Posts Tagged With: Ireland
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.
And then there was the beautiful Lough Kylemore and Kylemore Abbey.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|Shannonside Winter Music Festival||Six Mile Bridge, Clare||17 Jan 19||21 Jan 19|
|TradFest Temple Bar
Ballincollig Music Festival
|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
|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
|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|
Leitrim Dance Week
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
|26 Apr 19
26 Apr 19
|29 Apr 19
27 Apr 19
|Feile Neidin, Kenmare Irish Music Festival
Ceol na nGlinnti
|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|
Fleadh na Deise. Waterford Traditional Music Festival
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
Drumkeeran, Co Leitrim
|7 Jun 19
7 Jun 19
|9 Jun 19
9 Jun 19
|Doolin Folk Festival
Ballydehob song gathering
|14 Jun 19
14 Jun 19
|16 Jun 19
|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
|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|
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Now through Schools such as at Dromoland all of us can experience birds of prey at close quarters. Highly recommended.
Eight kilometers from Skibbereen in West Cork is the village of Castletownshend, the historic seat of the Townshend family. St Barrahane’s Church, built in 1827, sits on a hill above the village. It is accessed by 52 steps. One for each Sunday of the year. It is an elegant building with many original interesting architectural features and some fine detailing, both internal and external, including timber paneling and an organ gallery.
Of greatest interest though to visitors is the addition in the early 20th century of six magnificent stained glass windows.
Three of these are by Harry Clarke, a book illustrator and Ireland’s most famous stained glass artist, who died in 1931, and three are by Powells of London. It is not hard to pick those by Clarke. They are characterised by beautiful, finely crafted, elongate figures and his use of deep rich colours. the wall to the right of the altar has three windows with the Clarke window, on the right, being quite distinct and obvious.
This window depicts French Saints Louis (who was Louis IX, King of Spain) and Martin and was commissioned in memory of a Colonel Coghill in 1921. A window of two lights, the first light depicting St. Louis who was an ancestor of the Colonel. The figures above his head represent the poor who he often fed at his table. The first of the tracery lights depicts a ship in which King Louis sailed to the east to fight the infidels. The second and third tracery lights depict two angels who offer protection to both saints. The fourth tracery light shows St. Martin’s flaming sword, denoting his patronage of soldiers, The second light depicts the meeting between Saint Martin of Tours, dressed as a soldier’s garb, and a beggar who asks him for clothing. Again the imagery is imaginative, stunningly crafted and in glorious deep colours.
The largest window, known as the The Nativity window, was commissioned in 1917 in memory of the Somerville family. This window has three lights, with separate depictions of the shepherds paying homage to the Christ child, the holy family and the magi but with linking elements such as Mary’s dress and the crib that create a unified picture. They are exquisitely decorated in shades of blue, pink, green, red, purple, magenta and gold. The tracery lights depicts three saints, Brigid, Fachtna and Barrahan in gorgeous detail.
When you look at these windows from outside the church, you can have no expectation of how stunning the images are when back lit.
If you a visiting West Cork you really must take a peek. Or look for Clarke windows in Dublin and many other locations in Ireland and England.
He completed over 130 windows. You can find where they are here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Clarke
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.