Captured Beauty

  • By info
  • 09 Nov, 2016

An Autumn Burren Photograph

"Useless to think you'll park or capture it/More thoroughly" Postscript by Séamus Heaney.

The photograph was taken by Shelly Wolf from L.A. He and his wife Barbara were on a Burren tour with me on a golden autumn day – the very first day of October 2016.
We stopped at a lay-by in the townland of Fahee South about 5 km east of the tiny village of Carran as this photo opportunity presented itself.
The camera itself is pointing even further eastwards.

I like the image a lot as it can be read as having at least four different frames.

ONE

The lush green pastures in the foreground are in Glencolmcille (locally known as ”Glan”). The placename is an Anglicisation of Gleann Cholm Chille (the valley of St Colmcille). The monastic site (now ruins) in the valley are dedicated to this 6th century monk.
Like all Burren valleys, Glencolmcille has generous glacial deposits of sands, clays and gravels overlying the porous limestone. It makes for excellent terrain for pastoral farming. However, the valley would have been covered in oak trees in prehistory. It was farming communities in prehistoric/early historic times who converted the forest in to the grasslands we see today.

TWO

The stony hill of Turloughmore is perched above Glencolmcille. The Burren hills have been compared to a giant staircase with their classic terrace and cliff topography.
Moreover, the rocky uplands in the region make for a strong contrast with the lavish soil cover in the valleys below. The Turloughmore range extends for more than 6 km. The highest point is 267 metres. The great mapmaker/landscape writer, Tim Robinson, records 7 prehistoric tombs along the range.
The Burren uplands are home to one of Europe’s most distinctive landscapes – limestone pavement. In fact the region boasts the most extensive area of limestone pavement in the European Union. So much of the bedrock in the hills has been exposed due to glacial erosion and uber-enthusiastic prehistoric agriculture. Thus, one could argue that the Burren uplands are in part a deeply humanised landscape.
Hills like Turloughmore are still farmed today albeit in the autumn/winter only. Cattle are transferred to the uplands for the period November to April. This farming regime is highly unusual and is called reverse transhumance.

THREE

The white Derrybrien wind turbines are just about visible in the middle left of the image (behind Turloughmore). The turbines are built on Slieve Aughty -  a 25 km-long Old Red Sandstone hill range extending from east Clare into south east Galway. It is a wild and desolate landscape of uplands bogs. (Bogs are wetlands that accumulate peat, a deposit of dead plant material). The highest point on the range is Maghera (400m).
The Derrybrien wind farm has 70 wind turbines and was one of the largest wind farms in Europe when it was built in 2003. The farm, constructed by the semi-state energy body E.S.B., precipitated a 0.5 million tonne peat slide with significant environmental damage and a fish kill of 50,000. Bogs are notoriously unstable environments. Construction of large-scale infrastructural projects on bogs without proper environmental impact assessment can lead to environmental chaos.

FOUR

The final frame in the image is the “cloud formation” as Shelly phrased it. It was a remarkably still, bright autumn day. The clouds were frozen on the canvas.

The 1st of October was a day from heaven in Ireland and the month kept giving. Met Eireann, the Irish Meteorological Service, summarised October as “extremely dry almost everywhere” with “mean air temperatures on or above average nearly everywhere”. However, November has returned to the form of most of 2016 – unsettled and changeable. We will look back on October 2016 as mí na míosa – the month of months.

Shelly informs me that the shot was taken with a Nikon D5 camera and a 20mm Nikon lens.
Thanks to Shelly and Barbara for the company and the sublime photo. 
Go n-eirigh an bóthar libh. May the road rise with you.

BLOG

By info 06 Jan, 2017

An image from a grocer’s store on the Sheep’s Head peninsula in the south west of Ireland on the morning of the 3rd of January 2017. The store is in the village of Kilcrohane, the most westerly village on the peninsula (there are two other villages – Ahakista and Durrus, the latter the most easterly).

O Mahony’s is a store, coffee shop, post office and wine bar (wine bar open in high season). The owner is the ultra-genial Frank O’Mahony and his stamp (excuse the pun) is all over the premises. The place is crammed with knick-knacks and memorabilia and even the ceiling is maximised to reflect some of Frank’s passions. Stand-outs for me were the L.P. covers (including a Richard Clayderman!) and the Donald Trump shrine called The World According to Donald. The coffee is excellent. O’Mahony’s is arguably one of the most idiosyncratic shops/P.O.s in Ireland.

