded the space of ground which became known as “The Hannan Award”  [Hannan’s Reward].  News of the find spread like wildfire, within two days they were joined by 400 men and in a week this had grown to 1,000.” 

Prospecting in those days was not for the faint hearted.  Searing temperatures, dust, flies, desert and lack of water and supplies meant many privations.  The well resourced had camels.  Most, like Paddy didn’t, but rewards such as these he, Flanagan and O’Shea found were the reason men (and women) travelled to the remote unknown on the other side of the world.  Paddy was one of the lucky ones.

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Prospecting near Coolgardie, WA.  Photographer unknown c1894.  Coll Bob Singer

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Prospectors using the technique of ‘dry blowing’ to search for traces of gold.  Photographer unknown. c1894.  Coll. Bob Singer.

While Patrick Hannan, Thomas Flanagan and Dan Shea started the rush to Kalgoorlie, they did not discover the real wealth of the Goldfield.  This lay a mile or two to the south and the real hero of the Golden Mile was Sam Pearce,  another emigrant prospector from England.  Just a few weeks after the Hannan’s rush he found the Ivanhoe reef, then the phenomenally rich Great Boulder mine and over the next four months, with others in his syndicate, he pegged Lake View, Royal Mint, Bank of England, Iron Duke, Iron Monarch, Associated, Consols and the fabulous Golden Horseshoe and many more.

Thus began a boom which led to the blooming of the twin cities of Kalgoorlie and Boulder, the railway arriving in 1896 and a monumental water pipeline constructed in 1903 by another famous Irishman, Charles Yelverton O’Connor (from Co Meath).  His achievement of building a 350 mile pipeline from Perth to the desert was one of the great engineering  feats of the day and sadly under intense public criticism of the scheme he took his life before the water arrived.

There was no denying the incredible wealth of the place but from the very beginning  it attracted all kinds of financial speculation.  Inevitably this led to many sharp practices and resulted in a number of financial and corporate scandals which severely damaged the reputation of Western Australia and the Golden Mile in particular.  That’s what I want to talk about here.

It took only two years from Paddy Hannan’s discovery of gold at Kalgoorlie in 1893 for the first speculative bubble to take hold.  The full potential of the finds was slow initially to become apparent.  There was free gold, yes, but most of the gold was locked up in pyrite or in rare minerals called ‘tellurides’, containing the element Tellurium, which formed alloys with gold, making it hard to extract.  Further the gold went deep very quickly.  So the gold could only be extracted by deep underground mining and complicated metallurgical processes.

This need for capital created a massive market for opportunistic floats.  The preferred place to raise money was on the London Stock exchange.  In 1895-6, alomost 700  West Australian gold mining companies were floated.  Some had real ore bodies but most amounted to little more than what we would now call “address pegging”.  So long as the company had, somewhere in the name, a reference to one of the big producing mines or something associated with Kalgoorlie (or both) it was guaranteed success for the promoters.  The most popular name to include was of course Hannan’s.  A quick look at the lease maps prior to 1903 reveals dozens of companies using Paddy’s name linked with some of its producing neighbours to lend some credibility.  Names like Hannan’s Proprietary Dev Co, Hannan’s Paringa GM Ltd, Hannan’s Brown Hill GM Co, Hannan’s Brown Hill South GM Co’,  Hannan’s Star GM Ltd, Hannan’s Reward & Mt Charlotte Ltd, Hannan’s Find Gold Reefs Ltd, Hannan’s Kalgoorlie Ltd.  You get the picture.  None of them had anything to do with Paddy who was long gone.

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Share Certificate Hannan’s Paringa GM Ltd.  1897  Coll. Bob Singer

There were also many “cashbox floats” where large sums of money were raised with no operating mines.  For example the grandly titled Western Australian Gold District Trading Corporation raised £500,000, an extraordinary amount of money.  In today’s terms it would be the equivalent of around $300 million.

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Share Certificate West Australian Gold District Trading Corporation 1896. Coll. Bob Singer

Despite having no discernable business and no operating mine the company declared a dividend of 100%.  This attempt by the directors  to ensure a high price for the sale of their own shares landed Managing Director Mr L H Goodman with an 18 months prison sentence with hard labour  for “conspiracy to defraud, obtaining money by false pretences, publishing false statement and misappropriation.”

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A Lease map of the Kalgoorlie Gold Mines (c1897). Kalgoorlie town is at D4.  Hannan’s discovery is marked as Hannan’s Lode at D3.  The richest mines of the Golden Mile stretch from B6 to B9

The common feature of all these floats, even the legitimate ones, was that of the money raised, most went to the promoters and vendors with very little going as working capital (a familiar story also in later gold booms).

The London market during the ‘Westralia’ Craze was ripe for plucking by over zealous prospectors, wily WA based promoters, less-than-honest Mine Managers and  so-called “experts” all feeding off one another and playing into the hands of unscrupulous London- based promoters and fuelling a frenzy among a rising middle class that we would find hard to imagine today. The only thing remotely similar but on a much smaller scale was the Poseidon nickel boom in WA in the early 70s

This activity prompted prominent author and financial journalist, JH Curle, to comment in his book ‘Gold Mines of the World’, in 1902 that

“West Australia, since the beginning of the mining there, has been a synonym for all that is bad in gold mining” and

“of the boards of directors in London I do not trust one in twenty”.

The climate was ripe for exploitation and none strode the stage larger than Whitaker Wright and Horatio Bottomley.

Whitaker Wright was born in England in 1845 and gained some formal training in chemistry and assaying in his youth. He was active in mine promotion in the US from 1875 and made and lost a fortune before returning penniless to England in 1889. Undaunted, he set to work building up his companies again and by 1897 was a millionaire for a second time!

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Whitaker Wright.  Contemporary newspaper sketch c1904.

His return to England coincided with the ‘Westralia’ boom and he was an active participant with his companies – the West Australian Exploring and Finance Corporation  and the London and Globe Company, holding extensive share investments in WA companies.

In March 1897, Wright merged the two companies into the London and Globe Finance Corporation which had an issued capital of £1.6 million and an elite Board of notables ensuring respectability.

