Posts Tagged With: Talty

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.

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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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