We spent a post-Christmas week on Sheep’s Head - one of 5 Old Red Sandstone peninsulas in south-west Ireland defiantly jutting out into the Atlantic. Mizen is the most southerly peninsula and above Sheep’s Head there is Beara, Iveragh (a.k.a. Ring of Kerry) and the Dingle. The latter two are the most trafficked whereas the first three mentioned remain largely unspoiled.

Sheep’s Head is a very narrow peninsula at only 4 kilometres wide…whilst it is 21 kilometres long.
The highest point of the region is Seefin (348m). The peninsula is characterised by a rugged, mountainous spine with the better land of glacial tills (and inhabitants) more concentrated towards sea level.

The region is a magnet for walkers who are attracted by the excellently way marked Sheep’s Head Way. The Way is 175 kilometres long and boasts 20 looped walks.

We hiked about 40 kilometres with the kids during the week. It was a very rich experience as the Way features the most lavish scenery……mountains, bog, lakes and ocean. We were often entranced as we walked by the vista of two bays – Bantry to the north and Dunmanus to the south. On occasion we could view sections of four of the five peninsulas i.e. all except Dingle. One of the many highlights for us was dolphin watching from the light house at the most westerly point of the peninsula.

Cork city and airport are a 1 hour 20 minute drive to Kilcrohane and the remoteness explains in part why Sheep’s Head remains a secret of Ireland’s Atlantic landscape. Moreover, there is not one sandy beach on the peninsula and hence the relatively small number of family groups which holiday here in high season. (I am told however that the Kilcrohane pier is a popular swimming spot in summer).

Apart from Frank’s emporium, Kilcrohane is home to a very cosy pub, Eileen’s. The only tin-roofed pub in Ireland is in the nearby village of Ahakista. Its beer garden sweeps down to the sea. Friendly and family-run by the Whooleys, the Tin Pub is hard to beat. Arundel’s is the other pub in Ahakista and it is located on the pier. A beer, coffee or chowder here al fresco as the sun declines is a peak experience as they say in the U.S.

We did miss out on some coffee shops with strong reputations as they were closed during our winter stay –  Bernie’s Cupán Tae is in Tooreen in the far west of the peninsula ; The White House Gallery and Coffee Shop is a kilometre west of Kilcrohane and The Heron Gallery Café is just outside Ahakista.

A final, honourable mention of the people of this part of peninsular Cork – uber-friendly and most willing to stop time to strike up a conversation. If you are looking for a bit of Nirvana far from the venal roar – Sheep’s Head is the place for you.

Ath bhliain faoi mhaise duit – Happy 2017.

WALKING BOOK and MAP

Ordnance Survey Ireland Discovery Series. Map Number 88.

Walking the Sheep’s Head Way
2nd edition Main Trail and 17 Loop Walks by Amanda Clarke. Wildways Press.
2nd edition published 2015.

SHEEP’S HEAD BOOKS

The Story of Kilcrohane by Frank O’Mahony.
First published by Frank O’Mahony 2000.
A history of the parish of Kilcrohane by the uncle of current Kilcrohane grocer Frank O’Mahony.

Jack’s World by Seán Sheehan.
Cork University Press 2007.
The story of the life of a Sheep’s Head farmer, Jack Sheehan, as recorded by his nephew Seán.
A record also of the place names of the fields on Jack’s farm and the 20th century changes to the landscape of the peninsula.

 

 

By info 20 Dec, 2016

Crowley’s pub is on the Main St in Corofin. Crowleys once leased the premises and the shop front still has their name. Gerry Quinn was another leasee and his wall sign survives too.
I quite like the street ad for St Bruno flake. It is really quaint and harks back to the days before no-smoking pubs. St Bruno is probably the most famous piped tobacco in the world - U.K. manufacture, Virginian leaf, 11th century Cologne saint.

The building is a reasonable size boasting a six-bay window first floor. In the past, the premises was not just an alehouse but offered lodgings as well. Eminent local historian Michael Mc Mahon writes that Crowley's was formerly known as The Queen’s Head. It was probably so named during the reign of Queen Anne (1702-1714) in the then United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Michael actually maintains that the building was home to a pub long before it got the The Queen’s Head name.

Dick Cronin is an architectural conservationist and a habitué of the pub. Dick reckons that Crowley’s is the oldest pub in the province of Munster. He also tells me that it was an important comfort stop in the past for the staff and visitors to the village courthouse. The court house was located right across the street from the pub. It successively functioned as the Market House by which name it is known today. (The two-street village of Corofin was a market and post "town" in the 19th century). The Market House now houses apartments.

The pub is divided into two rooms. The back room opens for music evenings and other events. The front room features the bar, a Liscannor stone floor and a fire which blazes in the winter.