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Londond & Globe Finance Corporation Ltd.  1898. Note signature of Whitaker Wright.  Coll.  Bob Singer

The company had considerable real assets including Lake View Consols and Ivanhoe mines on the Golden Mile.  These he used to boost the value of many of the more speculative ventures in the portfolio.

Wright used his knowledge of his mines’ operations to indulge in what we would now call “insider trading”.  He also however engaged in much more sinister activities of market manoeuvring by manipulating output from the mines, especially the Lake View Consols.

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Lake View Consols GM.  The jewel in the Whitaker Wright empire.  Coll. Bob Singer

With the profits from his ventures, Wright became extremely wealthy.  He  acquired over 9,000 acres in Surrey and built  a sumptuous mansion (Witely Park), complete with thirty two bedrooms, eleven bathrooms, landscaped gardens, a private theatre and  an observatory.

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Witley Park mansion.  Home of Whitaker Wright’  Including an observatory. Photographer unknown

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Witley Park Mansion. Photographer unknown

But most notable of his endeavours was a huge domed glass and steel room under a lake which he constructed.  This is probably one of the world’s greatest follies.   Termed a ‘ballroom’ it was actually used to house a billiard table.  It was said he loved to play in the flickering light that filtered down through the murky water and  the yellow glazed ceiling.

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Recent photo showing the top of the ‘ballroom’ in the middle of the lake. Photographer unknown

 

Off the billiard room is a smoking room-cum-aquarium, where you could puff on a cigar while watching the giant carp.  Atop this is a  giant statue of Neptune, poking above the surface, and appearing as it walking on water.  This folly required 600 workmen to dig out four artificial lakes and remove hills that spoiled the view.

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Neptune statue atop the domed roof. Photographer unknown

For Wright, It all came spectacularly undone in 1899 when the Lake View Consols mine hit a rich patch of ore known as the “Duck Pond”. Wright at first withheld a report on the find while he sought to manipulate the market. Then, once it became public, the share price soared to £10 then £20 and ultimately to £28.  Maintaining the share price at these levels depended on maintaining production which could not be done once the shoot pinched out. Whether it was Wright or the Lake View Manager who withheld the vital information that the shoot had come to an end is unclear but the resulting collapse found London and Globe, and many of its shareholders, insolvent as Wright desperately bought shares as they plunged to try and prop up the market.

The clamour for his prosecution grew, especially when official inquiry revealed that the deficiency in his companies totalled about £7.5 million. On hearing this he hid himself in the icehouse at Witley Park for a week, and then fled to New York via Paris travelling under a false name.  Unluckily for him, the technology of the day meant that the warrant for his arrest was ready and waiting when he landed!

Wright was arrested and extradited to London where he faced trial and was found guilty. On 25 January 1904, he was sentenced to seven years imprisonment but before he could be imprisoned he swallowed a cyanide tablet which he had smuggled into the court and was dead within minutes.

The court proceedings revealed a trail of deceit, misinformation and fraudulent accounting all within the framework of company promotions and operations on the stock exchange.  His activities were allowed to prosper because of the complicity and complacency of his shareholders who were happy to receive the benefits of very abnormal profits, without question, relying implicitly on Wright and his directors.

And then there was the wonderfully named, Horatio Bottomley.

Horatio Bottomley was born in London in 1860. He grew up in an orphanage and had no formal training, starting work as an office boy in a legal firm.  His first excursion into company promotion was in 1885 in printing and publishing and he was embroiled in immediate scandal with £85,000 disappearing from the company. Remarkably he was able to avoid charges. In 1888 he founded the Financial Times primarily as a vehicle for promoting his own ventures.

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Horatio Bottomley

Fresh from this triumph, Bottomley got in early in the ‘Westralian’ gold boom on the London Stock Exchange. His companies  West Australian Joint Stock Trust and Finance Corporation and the Western Australian Loan and General Finance Corporation were reconstructed four times each time making Bottomley a fortune. As the boom accelerated late in 1894 he was in the forefront, promoting around twenty companies in the space of just five years. Many companies were floated with worthless leases on the edge of the Golden Mile, often obtaining these leases from the Associated Gold Mines Ltd (which ran the very successful “Australia” Gold Mine) a company of which by a remarkable coincidence,  Bottomley was Managing Director.

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Prospectus for the Australia Gold Mine of which Bottomley was to become Managing Director.  Coll.  Bob Singer

His tactic was to promote to build vendor profits, by pushing the stock price for a short time, issuing a 20 per cent dividend and then letting it decline to liquidation or reconstruction. Thus, almost without exception, Bottomley’s companies were liquidated within a short time with most of the capital going to the promoters

Besides using the vehicle of promotions, Bottomley invested extensively in Associated Gold Mines of Western Australia and in the Great Boulder, companies that gave him a very handsome return as well as lending the appearance of substance to his activities.  Many of his companies included the word “Associated” in their name.

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One of Horatio Bottomley’s financing vehicles.  Note signature of Bottomley.  Coll.  Bob Singer.

Bottomley’s brief but profitable career in the Australian mining sector of the London market was soon to end. The initial boom had waned and the gold mining industry on the Eastern Goldfields of WA was seeking to develop mining on a large scale.  In July 1897 Bottomley changed tack and floated the West Australian Market Trust which he claimed would have “large and, perhaps, controlling interests in many of the best things in the West Australian market”. However, by the next year it was in serious difficulty with Bottomley losing heavily as the share price collapsed.  Without the equivalent of Wright’s Lake View Consols or Ivanhoe mines in the Trust’s stable, public confidence in it evaporated and by the end of the year Bottomley was forced to reconstruct the company.

Like Wright, he also manipulated production at the Associated mine and stock in the company in order to promote his other company interests and to add to his personal fortunes. Late in the 1890s production at the Associated yielded spectacular results when the mine manager was instructed to stockpile rich ore for strategic processing. In mid-1900 when the deception was clear, it was reported that reserves of payable ore had been overestimated by 75%. As well, Bottomley had successively issued new capital in the company, using part to finance dividends. When production declined and the extent of overcapitalisation became apparent, the inevitable market bears (including his nemesis, our old friend Whitaker Wright) ended Bottomley’s “mining” of this section of the “stock market stope”.

