Posts Tagged With: Quilty

Quilty. On the Edge of Ireland.

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I’ve lived in West Clare for over three years now.  My local village is Quilty.  It occurred to me the other day that I have travelled all over Ireland discovering beauty in places known and unknown but I have never photographed this tiny fishing village in my back yard.

So the other day on a fine day in early November I went for a walk around Quilty.  Quilty truly is on the edge of Ireland and inextricably linked with the sea.  Quaint fisherman’s cottages perched on the cliff above what can be a very stormy Atlantic.  And the Our Lady Star of the Sea Church and its imposing tower is a constant reminder of the heroic rescue of the crew of the Leon XIII in 1907. The stuff of legends.

Here is a collection of images taken that day.  It doesn’t need my words so I will let this photo essay speak for itself.  IG3C1467

 

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

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

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My little cottage nestled on the rocks at Pt Caherush

 

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

But I didn’t think of the sandstone itself.

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

 

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

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Mikey Talty talks about Caherush in his youth.

 

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

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Blasted face at limit of quarrying

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Quarried rock face and blasted rubble

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think I might go and take a bath.

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St Stephens Day and the Wren Boys

In Ireland no one seems to talk about Boxing Day – It’s St Stephens Day. But when I ask who St Stephen was, it’s like asking an Irish trad musician the name of the tune they just played. I just get a blank look.

So I did some research. Stephen was in fact a Greek-speaking Hellenistic Jew who died around 34 AD and was the first martyr of Christianity. He was accused of blasphemy and stoned to death.  Thanks Wikipedia.

In Ireland though the day is also known as Lá an Dreoilín, meaning the Day of the Wren, an apparent reference to legends linking the wren to episodes in the life of Jesus. People (mainly kids) dress up in old clothes, wear straw hats and travel from door to door with fake wrens (previously real wrens were killed) and they dance, sing and play music.

It is also used by charitable organisations to raise funds so when Michael Talty asked me if I wanted to join the Wren Boys from the local Kilmurry-Ibrickane GAA I jumped at the chance. It meant getting up at 6.30, the morning after Christmas, which I had spent with friends in Connemara, and driving back to Quilty to be there at 10.00.  Not easy.

The weather was not good. Cold and the threat of rain. A number of musicians and dancers had congregated in the GAA clubrooms and we were split into two teams of three musicians and four dancers. The idea was to go door to door to every home in the Parish, do a quick half set and solicit donations. First we had to agree on a tune (I won’t mind if I don’t hear Sally Gardens again!) and a speed, so after a quick run through with Pat on flute and Gerard on whistle and my fiddle tucked under my coat we piled into a windowless van and hit the streets.

We stopped outside every house (except those that the locals knew to be unoccupied) and knocked on the door. Without ceremony we would launch into Sally Gardens, the dancers would do their thing and we would be off again. People were very generous; I saw the odd 50 drop into the tin. Many made a donation and out of sympathy for us in the cold waved us on without playing. And cold it was. Squalls of drizzly rain swept in as the temperature seemed to continue to drop during the day. Eventually I resorted to playing in gloves and after a bit of practice, made a decent fist of it. I would tuck my fiddle under my coat when not playing and managed to keep it out of the elements. The bow however was another story. Ever tried to play with a wet bow?

Occasionally we were invited inside and that was special, as tables and chairs were pushed aside and if you briefly closed your eyes you could imagine you were transported back fifty years to a kitchen ceili. Occasionally we were also offered beer or cider. In one house we were treated to slices made by Amish girls in traditional headgear and costumes. There must have been a dozen of them. The things you find in West Clare.

There was a welcome break at Cooney’s Pub in Quilty, who put on soup and sandwiches, and then it was back out in the afternoon continuing what was a very long and challenging day until darkness descended finishing on my own street, the Clogher Road. Very fitting.

Despite the privations I had a ball and enjoyed the whole experience – a window into an Ireland that foreigners would likely not see. Thanks Michael and all my fellow dancers and musicians who accepted me and made me feel part of the community. For the record we raised 2,200 euros.

 

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

Christmas Concert Mullagh

I was part of an extraordinary event last night.

I had never heard of Marty Morrissey but around these parts he seems to be a god. I’m talking here about the Parish of Kilmurry-Ibrickane in West Clare. A mouthful but it is my adopted home community. It comprises the villages of Quilty, Mullagh and Coore. Kilmurry-Ibrickane is a famous name in the world of GAA (that’s Gaelic Football for my Aussie followers) and Marty is its leading advocate. He is a well-known sports commentator for RTE and a passionate advocate of the local community. To this end he organised this concert as a fund raiser. Through his many contacts he gathered together a who’s-who of Irish music with a strong focus on local talent. And there is plenty of that.

When I first heard of the concert I tried to get a ticket but it sold out in four days. One of the organisers, Michael Talty offered me a spare ticket which I gleefully accepted. It wasn’t cheap but I was intrigued by the concept.