Mick Nestor presides over a hugely enjoyable traditional music session every Friday evening.
The “Nestor orchestra” averages about 10 to 15 musicians and songsters.Mick is a kind, gentle man and a truly excellent flute player. He is from the parish of Dysert and he has a car mechanic’s yard in Killinaboy. His yard must be the only one in Ireland located in a sacred space – a disused church!

Liam Jones on guitar is also a tower of song. Then there is Lu Edmonds who is vocalist/instrumentalist with The Mekons, a 1970s punk band who have evolved heavily in terms of musical style over the last 40 years.  Lu is also guitarist with John Lydon’s band Public Image Limited. When he is not touring, the Corofin-based Lu can be found in the thick of Crowley’s Friday night session. He plays Greek bouzouki at the session. (It was septuagenarian Andy Irvine, a founder member of Planxty, who introduced the instrument to Irish traditional music). Lu himself first came to prominence in the late 1970s with the punk group The Damned.

Lu and Mick are from two quite different musical traditions but have struck up a fine chemistry on Friday nights - The Sacred and the Damned!

The pub is now leased by two of the good guys– Tom and Pete. They run a fine shop…. an atmospheric refuge rich in history. It opens in the evenings.

“Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” is a jazz standard with music by Duke Ellington and lyrics by Bob Russell. That's me - I don’t get around much anymore. However, I am hyper-determined to drop in to Crowley’s over the next few days for a seasonal frothy freshener.

Nollaig Shona/
Happy Christmas.

Reference - The Parish of Corofin - A Historical Profile by Michael Mc Mahon published by Michael Mac Mahon 2013.

By info 29 Nov, 2016

"The last pool of darkness"……….. Connemara as described by the renowned 20th century philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein.
The photo was taken roadside between Screebe and Cashel at the dimming of another spectacular November day in the west.

The summits are part of the great highland range - Na Beanna Beola - translated as Beola's peaks. Beola was a very obsure, local giant/chieftain. According to tradition he is buried in the tiny village of Toombeola.
The range is much more commonly known as The Twelve Bens. The dozen peaks range in height from 1900 to 2490 feet.

The Bens consist of quartzite rock just like Croagh Patrick (Mayo), Errigal (Donegal) and the Sugar Loaf (Wicklow). Once of sandstone, the rock metamorphosed into hard quartzite. The other great Connemara massif is Mám Tuirc (Boar's Pass)....known in English as the Maumturks. They lie a few miles east of the Twelve Bens.

The lowlands in the foreground of the photo were once made up of softer clay materials and were eventually worn down into schist, a coarse grained rock with layers of different minerals.

The bog-brown Connemara lakes and rivers are renowned fishing grounds... salmon and sea trout being the main attraction.

The Connemara region, at 800 square miles, is 4 times the size of theBurren. It is a wild and mysterious place......a magnificent distraction across Galway Bay from us.

Reference - The Mountains of Connemara by Joss Lynam, published by Folding Landscapes in 1988. The definitive guide and map of the Connemara uplands

By info 09 Nov, 2016

"Useless to think you'll park or capture it/More thoroughly" Postscript by Séamus Heaney.

The photograph was taken by Shelly Wolf from L.A. He and his wife Barbara were on a Burren tour with me on a golden autumn day – the very first day of October 2016.
We stopped at a lay-by in the townland of Fahee South about 5 km east of the tiny village of Carran as this photo opportunity presented itself.
The camera itself is pointing even further eastwards.

I like the image a lot as it can be read as having at least four different frames.

ONE

The lush green pastures in the foreground are in Glencolmcille (locally known as ”Glan”). The placename is an Anglicisation of Gleann Cholm Chille (the valley of St Colmcille). The monastic site (now ruins) in the valley are dedicated to this 6th century monk.
Like all Burren valleys, Glencolmcille has generous glacial deposits of sands, clays and gravels overlying the porous limestone. It makes for excellent terrain for pastoral farming. However, the valley would have been covered in oak trees in prehistory. It was farming communities in prehistoric/early historic times who converted the forest in to the grasslands we see today.

TWO

The stony hill of Turloughmore is perched above Glencolmcille. The Burren hills have been compared to a giant staircase with their classic terrace and cliff topography.
Moreover, the rocky uplands in the region make for a strong contrast with the lavish soil cover in the valleys below. The Turloughmore range extends for more than 6 km. The highest point is 267 metres. The great mapmaker/landscape writer, Tim Robinson, records 7 prehistoric tombs along the range.
The Burren uplands are home to one of Europe’s most distinctive landscapes – limestone pavement. In fact the region boasts the most extensive area of limestone pavement in the European Union. So much of the bedrock in the hills has been exposed due to glacial erosion and uber-enthusiastic prehistoric agriculture. Thus, one could argue that the Burren uplands are in part a deeply humanised landscape.
Hills like Turloughmore are still farmed today albeit in the autumn/winter only. Cattle are transferred to the uplands for the period November to April. This farming regime is highly unusual and is called reverse transhumance.