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Share certificate for Associated Southern Gold Mines Ltd, a Bottomley company.  Coll. Bob Singer

From 1893 to 1903 it is estimated that Bottomley launched about fifty mining and finance companies with a nominal capital of between £20 and £25 million. His personal wealth at the time was estimated at about £3 million.

Bottomley maintained a superficial respectability as a businessman but remained a superlative con man.  He escaped prosecution for his deeds during this period and later went on to indulge in further nefarious activities which resulted in bankruptcy three times (1912, 1921 and 1928), losing his seat in Parliament (twice) and serving seven years in prison for fraud, eventually becoming an alcoholic and losing everything before dying intestate in 1933.

Bottomley and Wright and a host of other speculative promoters, had negative consequences that hampered the early development of gold mining on the Golden Mile for many years, making it extremely difficult to raise capital for the legitimate operations.  It also set in place a tradition and reputation which continued to be enhanced by the activities of Claude deBernales in the 1930s and Alan Bond and “WA Inc” in the 1980s.

But that’s another story.

 

 

Categories: Western Australia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ireland. A Feast of Festivals 2019

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Visiting an Irish Music Festival should be on the must-do list for any visitor to Ireland.  It is not easy however to find information on these, especially the smaller ones.  I am often asked by my friends in the blogosphere what is on and when during their proposed visit.  I’m happy to help where I can but I thought a list might be useful to anyone planning a trip.  On researching this I found a number of sites where festivals are listed but they are incomplete or not up to date.  I am sure I too have left some out and I don’t have dates for everything, partcularly beyond August 2019.  If you are aware of a festival that I’ve missed or have dates let me know and I’ll add it.

Do try and incorporate a festival on your next trip;  you’ll be made very welcome. If you do want to visit a festival please don’t rely on the dates here. Some are subject to change.  You should check with their website.

Festival Location Start Finish
Shannonside Winter Music Festival Six Mile Bridge, Clare 17 Jan 19 21 Jan 19
TradFest Temple Bar

Ballincollig Music Festival

Dublin

Ballincollig, Cork

23 Jan 19

23 Jan 19

27 Jan 19

27 Jan 19

IMBOLC International Music Festival Derry 15 Jan 19 10 Feb 19
Packie Duignan weekend Drumshanbo, Leitrim 25 Jan 19 27 Jan 19
Feile na Tana

Rosslare song gathering

Carlingford, Louth

Rosslare,

1 Feb 19

1 Feb 19

3 Feb 19

3 Feb 19

Concertina Cruinniú Miltown Malbay, Clare 15 Feb 19 17 Feb 19
Scoil Cheoil an Earraigh Ballyferriter, Kerry 20 Feb 19 24 Feb 19
Russell Memorial Weekend Doolin, Clare 21 Feb 19 24 Feb 19
The Gathering Traditional Festival Killarney, Kerry 27 Feb 19 3 Mar 19
Mount Leinster Traditional Music Festival Borris, Carlow February?
Tionól Niocláis Tóibín An Rinn, Waterford 8 Feb 19 10 Feb 19
Éigse an Spidéil Spiddal, Galway 10 Feb 19 14 Feb 19
Corofin Traditional Festival Corofin, Clare 27 Feb 19 3 Mar 19
Aran Celtic Music Festival Inis Mor, Galway 8 Mar 19 11 Mar 19
NYAH Traditional Music Festival Cavan 15 Mar 19 18 Mar 19
Kilkenny Tradfest Kilkenny 14 Mar 19 19 Mar 19
Ceardlann Earraigh Celbridge, Kildare ?? Mar 19 ?? Mar 19
Inishowen Singing Festival Donegal 22 Mar 19 25 Mar 19
Blossom Harp Festival

Tullamore Tradfest

Tuamgraney, Clare

Tullamore, Offaly

12 Apr 19

12 Apr 19

14 Apr 19

14 Apr 19

Feile Patrick Byrne Carrickmacross, Monaghan 12 Apr 19 14 Apr 19
Maurice O’Keefe Weekend Kiskeam, Cork ?? Mar 19
Carlow Pan Celtic Festival Carlow 16 Apr 18 22 Apr 18
Clifden Trad Fest Clifden, Galway 11 Apr 19 14 Apr 19
Cruinniú na bhFliúit Flute Meeting (registrations closed) Ballyvourney, Cork 24 Apr 19 27 Apr 19
Consairtin

Leitrim Dance Week

Ennis, Clare

Carrick on Shannon

25 Apr 19

22 Apr 19

28 Apr 19

28 Apr 19

Ballydehob Traditional Music Festival Ballydehob, Cork 12 Apr 19 14 Apr 19
Kilfenora Music Festival

Ulster song gathering

Kilfenora Clare

Omagh,

26 Apr 19

26 Apr 19

29 Apr 19

27 Apr 19

Feile Neidin, Kenmare Irish Music Festival

Ceol na nGlinnti

Kenmare, Kerry

Antrim

April?

April?

Fleadh nagCuach (Cuckoo Fleadh) Kinvara, Galway 3 May 19 6 May 19
Joe Heaney Festival Carna, Galway ? May ? May
Cup of Tae Festival Ardara, Donegal ? May ? May
Feile Chois Cuain Louisburgh, Mayo 3 May 19 6 May 19
Carrigaholt Oyster & Trad Festival Carrigaholt, Clare 3 May 19 5 May 19
Cos Cos Sean Nos Festival Drumcliffe, Sligo 6 May 19 12 May 19
Fiddle Fair

 

Fleadh na Deise. Waterford Traditional Music Festival

Baltimore, Cork

 

Kilmacthomas, Co Waterford

 

9 May 19

 

17 May 19

 

12 May 19

 

19 May 19

 

Feile Chnoc na Gaoithe, Tulla Trad Music Festival Tulla, Clare 17 May 19 19 May 19
Skerries Traditional Music Weekend Skerries, Dublin ? May 18 ? May 18
World Fiddle Day Scartaglin, Kerry 18 May 19
World Fiddle Day Glenties, Donegal 18 May 19
Fleadh Nua Ennis, Clare 19 May 19 27 May 19
Michael Dwyer Festival