It was a wet and dismal night, though not cold there was a gusty wind blowing off the Atlantic. But then again that describes most nights these days in this part of West Clare. I arrived into Mullagh to an army of men in hi-vis yellow and waving red or green wands directing me to the GAA oval where I was told to park and a mini bus ferried me the short distance to the church. I was impressed by the organisation. The St James Church Mullagh was hardly recognisable with a giant marquee erected in front of it. It was 6.00 pm and the tent seemed nearly full already. The concert didn’t start til 7.30 but here was no shortage of hot mulled wine and mince tarts which I eagerly accepted when proffered. There were a few people I recognised from my interactions with the community. And a few who seemed to know me, though I was struggling to recognise them. I was asked by one lady if I was the Parish Priest of Ennis and another who asked me if I was still coming to Christmas Dinner. Do I have some doppelgängers out there?

I was shown to my pew which was already fully occupied but they squeezed up and let me in. The seat was in the far corner about as far from the stage as possible but it had the advantage of being close to the door so I could sneak out if need be. I know that seems unkind, but I was not sure I was going to enjoy this night.

The concert started pretty much on time at 7.30 which was a surprise for Ireland but as it was being streamed live this was understandable. This in itself was pretty impressive, with the concert being seen around the world. I have to say we were then treated to a marvellous and continuous panoply of artists for the next 5½ hours. That’s right! five-and-a-half-hours! Remarkably there were no flat spots and myself and the audience were held in thrall for all that time with the possible exception of the raffle draw. Although with the prize of two return tickets to Australia even that was attention grabbing.

From the opening act which was the Scoil Mhuire Choir, who made a spectacular entrance to the stage holding candles and walking on from three directions before delivering a sparkling and spellbinding performance. And it was only uphill from there. Following a rock star welcome for Marty we had the Kilfenora Ceili Band sounding splendid and looking equally so in their red and black outfits. They were joined by a team of set dancers from the Eugene Donnelan School which lifted the whole performance.

Not all the music was to my personal taste. There was crooning country singer Mike Denver with a medley of Christmas songs, P J Murrihy and his band, local singer from Cree, Karen McInerny, Tommy Flemming, for whom the audience went wild and the penultimate act of the night Phil Coulter who delivered as expected with lovely renditions of his songs Steal Away and Town I Loved So Well.

The highlights of course, for me though, were the trad acts, most of which were local musicians. Musicians from the Brid O’Donoghue Music School from Miltown Malbay gave a beautifully textured performance of slow tunes, jigs and reels ending with two young boys doing sean nos dancing on half barrels. There was exquisite accordion playing from Michael Sexton and he was joined by talented young sean nos dancer Eoin Killen in a superb display of relaxed and confident dancing. A future star. The Donnellan Family from Ballina, Co Mayo were terrific with their energetic playing and again one of their members Carol, did a sensational sean nos brush dance. There was a scratch band of local musicians led by Michael Falsy who had the audience stomping with a rousing rendition of Lark in the Morning, and an absolute standout for me, a gorgeous rendition by Martin and Ronan Burke of the song the Clogher Road. Special, because I live on this road! And I shouldn’t forget the local Kilmurry-Ibrickane Community Choir which included kids to grandparents and did a highly creditable job.

The grand finale which took us past 1 am was provided by the Galway Tenors who started off rather shakily with a crowd pleasing version of Fields of Athenry, an aria accompanied by waving scarves in red and green (provided to the audience in their programmes) and finished with some rousing Christmas carols.

In between the acts were slide shows, videos, old films, documentaries, all speaking of the great community spirit in this Parish and I have to say this spirit shone through all night. The audience of locals lapped it up, picking up on the many in-jokes. The story of the “spirit of Quilty” with the rescue of the sailors from the Leon, the successes of the Kilmurry-Ibrickane GAA team, a film of set dancing in the Quilty pub from 1970s, video greetings, from Australia, NZ and the USA, from the Mullagh and Quilty diaspora, photo albums of parishioners much of it received with enthusiastic clapping or laughter. And a spoof RTE News flash reporting on the traffic jams crippling West Clare as cars head to Mullagh. All great craic.

I have one gripe. Most of the “name” artists used backing tracks. The exceptions to this of course were the trad acts and Phil Coulter who accompanied himself on the piano. For me this is very sad that high-profile acts to do this. When you pay 40 euros for a ticket you expect to see live music. Singing to a backing track for me is no better than karaoke and gives the voice a detached feel and is rarely satisfying. It certainly lacks spontaneity. It may be alright for the X-Factor but not for a live concert. Anyway that’s pretty much my only beef and the rest of the audience didn’t seem to share it clapping excitedly for every number.

Fair play to the organisers they did an absolutely fabulous job.

Merry Christmas to all my followers and please stay tuned for more adventures in 2015.

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

Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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