THREE

The white Derrybrien wind turbines are just about visible in the middle left of the image (behind Turloughmore). The turbines are built on Slieve Aughty -  a 25 km-long Old Red Sandstone hill range extending from east Clare into south east Galway. It is a wild and desolate landscape of uplands bogs. (Bogs are wetlands that accumulate peat, a deposit of dead plant material). The highest point on the range is Maghera (400m).
The Derrybrien wind farm has 70 wind turbines and was one of the largest wind farms in Europe when it was built in 2003. The farm, constructed by the semi-state energy body E.S.B., precipitated a 0.5 million tonne peat slide with significant environmental damage and a fish kill of 50,000. Bogs are notoriously unstable environments. Construction of large-scale infrastructural projects on bogs without proper environmental impact assessment can lead to environmental chaos.

FOUR

The final frame in the image is the “cloud formation” as Shelly phrased it. It was a remarkably still, bright autumn day. The clouds were frozen on the canvas.

The 1st of October was a day from heaven in Ireland and the month kept giving. Met Eireann, the Irish Meteorological Service, summarised October as “extremely dry almost everywhere” with “mean air temperatures on or above average nearly everywhere”. However, November has returned to the form of most of 2016 – unsettled and changeable. We will look back on October 2016 as mí na míosa – the month of months.

Shelly informs me that the shot was taken with a Nikon D5 camera and a 20mm Nikon lens.
Thanks to Shelly and Barbara for the company and the sublime photo. 
Go n-eirigh an bóthar libh. May the road rise with you.

By info 21 Jul, 2016
Kilcolgan is in County Galway on the N18 road between the cities of Galway and Limerick.

Two miles west of the village, stands the abandoned beauty of the 18th century Tyrone House.

The occupiers were the St Georges and they owned more than 50,000 acres in the region at one time. Aristocratic kingpins of large parts of south-east Galway when Ireland was under British rule.

The elevated setting is stunning. The house faces south towards the Atlantic Ocean and the limestone hills of the Burren. The rear of the dwelling looks north onto the estuary of the river Kilcolgan.

Tyrone House is three storeys over basement. The basement would have housed the kitchen, store rooms and very basic accommodation for the servants. It was an invariably dark and smoky space and did not enjoy exotic views! Rough vegetation and scrub are now thriving in the basement of the Tyrone ruin. 

By info 24 May, 2016

The Burren 2016 is finally blooming after an uncommonly cold spring. The region is considered to be of true international importance for its Arctic, Alpine and Mediterranean flower admixture. The mystique lies in the melange.

I have picked out an example of a plant from all three regions and profiled them briefly as below. The three species are blooming at the time of writing. 

I also strongly recommend a pocket book which is indispensable when botanising in the region.
Bain súp as! Enjoy!

By info 14 Apr, 2016

1) Ireland is home to only three native conifer species – the yew (Taxus baccata), juniper (Juniperus communis) and the scots pine (Pinus sylvestris).

2) Paclitaxel is a naturally occurring chemical in the bark of the yew. It is used to treat cancers including ovarian, breast, lung and pancreatic cancer among others.

3) Yew wood is very strong and flexible. It is probably the most highly prized wood growing in Ireland today. Yew furniture commands a high price!

4) Yew is known as eó or iúr in the Irish language. Examples of place names inspired by the yew are Maigh Eó (Mayo) the plain of the yew and Tír an Iúr (Terenure) Land of the Yew.

5) The yew tree was deeply revered in pre-Christian Ireland. The poisonous leaves represent death. The really hard wood is a symbol of eternity and as the yew is very long-living plant, it is also a symbol of the afterlife.

6) The tree is cultivated in 100s of Irish churchyards. There is theory and controversy as to why the yew is associated with sacred sites.

7) Ireland’s only native yew wood is in Reenadinna Wood in Killarney National Park.

8) The yew can reach 20 metres in height and live for 1000s of years.

9) The cattle in the Burren uplands avoid the tree because of its toxicity but it is grazed by feral goats.

10) The tree grows mostly at bonsai levels in the Burren hills. It will grow more expansively only in places where it has shelter from the strong westerly winds.