 

John McKenna Music Festival

Allihies, Cork

 

Drumkeeran, Co Leitrim

7 Jun 19

 

7 Jun 19

9 Jun 19

 

9 Jun 19

Doolin Folk Festival

Ballydehob song gathering

Doolin, Clare

Ballydehob, Cork

14 Jun 19

14 Jun 19

16 Jun 19

16

Con Curtin Festival Brosna, Kerry ?? Jun 19 ?? Jun 19
Jim Dowling Uilleann Pipe and Trad Festival Glengarriff, Cork 21 Jun 19 23 Jun 19
Craiceann Summer School Innis Oir, Galway 24 Jun 19 28 Jun 19
Blas International Summer School Limerick 24 Jun 19 5 Jul 19
Cross Traditional Music Weekend Cross, Clare ?? Jun 19 ?? Jul 19
An Chúirt Chruitireachta (International Harp Festival) Termonfechin, Louth 30 Jun 19 5 Jul 19
Feile Brian Boru Killaloe/Ballina, Clare, Tipperary 3 Jul 19 7 Jul 19
Féile Traidphicnic Spiddal, Galway 5 Jul 19 7 Jul 19
Scoil Samraidh Willie Clancy Miltown Malbay, Clare 6 Jul 19 14 Jul 19
Ceol na Coille Summer School Letterkenny, Donegal 8 Jul 19 12 Jul 19
South Sligo Summer School Tubbercurry, Sligo 14 Jul 19 20 Jul 19
Fleadh Cheoil Na Mumhan (Munster Fleadh) Ennis, Clare 14 Jul 19 22 Jul 19
Ceili at the Crossroads Festival Clarecastle, Clare ?? Jul 19 ?? Jul 19
Joe Mooney Summer School Drumshanbo, Leitrim 20 Jul 19 27 Jul 19
Fiddler’s Green Festival Rostrevor, Down 21 Jul 19 28 Jul 19
Meitheal Summer School Ennis, Clare 22 Jul 19 27 Jul 19
Scoil Acla Summer School Achill Island, Mayo 27 Jul 19 3 Aug 19
Donegal Fiddle Summer School Glencolmcille, Donegal 29 Jul 19 2 Aug 19
Belfast Summer School of Traditional Music Belfast 27 Jul 19 3 Aug 19
Sliabh Luachra Summer School Rockchapel, Cork July?
Laois Trad Summer School Portlaoise, Laois July?
Phil Murphy Weekend Carrig-on-Bannow, Wexford July?
Kilrush Traditional Music and Set Dancing Festival Kilrush, Clare 31 Jul 19 5 Aug 19
Sean McCarthy Weekend Festival Finuge, Kerry 1 Aug 19 5 Aug 19
James Morrison Traditional Music Festival Sligo ?? Aug 19 ?? Aug 19
O’Carolan Harp Festival Keadu, Roscommon 2 Aug 19 7 Aug 19
Feakle International Traditional Music Festival Feakle Clare 7 Aug 19 12 Aug 19
Scully’s Trad Fest Newmarket, Cork ?? Aug 19 ?? Aug 19
Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann Drogheda, Louth 11 Aug 19 18 Aug 19
Feile Ceol Na Locha Tourmakeedy, Mayo ?? Aug 19 ?? Aug 19
Masters of Tradition Bantry, Cork 21 Aug 19 25 Aug 19
Crotty Galvin Traditional Music Weekend Moyasta, Clare ?? Aug 19 ?? Aug 19
Ballyshannon Folk and Traditional Music Festival Ballyshannon, Donegal 2 Aug 19 5 Aug 19
Seachtain Ceoil Chois Fharraige Spiddal, Galway August?
Fingal Fleadh and Fair, Swords Castle, Dublin ?? August
Gig’n the Bann Portglenone, Antrim ?? Sep
Johnny Doherty Music & Dance Festival Ardara, Donegal 20 Sep 19 22 Sep 19
Ceol Na gCruach The Glen Tavern, Donegal Sep?
Dingle Tradfest Dingle, Kerry Sep?
Tuam Trad Festival Tuam, Galway Sep?
Gerry Whelan Memorial Weekend Cootehill, Cavan Sep?
Feile Cheoil Larry Reynolds Ballinasloe, Galway Sep?
Frank Harte Festival Dublin Sep?
Music Under the Mountains Wicklow Sep?
Cork Folk Festival Cork, Cork Sep?
Garry McMahon traditional singing festival

O’Carolan Harp Festival

Abbeyfeale.  Limerick

Nobber, Meath

18 Oct

??Oct

20 Oct

 

Glenties Fiddlers Weekend Glenties, Donegal ?? Oct
Ed Reavy Traditional Music Festival Cavan ?? Oct
Foxford Traditional Weekend Foxford, Mayo ?? Oct
Sligo Live Folk Roots and Indie Festival Sligo ?? Oct
Cooley Collins Festival Gort, Galway ?? Oct
Willie Keane weekend Doonbeg, Clare ?? Oct
Feile Strokestown Strokestown, Roscommon ?? Oct
Féile Chruite Achill Harp Fest Achill Island, Mayo 25 Oct 19 28 Oct 19
Scoil Cheoil na Botha Scotstown, Monaghan ??Oct
Patrick O’ Keeffe Traditional Music Festival Castleisland, Kerry 25 Oct 19 28 Oct 19
Ennis Trad Fest Ennis, Clare 7 Nov 19 11 Nov 19
William Kennedy Piping Festival Armagh ?? Nov
Drogheda Traditional Music Weekend Drogheda, Louth ?? Nov
Éigse Dhiarmuid Uí Shúilleabháin Ballyvourney, Cork ?? Dec
Scoil Gheimhridh Ghaoth Dobhair Gweedore, Donegal ?? Dec
Trá Buí /Pearse Holmes memorial Traditional Music Weekend. Dohooma, Mayo ?? Dec

 

 

Categories: Festivals, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Mooghaun. Hill Forts and ‘Fairy Gold’

This story has everything.  It takes place over 3,000 years and is full of intrigue and mystery, the struggle for survival, buried treasure and fairies and avarice.

It started for me with a visit to the National Museum in Dublin in 2014.  I was in a rush and had little time to study the exhibits, but a particular interest was the collection of bronze age gold artefacts, so I took lots of photos to review later.  And then promptly forgot about them.  I rediscovered those photos the other day and was struck by something that I hadn’t noticed at the time.  Some of the exhibits came from County Clare.  In particular from the, so named, Mooghaun Hoard or the Great Clare Find, near Newmarket-on-Fergus.  This hoard dated at 800-700BC was the largest hoard of gold jewellery ever found in Europe.  It is thought to have originally comprised up to 300 pieces and the story surrounding it is fascinating.

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Part of the gold hoard from Mooghaun comprising five collars, seven bracelets two neck rings and a ring.  Replicas of 120 bracelets and two ingots which were also part of the hoard but are now lost. National Museum Dublin.

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Three gold collars.  Mooghaun Find.  National Museum Dublin

The gold was discovered by a number of railway workers clearing land for the Limerick to Ennis railway, on a right of way near Dromoland Estate,  in 1854.  They unearthed a stone box containing twisted metal which, at first, they did not recognize and indeed threw some into the nearby lake.  They soon realized it was however dirt encrusted gold.  With mad haste they ran 1.5 miles  to the town of Newmarket, where some of the gold was quickly melted down by silversmiths keen to profit.

The rush to melt it down may have been driven by thoughts this was ‘fairy gold’. Ancient legends speak of bones and charcoal contained in buried vessels that in reality were golden coin and ornaments belonging to the ‘good people’, or fairies, and that they returned to gold during the night.  But if watched with proper precautions and ceremonies, the fairy gold at daybreak would still remain gold.  Their haste may have been a desire to extract the wealth before it returned to bones and ash. 

Nevertheless it is an irreparable loss to Ireland’s heritage.  It is believed that 34 pieces have survived, the rest melted down for bullion value.   Gilt-bronze casts were made of some of the pieces prior to their destruction.  Three months after the find there was an  exhibition of remaining pieces, which were for sale.  Due to the expense, the Royal Irish Academy acquired only 12 pieces, which included five collars and two neck-rings and The British Museum purchased a collar and thirteen bracelets.  The rest were melted down.

How they came to be deposited there is unknown.  They may have been a gift to appease the gods or they may have been hidden to avoid being lost to attacking tribes.  Whatever the reason it seems we will never know.  Then I discovered something really interesting.  The find is less than a kilometer  from the ruins of a massive megalithic structure,  the impressive Mooghaun Hill Fort or ‘Hill of the Three walls’, the largest hill fort in Europe.  Researchers agree that the trove must be connected in some way.

Newmarket-on-Fergus is about 45 minutes drive from my home so I had to have a look and headed out there the very next day.  It was easy enough to find.  The monument is controlled by the OPW.  A car park, well laid paths and lots of helpful signage. The winter weather was kind enough with rain holding off. 

The Fort occupies an entire hill with its three massive concentric ramparts covering an area encompassing 27 acres.  Within the walls would have  would have been a community ruled over by a local king and his community of followers and subjects.  There would have been  housing for a few families, livestock and areas for crops.   It is now covered in a forest of birch, ash and hazel but at the time of construction would have stood dominant, on a 300m high bare limestone hill, as a monumental statement of power and authority.  The king would have controlled an area of 170 square miles with perhaps 9,000 people.  It is estimated that over 2,000 of these would have been engaged in constructing the walls which may have taken up to 20 years to complete.

The walls have degraded significantly, overgrown in places and mostly linear piles of rubble.  In places though signs of the original facing of the walls can be seen

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Wall of the Inner Rampart, Mooghaun Hill Fort

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Inner Rampart showing original (?) facing.

This community may have occupied the site for 1,500 years and while there is no record of the cause of its demise, by about 500AD the abandoned site was occupied by a new community.  They made their homes there, using stones from the original hillfort’s ramparts.  They built a number of circular drystone cashels of which two survive in remarkable condition, having been repaired and adapted over the years.  One was used for picnics by the inhabitants of Dromoland Castle in the 18th century. 

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View of Upper Cashel.  Mooghaun Hill Fort

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Lower Cashel.  Moohaun Hill Fort

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Detail of wall of Upper Cashel

After viewing with wonder the fort and its rubbly remains,  I rambled on through the surrounding woods.  A truly beautiful and peaceful place.  Depite the winter having stripped the trees of foliage it was quite a treat with tall straight birch, ash and hazel projecting skyward from a thick carpet of leaf litter. 

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Many of the trees, boulders  and walls are covered with a lush green assemblage of mosses, ferns and ivy creating intriguing vertical gardens contrasting with the brown forest floor.  In the misty, hazy light it was invitingly beautiful. 

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I wandered on, losing track of time, before reaching the end of the woods, defined by yet another wall, built this time by the Dromoland Estate.  The Estate is surrounded by a wall,  in many places with coping comprising vertical limestone slabs.

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Wall separating Mooghaun Woods from fields in the Dromoland Estate.

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Dromoland Estate boundary wall surrounding Mooghaun Woods

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Boundary wall for Mooghaun Woods.  with coping.

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Coping on boundary wall here has vertical limestone slabs

I met a local, Tommy,  taking a walk through the wood.  We chatted for a while and I asked him if he knew where the gold hoard was found.  As it turned out he lives adjacent to  it and gave me directions as to where it was.  I found the spot which was where the railway passes close to a small lough (this is the lake which figures in the descriptions of the find).  Standing on the railway bridge it was easy to imagine the scene that day in 1854 and the life-changing excitement that the discovery brought to these navvies.  

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Location of the Mooghaun Hoard find.  It is thought the find was roughly at the position where the train is, adjacent to the lake

With my thoughts planted firmly in past millenia and the exigencies of life in ancient times I walked on.  I passed a ruined cottage.  This jolted me back to this century.  The ruin interested me because it was a stone cottage with a corrogutaed iron roof, which in my experience in Ireland was unusual.  It gave the whole building a rusty red appearance.  This had once been a comfortable residence and though overgrown now had lovely views of a large turlough beyond grassy slopes.  A peek through an open window suggested its abandonment but as is the norm here I could only speculate on the back story.