 

Other tree species that grow in the famous limestone uplands of the Burren include whitethorn (Crataegus monogyna) , blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) , hazel (Corylus avellana), birch (Betula), ash (Fraxinus excelsior), whitebeam (Sorbus ), holly (Ilex aquifolium), alder buckthorn (Frangula alnus), purging buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), rowan/mountain ash (Sorbus aria), crab apple (Malus sylvestris), aspen (Populus tremula), spindle (Euonymus europaeus) and many species of willow (Salix ).

 

By info 17 Mar, 2016

“In terms of meaning-making processes and engagement of diverse peoples with St Patrick’s Day celebrations, St Patrick and his feast day can easily be utilised in different ways for different people. It can be a religious celebration, a children’s day out to watch the parade, an adults’ pub-crawl, a revelry in being Irish, a connection for diasporic communities with the ‘homeland’, or a time to reflect on our country’s intricate religious history”.

Dr Jenny Butler. Department of Study of Religions, University College Cork.

By info 04 Mar, 2016

The only heaven I'll be sent to
Is when I'm alone with you.
Lyrics from the song "Take me to the Church" by Hozier.

INTRODUCTION

I had the immense pleasure of visiting the ancient parish church of Killinaboy not once but twice this week. On the first occasion I was part of a group of local tourism providers which was led by the inimitable Galway archaeologist/guide Christy Cunniffe. On the second occasion I myself was guiding an A.T.G.I. (Approved Tour Guides of Ireland) group. Guide guiding guides.

The visits were a pleasure for two reasons: firstly, although Killinaboy is my adopted home place, I rarely frequent the church in my capacity as tour guide. The second reason is that the site visits impressed upon me the wealth of heritage housed there – ancient church, Romanesque art, round tower remnants, double-armed cross, sheela-na-gig, bullauns (basin stones) re-invented as grave markers…as well as a rich mix of medieval vaults, headstones, grave slabs, tombs and wall plaques.

The site is immaculately maintained by the enthusiastic Killinaboy History and Heritage Group. The church had been choked with ivy. Thanks to herculean work by the local group, the ivy has been removed and the splendour of the stone fabric is visible again. The same group is also responsible for the excellent information display board on the history of the parish which is located at the entrance to the site.

The group has also been active in print having published Killinaboy & Coad Graveyards – a remarkable alphabetical inventory of the graves at the Killinaboy site and the neighbouring historic church site of Coad.

The Killinaboy site is dedicated to Inion Bhaoith an obscure saintess from the Early Medieval period (400-110 A.D.) in Ireland.
According to tradition she founded a monastic community on site in the 7th century A.D. The oldest part of the extant church is said to date from the 11th century.  The church was repaired for Protestant worship in the 1720s.

The site is located on elevated ground in close proximity to the river Fergus. The eminent local historian Michael Mc Mahon maintains the Early Medieval monastery would have had a footprint of up to 800 acres. This landscape context of the monastery has been diminished as the busy regional road R476 passes within metres of the church.

I would like to share just five of the many cultural highlights from the church of St Inion Bhaoith.

By info 17 Feb, 2016

The R480 is a 16.4 kilometre long regional road stretching from Ballyvaughan in the north of the Burren to Leamaneh Castle in the south.

It is the main arterial route in the Burren interior. In high season the road can be heavily trafficked.

The roadside is littered with outstanding National Monuments including the ring forts An Ráth, Cahermore and Caherconnell. Ireland’s oldest known megalithic tomb Poulnabrone (5,800 years old) is also on the verge of the road. Poulnabrone attracts at least 100,000 visitors per annum.

 I recently “discovered” another monument along the road – a holy well called Tobargahard. It is a magical site which seems to avoid the attention of almost everybody.

Tobargahard was formerly situated in the classic Burren upland landscape of limestone pavement and thin soil. However, the monument has been hidden in recent years by the advance of hazel scrub. Scrub is advancing due to decline in farming in the uplands. The scrub may eventually occlude the well entirely from future generations. Hazel is glorious native tree but it is an enemy of archaeology.

 Tobargahard may be an Anglicisation of Tobar go hArd which means the well on high. The monument is located just above Gragan Valley which was heavily populated in the 19th century. There is a walled entrance to the well which faces the valley. The wall is now covered in moss which is thriving in the scrub. 

Folk medicine was widespread in the past and the belief was that the Tobargahard water cured eye ailments. I reckon that the waters of about 50% of Ireland’s 3,000 plus recorded holy wells are renowned for eye cures.

  I recorded just three pilgrim offerings at the site - two religious figurines on the altar above the well and a rosary beads hung from a tree. When the wind blows, the beads swing like a pendulum.

Tobargahard is an almost abandoned sacred site, a secret of the Burren landscape, a haven of tranquility.

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