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Abandoned cottage Mooghaun North.

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Inside the abandoned cottage at Mooghaun North

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Oak tree and outbuilding at abadoned cottage

On the way back to my car, though I met Tommy again returning from his walk. I thanked him for helping me find the site  and took the opportunity to ask about the cottage.  He told me it had been occupied by two bachelor brothers,  who died in the mid 90s.  They passed it on to heir niece who was settled elsewhere so declined to move in.  Since then it has lain abandoned and crumbling.  Sadly it is beyond repair now.  Tommy added that it was used as a polling station for elections, a common practice it would seem,  with private houses being used in remote communities where many could not access a booth otherwise. 

So there it is.  That visit to the museum five years ago opened up a story highlighting yet again the fascinating, interwoven connections of Ireland to its people, land, culture and heritage, and the amazing discoveries that I continue to make.  

 

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

The Raptors at Dromoland, Co Clare.

Dromoland is one of the great castles of Ireland.  Located near Newmarket-on-Fergus in Co Clare, it was for over a thousand years the seat of the O’Brien family. It is now a luxurious hotel with world-class facilities.

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Dromoland Castle, built in the early 19th Century and now a luxury hotel.

It has an amazing history that mirrors that of Ireland.  I could talk here about Donough O’Brien, the first inhabitant of the site in 1014, a son of Brian Boru; or of Murrough O’Brien who gave up his title to Henry VII in 1543 to become the first Baron of Inchiquin; or of Marie Rua, the widow of Conor O’Brien who in 1651 married an officer in the Cromwellian army to keep the castle in O’Brien hands; or of Sir Donough O’Brien, the richest man in Ireland in the 17th century; or of Sir Edward O’Brien who gambled the estate on a racehorse in 1730; or of the construction of the present castle in 1800; or of William Smith O’Brien who fought for the rights of Irish peasant farmers in the famine rebellion of 1848; or of the decline of the Barons of Inchiquin in the early 20th century; or of the saving of the castle from destruction by the IRA in 1921; or of the sale of the castle in 1962 or…

But I won’t.

I want to talk about my walk with the hawks and my visit to the School of Falconry at Dromoland.

My guide on this visit was Damian, flute player, fisherman and, as I found out, expert on all things raptor.  He is one of four falconers at the School.  He introduced me to his charges which included Peregrine falcons, Peregrine-Saker hybrid falcons, Harris hawks and two species of owls, the Irish Barn owl and the Bengal Eagle owl.

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Peregrine falcon

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Peregrine falcon

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Peregrine falcon

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Peregrine falcon

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Peregrine-Saker hybrid falcon

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Peregrine-Saker hybrid falcon

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Damian with a Harris hawk

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Damian with a Barn owl

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The Barn owl.  Wise old man.

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Bengal Eagle owl.  Those incredible piercing orange eyes

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Bengal Eagle owl.  Feeding time.

The Peregrine, on the edge of extinction in Ireland in the 1960s has now recovered and over 400 breeding pairs are known.  A thrill to see them at such close quarters.  The fastest creature on the planet it can fly at 300km/hour as it dives from high above its objective, wings held close, striking and killing its prey, talons ready, with the sheer force of its impact.  On the other hand, the incredibly cute Barn owl is the most widespread bird known, being present on all continents (except Antarctica).  Yet ironically, it is threatened in Ireland as its habitat is progressively destroyed.

Falconry is one of the most ancient activities that man has engaged in, beginning, based on historical records, in ancient Mesopotamia over four and a half thousand years ago; but possibly up to 20,000 years old according to Damian.  Genghis Khan had 10,000 raptors.  One of the Pharaohs of Egypt was buried with 20,000 mummified birds. Falcons were widely depicted in Egyptian art and had profound religious significance. They were also used through medieval times to bring down pigeons, which might be carrying messages to the enemy.  Falconry has survived as a sport to present times and was favoured by the gentry and well-to-do.  Quite a few expressions and words from falconry have found their way into the English language – ‘wrapped round my little finger’,  ‘under the thumb’, ‘bated breath’, ‘hoodwinked’ are examples. Many of these came down to us through Shakespeare.

Such close encounters with these impressive and proud creatures was a special experience.   Damian chose Ophelia, a Harris hawk to accompany us on a walk through the castle grounds.  What a spectacular backdrop as we crossed the manicured lawns, strolled down tree-lined avenues, through ancient woods, past a temple erected to a racehorse, visited a hermit’s grotto and passed the beautiful lily pond.

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Taking Ophelia, a Harris hawk for a walk

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Damian with Ophelia, Harris hawk and the castle as a backdrop

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Ophelia lands talons first

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Take off

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Landing

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Temple of Mercury, erected in the 1700s by Baronet Sir Edward O’Brien. One of Sir Edward’s horses, Sean Buis, is buried underneath.  THe temple is designed so, from a distance, you only see four of the eight legs, so as to resemble a racehorse.

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Damian and Ophelia, outside the Hermit’s Grotto.  This housed a ‘hermit’ employed by the Estate to live there for the entertainment of guests.  They were encouraged to dress like druids and were on display at all times.  One of the ‘worst jobs in history’.

 

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Ohelia investivates the Hermit’s Grotto

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Damian and Ophelia

 

The Hawk Hornpipe?

Sculpture by Carmel Doherty.  Perhaps she is playing the Hawk’s Hornpipe.

Ophelia could wander, if that’s the word, freely in the woods until a whistle would get her attention and she would return to the handler’s gloved fist.  Moving so swiftly, flying inches above the ground and swooping up at the last minute to land, claws outstretched and wings spread wide.  A real challenge for the photographer in me. 

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Hawk-eyed

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Damian let me have a go.  What a thrill to have her swoop in and land so delicately on my fist.    Thanks Damian for capturing me with the raptor so well on my camera. 

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My new friend.  Photo Damian Werner

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Right at home.  Photo Damian Werner

Now through Schools such as at Dromoland all of us can experience birds of prey at close quarters. Highly recommended.

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

The stunning beauty of Harry Clarke’s windows. St Barrahane’s, Castletownshend, 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.

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St Barrahane’s Church

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The last 13 of the 52 steps to the church

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Simple and elegant interior

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The 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.

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The Harry Clarke window is on the right.

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The Louis and Martin window by Harry Clarke

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.

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Detail of St Louis

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.

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The Nativity window

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Detail of the Nativity window

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The three Saints in the Nativity window

When you look at these windows from outside the church, you can have no expectation of how stunning the images are when back lit.

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The Nativity window from the outside

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

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Of Magic Mushrooms and Ancient Ireland

There are a number of major ancient Royal Sites in Ireland but the four important ones were the seats of the four provinces. These are Cashel for Munster, Navan Fort for Ulster, Dun Ailinne for Leinster and in Co Roscommon, Rathcroghan for Connaught. . There was also Tara with its special status as the seat of the High King.  There is evidence of activity at these sites from deep in the Stone Age, through the Bronze Age to the height of power in the Iron Age and into Medieval Christian times.

I visited Rathcroghan recently. Before the coming of Christianity this was the religious, ceremonial and political heart of the Kingdom of Connaught. There is a wealth of archaeology scattered over 6 square kilometres with 240 sites recorded of which 60 are listed. I visited the ring barrow mound of Rathbeg, probably continuously used over this entire period, the great mound at Rathcrogan, the site of major royal celebrations and the medieval raised ring fort of Rathmore. Not easy to photograph from the ground, where they appear as grassy mounds but their sheer size and concentration are impressive.

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The ring barrow fort at Rathbeg

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The ceremonial mound at Rathcroggan

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The ring fort at Rathmore

But I wanted to talk about something else.

I met a fellow at Rathbeg. I’ll call him Patrick.  I’d watched him slowly walking the fields around the mound, head down searching. Is he looking for stone axes or ancient relics?

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Patrick searching the fields around Rathbeg

We had a chat and the answer was not what I expected. He was searching for psilocybin better known as magic mushrooms. Patrick had a little bag full after an hour of searching. He told me he takes one dried every four days to manage his headaches and migraines and has been doing so for sixteen years. We searched together for a while but the slender bulbous fungi proved elusive.

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A magic mushroom pokes through the grass

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Part of Patrick’s harvest

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Detail of magic mushrooms

Magic mushrooms are among the oldest recreational drugs that human beings have ever used. They are believed to have been used for over 5,000 years down to the pop culture of today.

Hard evidence of its use in ancient Ireland is scant but this is hardly surprising. Indirect evidence however suggests widespread use in neolithic times. The rock art in Knowth and Newgrange is thought by some archaeologists to reflect the psychedelic state of the artist. Many traditional Irish tales seem to disguise the psychedelic experience in metaphor. For example hazelnuts accidentally ingested by Fionn mac Cumhaill, which gave him wisdom and pleasure, are though by some to be liberty cap or amanita muscaria mushrooms. Old stories of St. Brendan, refer to .him finding “fruits” – some poisonous, some euphoric that staved off hunger. Visions of faeries are so strongly associated with mushrooms that the Gaelic slang for faeries and mushrooms is the same: ‘pookies’. A magic mushroom trip has you “away with the faeries.” Or “off with the pixies.”

But what I found really interesting was Patrick’s comment that he has found the best place to find these mushrooms was at Ancient Sites. His idea was that it was the reason the sites were there and that mushrooms formed a fundamental part of their religious, cultural and social fabric.

An intriguing thought.  I left him to his searching.

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

An Ancient Coast and 5,000 years of Irish history. Maghery in Beautiful Donegal.

One of the things I love about touring in Ireland is that you find so much to enjoy in the most unheralded and remote corner of of the country.  You don’t need to join the throngs of visitors kissing stones, ticking boxes and visiting interpretive centres to enjoy the ‘real’ Ireland.

Take the village of Maghery in the the area know as The Rosses near Dungloe in west Donegal.

What drew me there was a sunny Donegal Saturdayin late autumn and a vague knowledge of some sea arches at nearby Crohy Point, a spot favoured by photographers.

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Clohy Sea Arches

But I found far more.

Yes there was the Bristi Stack and the Clohy Sea Arches. Unique land forms such as these are found dotted up and down the Irish coastline. It was easy enough to find the location along a scary single lane cliff road. And I mean scary; you have no choice but to rely on the other driver to be doing the right thing.

The Clohy Sea Arches are marked on GoogleMaps but not on the ground. Clearly they don’t want people stopping. There is space for two cars to park on the verge and you can’t actually see the rock formations from the road. Feeling that sense of welcome provided by a locked farm gate you climb it and follow a track that leads toward the coast and down the hill where you get your first look at the unusual triangular arch.

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Panoramic view of Clohy Sea Arches

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The Bristi Sea Stack

Nestled in a small bay it is accompanied by a number of pinnacles which are the remains of similar collapsed arches. There is another quite different arch attached to the mainland at the other end of the bay where the rocks are dragged into near vertical by a fault which has since eroded out.

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Natural bridge formed by erosion of fault fill material

The Bristi stack was first climbed by professional sea stack climber Iain Miller in 2011. If you are contemplating it you need ropes, a dinghy to get there, amazing skill and a whole lot of heart.  Not for me but have a look at this video on climbing Bristi Sea Stack

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That’s Iain Miller stands on Bristi Sea Stack.  Unknown photographer. Unknown date

For more sedate pleasures I drove back to the village. Past the 1804 Signal Tower, like many others that dot dozens of remote headlands and islands along the west coast of Ireland. Built to give warning of an impending invasion by Napoleon.  This one looks to be in excellent condition. I wasn’t up to the hill walk to get there this day. Thanks be to long lenses.

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View in the vicinity of Maghery.  Napoleonic signal tower.

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Napoleonic signal tower

The village itself lies adjacent to a beautiful wide sandy strand. This Saturday it was empty except for the local equestrian group practicing their show jumping in this idyllic location. Happy horses indeed.

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Maghery nestled in the bay

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Practicing show jumping on the beach at Maghery

 

Hand painted signs on slate placed by the roadside led me to other points of interest. There is an impressive stone circle just north of the village.  Again you are left to your own devices; there is no marker on the ground and no directions as to how to get there.  Twenty metres in diameter and a bit overgrown but some diligent searching found this 4-5,000 year old monument. These circles are very rare in west Donegal, I believe.

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Termon Stone Circle

From here you get a sense of that Donegal wildness as you look to the north east across Dungloe Bay towards Mt Errigal 23 km away on the horizon.

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View across Dungloe Bay to Mt Errigal

Nearby is Termon House built in late 18th century and once owned by the local clergy sits on its own glorious beach. It is available as a luxury holiday rental.

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Adjacent to the house are some impressive walls built as work relief for those affected by the famine of 1847.  Hence ‘Famine Walls’.  Apparently the government refused to support the then landowner who ended up footing the £1,500 cost of paying his labourers 1d a day to build the wall. Beautifully constructed though they remain standing 170 years later.

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The afternoon was closing in and I could hear  the ringing sounds of twenty fiddles filling my head with mazurkas and schottisches so it was time to return to Glenties.  I was well satisfied with this little village that delivered a slice of Donegal’s wild coastal scenery and its human history of over 5,000 years.

 

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

CD Review: Not Before Time. Paráic Mac Donnchadha.

I normally don’t do CD reviews of Irish music. Firstly I am friends with many of the musicians involved so it is an area that is fraught and secondly the vast majority are brilliant expressions of the variety and many nuances and interpretations of Irish music today so reviewing them is pretty pointless.

I do make exceptions though. The recent release by Páraic Mac Donnchadha Not Before Time, is one of these. First I have to declare some conflicts of interest.  Páraic is a friend and has been very supportive and welcoming to me on my own musical journey and I am grateful to him for that, and secondly he has used one of my photographs on the CD. But having said that I love this album. I was lucky enough to be at the first launch concert at the Feakle Festival and got my copy there. More on that concert later.

Páraic’s playing of the banjo is a revelation the first time you hear it, and a wonderful advertisement for the much maligned instrument. The first thing that strikes you is his gentle tonality and the unadorned clarity of his music along with his steady pace where the musicality takes precedence.  There is always a wonderful rhythm and pulse that is hypnotically engaging.    Primarily a session player he surrounds himself with players with a similar musicality. A lover of small sessions where each musical layer can be clearly heard and contributes to the whole and where he explores unusual keys and instrumental pairings. I have had many memorable experiences listening to Páraic.  Who could forget a session with Cormac Begley in A-flat at Ballyferriter, Co Kerry, in 2015 I think, that lasted 11¾ hours? Or in Friels in Miltown Malbay, during Willie Week. There is a generosity in his playing that comes out when he is sharing with like-minded players.

If that feeling was what Páraic was trying to capture in this album then he has been wildly successful. Much of it is recorded in Pepper’s Bar at Feakle and I was lucky enough to be there for one of those recording sessions. For this album Páraic has involved many of his most recent sparring partners. And that’s when his playing shines. Whether it is the sublime fluidity of Claire Egan’s fiddle or viola or the insistent rhythmic pulse of Cormac’s bass concertina or the wonderful ensemble playing of Graham Gueren, Colm Murphy, Noel O’Grady and Libby McCroghan, Páraic’s banjo is there at the heart of it. Crisp, clean and simple. No distractions. It’s all about the tune. He also plays to great effect with his brother Mac Dara and sister Sinéad and in a tribute to his roots, honours his father Séan by revisiting one of his songs. But there are a few tracks where he is on his own, and this is where his mastery comes to the fore.  He plays with just the subtle and supportive bouzouki of talented young Waterford player and instrument maker, Macdara Ó Faoláin or the gentle guitar of Terence O’Reilly.

The tune selection is fantastic. Really, really good.  Many are familiar, some not, but they always come up fresh with Páraic’s playing approach or with his local versions or the unusual key selections.  Sometimes it ensnares you and you just don’t want the track to end.

The CD itself is brilliantly presented with a comprehensive and informative book integrated into the cover. Paraic’s musings on his musical journey and influences reveal a man who writes as well as he plays. And I found the thoughtful and well researched tune notes by Graham Guerin added considerably to my listening enjoyment.

The concert to launch the album was held in the marquee at the back of Pepper’s Pub during the Feakle Festival. Gracing the stage were (almost) all the musicians who played on the album.  With the wonderful bonus of a guest spot from Martin Hayes who spoke eloquently of Paraic’s music and its East Galway roots and the connection with East Clare.  Having all this amazing music served up to us in a venue packed with appreciative fellow musicians, had me salivating!

So on the drive from the concert to my home at Quilty, a drive of well over an hour, I listened to the album.  Such a generous slab of music reflects the man.  Eighteen tracks took me to my front door!. And I listened again the next morning . This time on a good sound system. Just beautiful.  And it hasn’t come off the player since.

How could I fail to love this music.  It has truly captured the spirit that Páraic engenders when he shares his music making with his fellow musicians.  Now he has shared it with us.  We can all sit in.

Not before Time. 

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Macdara Ó Faoláin, Paráic, Claire Egan and Terence O’Reilly

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Paráic Mac Donnchadha

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Macdara Ó Faoláin and Paráic,

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Macdara Ó Faoláin

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Terence O’Reilly

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Macdara Ó Faoláin, Paráic, Mac Dara Mac Donncha and Terence O’Reilly

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Paráic Mac Donnchadha, Mac Dara Mac Donncha

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Paráic and Claire Egan

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Claire Egan

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Claire Egan

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Martin Hayes launches the CD

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Paráic and Martin Hayes

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Martin Hayes

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Martin Hayes

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Martin Hayes

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Noel O’Grady, Paráic, Graham Guerin and Colm Murphy

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Colm Murphy

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Noel O’Grady

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Graham Guerin

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Martin Hayes and Cormac Begley

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Paráic and Cormac Begley

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Cormac Begley

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Cormac Begley

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Libby McCroghan

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Sinéad Nic Dhonncha

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An appreciative audience.

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

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